Matchmaker, Matchmaker: Jewish Dating Advice Isn't Far Off From Yenta’s Heyday

Lessons We Learned From Surveying Singles Scene

Hitched: Nina and Eric met on JDate in 2011. They were married in November 2013.
Courtesy of Nina and Eric LaBarre
Hitched: Nina and Eric met on JDate in 2011. They were married in November 2013.

By Anne Cohen and Maia Efrem

Published February 13, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
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In 1926, a distraught father wrote to the Forverts’s advice column, A Bintel Brief, with a problem: Where are all the Jewish men?

With four daughters to marry off, and no Jewish husbands in sight, the man was considering moving to another city. “We live in a country town where we are the only Jewish family,” he wrote. “Here, it’s impossible to marry off a girl, because there are no Jews, only gentiles. We beg you to advise us.”

In his response, Forverts Editor Abraham Cahan assured the father that he was not alone; in order to preserve Jewish continuity, many parents were taking such drastic steps.

Fast-forward eight decades, and Patti Stanger, aka the Millionaire Matchmaker, has similar advice. Location, she writes in her book, “Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate,” is key. To women, she says, if your city is full of young women and not enough single men to go around, you should move.

Jewish singles may have traded in their Yiddish Dear Prudies for click-seeking authors, but when it comes to dating, they are as lost as ever. The latest work in the ever expanding genre designed to get Jewish singles to meet each other is “How To Woo a Jew,” a 274-page manual on finding your perfect member of the tribe, written by JDate’s official advice columnist, Tamar Caspi.

Matchmaker: A well-known shadchan from Vilna, Lithuania, sat for a portrait in 1931.
Forward Association
Matchmaker: A well-known shadchan from Vilna, Lithuania, sat for a portrait in 1931.

Using the book as our jumping-off point, we set out to survey Jewish dating advice today, examining how it has changed since Yenta hobbled through Anatevka, looking through her register of young singles to whip up a perfect match. What we found is that the platform for the advice is different, but its spirit remains the same. Jewish dating advice has never only been about solving the private problems of lonely singles, it’s about ensuring Jewish continuity in the face of stark intermarriage rates, a problem that the Jewish people have been trying to address since Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a suitable match for Isaac.

As two women on different points on the millennial spectrum — Anne Cohen is 24 and single; Maia Efrem is 28 and engaged — we were no strangers to dating advice. But we quickly realized we had only scratched the surface. In our reporting, we read five dating advice books, perused countless online columns and talked to matchmakers and proud JDate couples. Here’s what we learned.

Don’t call him.

Finding one’s bashert is a woman’s responsibility. And it’s no wonder, almost every single dating guide out there is written by women for other women. Perhaps the most famous Jewish advice givers are Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, who compiled “The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right” in 1995. They, in fact, were recycling advice given to them by their own grandmothers 20 years earlier. The self-help book has since inspired hundreds of others like it.

The 35 commandments listed range from the sensible — “Be honest but mysterious,” “Don’t rush into sex,” “Don’t date a married man” — to the petty: “Stop dating him if he doesn’t buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine’s Day.”

And there’s the make-your-inner-feminist-weep advice: “Don’t talk to a man first”; “Don’t discuss the rules with your therapist”; “Don’t call him and rarely return his calls.”

So, where do Jewish men fit in all this? The thing is, they don’t.

As Schneider explained in a phone interview: “Men don’t need rules. They don’t think about dating the way we do. Yes, they think about sex, but they think about work and sports.”

A quick search for dating guides for men turns up tips like “Be confident; Don’t forget your manners; Offer to pay.” But when it comes to women, Stanger does not mince words. One of her mantras is, “The penis does the picking.” And forget everything you heard in middle school: “What’s on the outside does count,” she says. According to her book, women with short hair or curly hair (read: Jews) are hopeless. And Spanx are a girl’s best friend, until she gets the diamond, that is.

But most important: don’t call him first.


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