The process whereby a man and woman meet, become acquainted with each other and decide whether they are suitable for each other, is not only common sense -- it's actually mandated by Jewish law. The Talmud stipulates that it is forbidden for a man to marry a woman until he meets her and she finds favor in his eyes, and a woman is not to be married until she is mature enough to make an intelligent decision with regards to her proposed husband. The prospective bride and groom must meet beforehand and both must be fully comfortable with each other and must give their full consent to the match.
That said, according to Jewish tradition, dating plays a very specific role. Dating is viewed as a serious matter and is not intended for entertainment purposes. Dating is reserved for mature men and women who have reached marriageable age and are actively seeking their life mate.
The restrictions on dating do not stem from old-fashioned prudishness. Rather they are a key ingredient in the creation of stable marriages between compatible spouses.
You Will Find What You Seek
The focus of a date is to determine whether this person one is seeing has the qualities and values which will allow the two of them to live together harmoniously and happily for the rest of their lives. Hence, successful dating is an art; it requires the mind to take control of a domain which traditionally and instinctively belongs to the heart.
The restrictions on dating are a key ingredient in the creation of stable marriagesFollowing this reasoning, the setting for the date should be one conducive for an extended private conversation, and both parties should be prepared to candidly describe their visions and goals for themselves and their family. A date at the cinema, for example, sheds little light on anything, and only serves to bring the two to an emotional attachment before it is healthy for them to have one, for it interferes with the ability to make an objective decision. Once the mind has decided, then the heart too must agree. When both mind and heart agree that the person is compatible, then "let the celebration begin!"
Serious and goal-oriented dating lays a strong foundation for marriage. A marriage with such a foundation will likely survive the stress and harsh conditions which will inevitably arrive sometime in the years to follow. This is the Jewish way, and we daresay it is also the common sense approach.
Today, with the loosening of social restrictions on the mingling and fraternizing between the sexes, many marriages start off as casual acquaintanceships. Two people meet, a relatively shallow conversation is initiated, sparks begin to fly, and after a period of intense courting and romance, off they go to the town clerk for a marriage license. The approach to dating has become increasingly focused on attraction and romance, and less focused on real compatibility. "Love conquers all," is a dangerous adage, and perhaps the main reason why nearly half of all marriages dissolve in divorce, and as a society, we have reached a point where the prenuptial agreement is as an integral part of the marriage process as the marriage vows.
The heart following the mind is a formula for successFortunately, it seems that many people are discovering the wisdom of serious dating and focusing on compatibility. Assorted organizations now offer personality tests, and based on the results of these tests they endeavor to find compatible mates. These organizations claim a high success rate of many happily married couples who they've matched up. Makes sense!
In summation: the heart following the mind is a formula for success. The mind following the heart is potentially a recipe for disaster.
Starting the Search
"All the good ones are already taken," is a line we've all heard too often. The thousands of websites and organizations devoted to helping singles in general, and Jewish singles in particular, find eligible soulmates demonstrates the difficulty inherent in finding a suitable mate.
A good place to start is in the hub of your local Jewish community, which likely is your synagogue. In all probability your synagogue offers a variety of programs, classes and evenings of entertainment – all great opportunities to meet other Jewish singles (and have fun and be edified to boot!). Make your rabbi aware of the fact that you are in search mode, and ask him to keep his eye open on your behalf.
All those websites referenced above are also an option; although they may involve the inconvenience of long distance relationships and traveling. There are also many organizations which arrange tasteful retreats and special events specifically for Jewish singles.
No comprehensive discussion about Jewish dating would be complete without mentioning the role of the shadchan (matchmaker). The proverbial shadchan earned his living through making a commission on each successful match he would arrange. He'd make the rounds in the shtetel, cajoling reluctant parents, convincing them of the virtues of some boy or girl, and how well matched that individual is for their son or daughter.
Whether the popular portrayal of the Eastern European matchmaker is accurate or not, it certainly is not a depiction of today's professional shadchan. Today's shadchan discreetly offers a valuable service, and many have a high success rate. The shadchan gathers information about eligible singles – either through interviewing them, or by speaking to their friends – and has a knack for matching people together.
Today's shadchan discreetly offers a valuable service, and many have a high success rateAmongst the chassidic community, where mingling between the sexes is very minimal, almost all matches are arranged by a shadchan. However, there are many shadchans who cater to all segments of the Jewish community. If you are interested, your rabbi can certainly put you in contact with an expert shadchan.
[It is very important that the shadchan receive the honorarium due for the service rendered. Negative repercussions can, G‑d forbid, result if the shadchan is not compensated for the efforts exerted.]
Dating is Not a Game
How about people not yet contemplating marriage? Can they dabble in some "harmless" dating or even some pre-marital sex? Does the Torah frown upon such entertainment and pleasure just because it is not in the context of marriage?
An understanding of the Kabbala of sexuality sheds light on this sensitive subject. Sexual attraction is a sacred calling of the soul, and contains incredible potential when properly harnessed. It motivates the selfish person to be selfless, and is a vehicle for the implementation of the Divine plan for all of Creation (see Why Marry?).
As is the case with any potent power, sexuality's constructive powers are only matched by its destructive potential. Nuclear energy is a textbook example. It can be used to economically provide mankind with valuable and plentiful energy, or can cause untold destruction and devastation.
Outside the framework of marriage, intimacy is self-centered instead of selfless. It is an expression of the body instead of the soul. Worst of all, it can have a desensitizing effect, causing an individual to associate sexuality with these negative qualities, rather than allowing the person to relate intimacy with the spiritual and meaningful experience it is intended to be.
The less the soul's power of sexuality has been abused, the healthier the person's marriage is likely to be. Thus, the task of preserving the sanctity of sexuality and marriage begins long before one actually starts considering marriage.
The less the soul's power of sexuality has been abused, the healthier the person's marriage is likely to beThis "hypothesis" is actually statistically proven. Mariah Wojdacz of LegalZoom.com, a leading online legal service center, writes: "The highest risk factor for divorce may be surprising, since it is often seen as a way to promote stability and security in a relationship. Couples who move in together prior to marriage have a far greater chance of divorce than couples who do not. How much higher is that risk? Some studies suggest couples who co-habitat before marriage, divorce at a rate as high as 85 percent."
A marriage is also healthier when neither of the spouses are comparing their spouse to previous opposite-sex partners they had.
That said, no matter what may have transpired in the past, it is never too late to start approaching sexuality from the proper perspective.
Jewish law precludes a man and woman who are not married to each other from being secluded together in a private place. The Sages' keen understanding of the dynamics of sexual attraction prompted them to eliminate such settings which can easily lead to actions which will be later regretted.
The preferred venue for a date is thus a neutral public or semi-private location such as a restaurant, hotel lobby or park.
The Age to Throw the Hat in the Ring
The mitzvah to marry takes effect when one becomes eighteen years of age. That is the appropriate age to begin seeking an appropriate mate. This mitzvah may be deferred to a later date if one wishes to study Torah undisturbed by the financial obligations family life entails.
On the other hand, the perceived lack of financial ability to sustain a family should not be a consideration in postponing marriage. The One who sustains all of creation can and certainly will provide for one more family! A home based on proper values is a conduit for Divine blessings for all its inhabitants.