When Serena received an email announcing that that her personal information had been added to “Shidduchline,” a website she had never heard of — she was shocked.
“I click the link, and I see a profile with my name, my picture, my age, my phone number and my email,” Serena, a single woman in her 20’s living in Jerusalem, told the Forward. “Some of the information was wrong, some of it was outdated. But it was all this personal information that I did not know how these people got. I did not give it to them and never heard of [them] before.”
Serena was seeing an old version of her ‘shidduch resume’, a dating profile that is commonly used in the Orthodox community, passed around by matchmakers and friends. Generally, a single person creates a document with their name, photograph, height, family background, and a paragraph describing what they’re looking for, and then sends them (or has a parent send on their behalf) to matchmakers, both professional and amateur. As is standard in the Orthodox dating system, the resume also lists personal mobile numbers of references — often teachers, rabbis, friends, and siblings.
Serena responded to the email — “I’m wondering where you got my information from…??” she wrote. “I don’t remember giving consent for this to be posted on the Internet.” She asked the site to delete her information entirely, and inquired where the website got her information.
She received a response from a Leah Stein, explaining that “one of the shadchanim [matchmakers] added you to there [sic] private folder and mistakenly placed you as a public profile. Your profile has been removed from the public database. Hatzlacha. [Good luck.]”
But the site still had her data — and there was no way for her to ensure it was removed, or find out how they got it in the first place.
And it turns out that Serena was far from the only one whose personal information had been compromised.
ShidduchLine advertises itself as having the information of over 3,000 singles — and victims of this strange identity breach estimate that the majority of the data was collected without subjects’ permission.“They say they have ‘3,000 quality resumes’,” said Jenna McKenna, the creator of a popular Facebook group for Orthodox women, “FrumGirlProblems”, which has over 15,000 members. McKenna is married, but her old information from her single years was posted without her permission. “I don’t know a single person who has opted in to having their resume published online,” she said.
ShidduchLine, an organization that is registered as a 501c3 nonprofit, is listed under an address in Far Rockaway, and run by Naftali Sternbuch, who uses the name Naftali Zuckerberg on social media. The service was started as a WhatsApp group which charged for access — once added, one could view resumes of other members and post one’s own (for an annual charge of $50). In advertising around its launch, it touted itself as “the Uber of shidduchim” — just like Uber is the “world’s largest taxi company [yet] owns no vehicles”, this was to be the “world’s largest frum dating networking system, with no website”. Last week, the service announced a new website service, which charges $100 annually, in which one can search shidduch resumes — which were posted without consent, according to victims. The group has also organized singles events in the New York area — barbecues in Brooklyn and Lawrence, NY. The group’s social media pages show announcements of engagements — copied and pasted from other platforms.
It took a few days for the victims to figure out how their information had been leaked. Most believe that the resumes were collected via a popular email list-serve for Orthodox matchmakers, called Ezer Knegdo, created a decade ago by Sholom Blatter. “The information written on [the posted profiles] was word for word in the format of Ezer Knegdo’s resumes,” said T., a Canadian who asked to be identified by just the first letter of her name, for anonymity. “One woman’s profile that was posted online had the Ezer Knegdo email signature at the bottom of it. It was clearly copied and pasted.”
According to Blatter, Ezer Knegdo has over a hundred Orthodox matchmakers who exchange resumes regularly via email chains. “I guess anybody can then take it,” said T. “I can’t imagine it’s so hard to get on his list. One of those shadchanim could download the files being passed around…It’s just an email group. You can forward it to anybody.”
“Ezer Knegdo is a legitimate organization,” said Malkie Rosenberg, who lives in Texas and whose personal information was posted. “But this whole thing made me reconsider shidduch profiles and online safety altogether. People can figure out where I live [from this] — my name, my kids. These are not good people who are trying to help Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people]. This was a racket to get money and to get numbers. It’s put a bad view on people who are trying to do good. This isn’t a representation of Orthodox Judaism.”
When T. demanded that Shidduchline remove her information last Wednesday, she received a note from a Moshe Schwartz: “Our database is like Google. Theres no way we can remove a profile entirely although we have placed your profile on private. This means nobody can view it besides for the creater [sic] and who they share a link with.”
Others received a long, generic message: “We are publicly apologizing to all that we’ve caused any harm to and/or inconvenienced. At Shidduchline, we take your privacy very seriously and it is our top priority that all of our users feel safe.”
But those who had their information leaked are skeptical that the group deleted the data entirely. “I never signed up for this service,” said a single woman from New Jersey, who asked to remain anonymous. “I have no idea how it happened. The speculation is that a shadchan [matchmaker] sold our profiles to this site.” She, too, had written to the site, demanding that her information be taken down, and received the same answers as Serena. “They told me that my profile has been deleted, but it doesn’t mean that my data has been deleted.”
The scope of the breach was first uncovered in the “Frum Girl Problems” group. The post sparked a thread of 400 outraged comments, as more and more women discovered their profiles had been published. According to posts in the Facebook group, victims have reported the breach to the IRS and have opened a case with the Orthodox rabbinical court, the Beth Din of America.
