As wedding invitations poured into my family mailbox ahead of Passover, I couldn’t help but think about the reason all of these couples have been able to come together in the first place: the shidduch system. Prevalent in both Modern and ultra-Orthodox circles, the shidduch system is a process through which Jewish singles are introduced to one another solely for the purpose of dating for marriage — and a key component of this system is the shidduch resume, an often extremely personal and detailed document young singles provide to matchmakers detailing exactly what they’re looking for in a partner and what they bring to the table.
I can’t help but wonder: Does the shidduch resume really help or hinder my community’s efforts to create harmonious and sustainable marriages?
I set out to investigate and called my rabbi’s wife. Aside from voicing her thought that I was too young to write about this topic (I am 17 and nowhere near ready for shidduchim) when I called her, my ultra-Orthodox Yeshivish rebbetzin in Lakewood praised the existence of the shidduch resume. “The resume is very helpful because it is practical,” she told me. “It gives you numbers and names to help you investigate,” she explained. “You don’t want your child to get into the unknown. A responsible Jewish parent has to do research and in order to be able to do research, you have to have something in front of you.”
A dear friend of my mother in Baltimore who married off a daughter in 2016, is marrying another daughter off shortly and has made many matches for other singles concurred with this assessment. “Years ago, when I would think about a girl for a boy or a boy for a girl, I would write down some information on an index card. I didn’t have any place to put those index cards except in a recipe box,” she told me. “Today, we don’t need recipe boxes and index cards. The shidduch resume is a wonderful way to put all your information in one place. You don’t have to ask or answer the same questions twenty times.”
While I am personally familiar with information needed to prepare a resume for an internship or job, I was curious as to what information is contained in a shidduch resume, since I have never seen one before. I spoke to my neighbor’s daughter who is recently married to find out. “When I was in seminary in Israel, we were given somewhat of a template,” she told me. “You put your name, height, email, phone number, age, sometimes a picture, your parents’ information (their occupations, where they grew up, where your father learns, your mother’s maiden name), what you are doing now and references.” I asked her if she found the process demeaning at all. “No one enjoys being put down on paper, but you have to do it,” she explained. “The shadchan (matchmaker) has a short amount of time and is trying to get a grasp of what you are looking for. I have no complaints about it at all.”
After hearing these views, a shidduch resume seemed to make sense from the perspective of someone recommending a shidduch. Just like any employer, there is a large pool of applicants and there has to be a quick and easy way for the shadhan to sort and match the appropriate candidates with the desired positions, so to speak.
The shidduch resume logically fills that role. At the same time, I was still skeptical about the shidduch resume from the perspective of someone looking for a marriage partner for a few reasons. When applying for a job, people are generally older and have more diverse life and work experiences. No two job applicants are the same. In contrast, many shidduch applicants can seem very similar. At least in the Yeshivish world, the girls are graduates of a Bais Yaakov high school and have attended seminary in Israel; the boys are all in yeshiva. Therefore, it would seem difficult to distinguish yourself from other competing candidates since everyone’s backgrounds are almost identical. Similarly, when preparing a resume for a job, the facts put on paper are objective. For some period of time, you either worked at a certain position or you did not; hobbies and feelings are irrelevant. Obviously, looking for a spouse is more subjective that finding a job and meant to be permanent. In a perfect world, I think a shidduch resume should list a person’s character, qualities, emotions, challenges, triumphs, failures and a myriad of other intangibles which really reflect the essence of a person. But today, straight biographical statistics are all you seem to get and that information seems rote and meaningless.
My rabbi’s son, who got married this past December, insisted that there was nothing dubious or degrading about having a shidduch resume. “The shidduch resume tells people who you are in short — people need to know who you are,” he explained. “It is not like a good feeling or a bad feeling. It is what it is. The shidduch resume tells your age, your family, your education and references in short. It gives people an idea of who you are. It is not supposed to be 100%.”
While both girls and boys prepare shidduch resumes for the shadhan, according to my neighbor’s daughter, it is the boys who receive the girls’ resumes first. “Boys receive stacks of resumes and girls don’t,” she described. “Girls wait until the boys do the research and then they receive the boys’ resume if that boy is interested. In our family, my mother would give me a description of the boy. I would talk to the shadhan or I would know the family and sometimes think it was a good idea. I had a list of questions which were important to me. Regardless, I always had the last word.”
