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Friday, February 14, 2014

Inside The World Of Jewish Matchmaking

An couple stands under a 'chupa', a Jewish altar, during a traditional wedding ceremony.  (David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

An couple stands under a ‘chupa’, a Jewish altar, during a traditional wedding ceremony. (David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The 1964 production made history: the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances, it went on to win nine Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.

Four Broadway revivals and one successful film adaptation later, the story of Tevye and his daughters remains alive in popular culture.

Matchmaker and author Aleeza Ben Shalom explains the role of the matchmaker, which remains important in the Jewish community today. (Aleeza Ben Shalom)

Matchmaker and author Aleeza Ben Shalom explains the role of the matchmaker, which remains important in the Jewish community today. (Aleeza Ben Shalom)

Based on the book by Yiddish master storyteller Sholem Aleichem, Tevye attempts to preserve his family and Jewish traditions while outside influences threaten to derail all he knows.

Much of the preservation begins with marriage, and a matchmaker is one of the most important and powerful members of the community. Still today, the matchmaker holds a special role.

Aleeza Ben Shalom is a modern-day professional Jewish matchmaker in Philadelphia. She joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss her job.

Interview Highlights: Aleeza Ben Shalom

How she operates as a matchmaker

“For me, everything is viewed through a dating-for-marriage lens, so it’s not just a life coach, ‘let’s help you get your life in order.’ It’s, you know, if you don’t have a job and you need a job, we’re getting one because you’re stabilizing yourself so you’re ready for what’s about to come, if you have plans of being engaged and married. I have those same plans for my clients, so we want to get things in line and keep everybody’s lives stable and smooth.”

On the importance of the matchmaker in Judaism

“Without a matchmaker, really, the Jewish people wouldn’t be here. Any part of the world where people want and believe in their people and want to see them live on, the only way to do that is by being matched up and continuing to bring more people into the world and to continue on with your beliefs.”

“I would say like in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ you know, like, ‘Tradition!’ You know, like, we want to continue with our traditions. And a matchmaker doesn’t have to be somebody professional. It can be a friend or a relative or a neighbor.”

On getting paid for her services

“Traditionally, once a match is made, a matchmaker is paid, you know, either upon engagement or marriage, depending on what the customs are, and the fees range anywhere from a thousand to several thousand dollars.”

“Matchmakers were always paid, and it’s actually something that’s in the Torah, which is the Jewish Bible, that tells us we are obligated to pay our matchmaker, whether they’re professional or not professional, because it is supposed to bring you blessings in your relationship.”

“There’s no better bargain than a really good spouse. It’ll save you thousands of dollars in a divorce.”

Other ways Jewish singles often meet

“I know especially in our community, matches are often made at the Shabbat table. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath. Right now, there is an awesome organization called Shabbat.com, and people can go onto the website, click to have a Shabbat meal with any family, in any part of the world, and you might just end up meeting your soul mate at that table.”

“The Jewish tradition has delegated it to others, whether it’s somebody professional or not. When you’re talking about a dating website, SawYouAtSinai is for more religious Jews, and they don’t search for themselves. Matchmakers only search for them. But something like JDate is a search engine like any other matchmaking website, and a person can go on themselves. So really, a person is doing the matchmaking themselves. I seem to think what’s missing is the mentoring piece.”


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  • S David H de Lorge

    It’s not in the Jewish “Faith” so much, Robin, as contrasted with other religions, as you suggest.

    It’s in the Jewish *culture* that this very adaptive tradition exists. For lots of followers of Jewish “Faith*, participation in this culture is not part of life. Please recognize these distinctions when you undertake these enthusiastic explorations. Besides, holding up the super-kosher as paradigmatic of N. American Jewry fails to recognize a lot of Jews and is unfair to some. Culture is not the same as religion, although they overlap (sometimes entirely, but not this time).

    And, by the way, a number of religions and subcultures on the Indian subcontinent have similar traditions, and their descendants now live in the US too. And people from speakers of other members of the Afro-Asiatic language family than just Hebrew, and other peoples besides, have similar institutions. Some of them are members of US society, too.

  • yingyangyou

    I don’t know. This sounds like condoned racialism. When African-Americans resent Black infants being adopted by White people, the discussion usually addresses racialism. When someone is born of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father in a strongly Jewish community, they are openly stigmatized as non-Jewish.
    I don’t dispute a person’s human right to mate within a restricted racial/ethnic group, but I would expect ‘Here and Now’ to be more skeptical in its reporting on this. The issues of in-breeding and narrow-mindedness were not raised clearly at all. It was a puff piece for V Day, I guess, but the issues behind it are serious.

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