“But this isn’t a beis din issue. This is a crime,” said B., the woman from New Jersey. “What’s a beis din gonna do? The people who pull this stuff don’t care about beis dins.”
When asked to comment, the Shidduchline team responded to the Forward via a WhatsApp text message: “We are not looking to advertise this- because this would be a chillel hashem [desecration of God’s name],” they wrote. “Athough [sic] we have emailed all users and removed all users that have requested removal.”
“I’ve been dating for a long time,” B. told the Forward. “I’m not a twenty-something. I predate the shidduch resume system. I’ve never been a fan of it, because you can’t control where your information is going. It’s one thing where a [dating] site like Saw You At Sinai, where I have an idea of where my information is going. But here you don’t.” She said that she consulted with cyber security experts, who recommended that she report this to the FBI.
“The shidduch system is completely broken,” she added. “The first time I got asked for a resume, I had never heard of it — I had been dating normally, you went to a shadchan, sure. But when someone asked me for a resume, I said: ‘But I already have a job.’ The problem is we have made this about pictures and the stuff on paper, we have forgotten about the humanity of people. And this is the end result. I can’t tell you how many singles hate this experience now. It’s like shopping in a catalogue.”
Orthodox singles — or former singles — whom I spoke to for this story were not only upset about the breach of their privacy, but also lamented how this new service represented a much deeper issue with the treatment of singles. Naftali Pfeiffer, a married man who discovered his old shidduch resume was posted, said that shadchanim often see themselves as “data aggregators” first and foremost.
“To a certain extent, a shidduch profile is marketing,” said Pfeiffer. “But matchmakers have forgotten - the not-so-good ones - that there’s a sales component to it, too. Not to be crass. But it’s not just, ‘Here’s her or his information’, it’s also, ‘I know the person - I know why they’re a good fit - try it out.’ But here [with Shidduchline], it’s just people making money.”
“I have seen many problems arising since the advent of shidduch resumes, namely privacy,” said Baila Sebrow, a shadchan, dating coach, and columnist for the 5 Towns Jewish Times. “Many shadchanim in their zealousness to find a shidduch for their clients, or because they want to prove themselves as being an authentic shadchan, will share resumes at shidduch meetings, chain e-mails, and the multitude of shidduch groups on WhatsApp.” Sebrow shared that recently, she saw a matchmaker post the resume and picture of someone Sebrow knew well, who valued his privacy for his professional livelihood. “Concerned for this person, but also wanting to give the benefit of the doubt to the shadchan, I contacted the man,” she said. “I told him that I saw his information posted on a group viewed by 250 people. He was noticeably upset, and asked me to see to it that it gets removed immediately. I contacted the shadchan and she became livid that I told him…she threatened to have me removed from the group, and later posted on that group that no one should inform any single man or woman that they saw their bio on the group. The bottom line is that when somebody forwards their personal information anywhere or to anyone, they lose total control of where it is bound to show up.”
Though the shidduch resume system is hard to avoid — there are few alternatives for an Orthodox single looking to settle down — some are losing faith in it. “I’m basically dumping the resume system at this point,” said B. from New Jersey. “I remember a time when the shidduch system meant people set people they knew up, you called on the phone…There was never this craziness. All of our parents got married that way, and it worked. This is a perfect example of a modern system that isn’t working.”
“People think that singles are disposable,” said T., who recently married. “They think: ‘Sure you’re a guy, you’re a girl, let’s set you up.’ Yeah, I want to be dating, but that doesn’t mean I want all my information posted online. There is a total lack of control.”
T., who has posted on social media ringing the alarm about the “ShidduchLine initiative”, said that she has been harassed for speaking up. “People are saying I’m spreading lashon hara [slander] about a good organization,” she said. “Someone told me to take my sheitel and tichel [headscarf] off, because I’m not a [truly] frum person, because I wouldn’t be speaking lashon hara if I were.”
“Resumes have also trickled down into the modern Orthodox world,” said Samantha Snyder, a single woman who lives in Manhattan and whose information was compromised. She says she has felt compelled to use a shidduch resume, because there are no other socially acceptable ways of meeting men in her community. “You’re reduced to a piece of paper and a picture. There are so many missed opportunities. There’s a stigma with meeting people in a more organic way. There’s no way in the frum world for guys and girls to meet. There are totally kosher ways — at a wedding, in shul — but these days, it’s a big deal when someone has a wedding that’s not separate seating.”
“This is a dramatic, extreme example of how singles are not looked at as people,” said McKenna. “But also —the frum world doesn’t care about copyright and privacy laws online. This is illegal…The Jewish world needs a little more yirah [fear] when it comes to privacy laws. You cannot do just whatever you want.”
Snyder said that her concerns about her information being passed around without her consent make her hesitate about using a shidduch resume. She prefers that those who set her up make the case on their own, without an attachment. “The fact that there is a resume — it creates a situation in which you never know whose hands it’s falling into,” she said. “It almost seems like it was just a matter of time until something like this happened.”
Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the Life/Features editor at the Forward. She was previously a New York-based reporter for Haaretz. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, and Tablet, among others. Avital teaches journalism at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, and does pastoral work alongside her husband Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt in New York City.