I admit I was totally unaware and quite surprised to learn that boys had the first pick of the resumes in this shidduch system. To be honest, this arrangement seemed sexist to me even though I am a boy and would seemingly benefit from this advantage. Why should the girls have to wait on the boys to decide first? I was momentarily reminded of a scene from Fiddler on the Roof, when Golda reprimands and reminds her daughter Tzeitel, who was complaining about her previous substandard shidduch suggestions, “A husband is not to look at, a husband is to get!” Even though my neighbor’s daughter confirmed she had the “last word,” I would have thought that in this high-stakes process, she would have wanted the first word.
So, I asked her: “Does the fact that boys and not girls receive the resumes first bother you?” Apparently, not in the slightest. “Girls are more emotional than men and it can be very emotionally draining for the girls to sift through stacks of resumes,” she explained. “It is very much a 21st century mentality that the girls need to put themselves out there before boys. I am marrying my close friend’s brother. Things end up falling into place. Hashem (God) has a plan. The shidduch system and the shidduch resume is a very big positive because you are not wasting time and emotional energy attaching yourself to someone who is not suitable.”
On this last point, I am in total agreement. I think the crowning achievement of the shidduch system is its focus on sheltering young people from the unnecessary chaos and heartache of casual dating and hook-ups which characterizes the secular world. Just recently, I read about a Boston College professor who was giving her students extra credit if they actually asked someone out on a date “where there would be no alcohol or physical contact.” Surprisingly, her students were “intrigued and clueless about how to go about this assignment.” In the shidduch system, the participants may be younger and not necessarily even college graduates, but they definitely know why they are dating and realize that marriage is the ultimate and only goal of the dating process. This makes for a more focused, mature and thought-out social experience.
At the same time, the shidduch system has its downsides. Since the shidduch resume is the first step in setting the shidduch system into motion, people who do not necessarily “look good” on paper may never get a proper start or chance to compete. For example, if a person has a disability or his or her family profile is not that impressive — parents who became religious later in life (baalei teshuvah), converted parents, low income parents— then the people behind those resumes may find themselves in the reject pile very quickly. Evaluating a person on paper is very different than evaluating a person in person. For example, you may be willing to overlook a person’s “issue” (such as being overweight, too tall/too short, underemployed) if you, for example, meet that person in college or in a social setting, because his or her other positive qualities overshadow the quality you dislike. However, on paper, you never get to see or appreciate the totality of the person. There can also be an unspoken (or even upfront) emphasis on looks and money when evaluating a shidduch resume, especially on the part of boys, because they need and expect financial support from the girl’s family to continue learning full-time at a yeshiva.
I may just be old-fashioned or an old soul, but I still cringe at the thought of a piece of paper being the catalyst for a relationship; it feels like an impersonal transaction to me. To paraphrase Professor Higgins from My Fair Lady, the shidduch system does seem to “insult human relations by dragging all that cant about buying and selling into it,” even if you don’t have to marry the person if you don’t want to.
But regardless of my personal feelings or who reviews the shidduch resume first, there seems to be a consensus that the shidduch resume is only the first step in the shidduch process. In speaking to a rabbi in Baltimore, he opined: “How can you completely know a person and marry him or her through a resume? A lot of communities start at the resume. That is the first step. The couple has to go out several times and get to know each other.” He further explained how the shidduch resume is only an “entryway into that connection between a boy and a girl. People in the Yeshivish world generally have similar ideals and lifestyles so it is not as complicated as in the secular world; they are all looking for the same several things. Overall, the resume is just a starting point. The matchmaker makes the match, the parents review the resumes, the children agree.”
While I believe this rabbi’s assessment is true to some extent, I still feel things may not be as simple as that. In fact, my community is currently going through what is termed a “shidduch crisis” whereby eligible single people, especially women, have difficulty finding suitable spouses. Many of these girls have been dating for five years or longer, which is a considerable period of time in Yeshivish circles. The general trend is for a girl to start dating around 19 when she comes back from seminary. Parents hope that their eligible daughters are married a year or two later at the latest. Now, we have single Yeshivish girls well into their mid-to-late 20s and beyond. One could have assumed that the shidduch resume would have prevented this crisis since you have a modern and streamlined way to assess and set up singles. So, there must be other factors at play. It could be that on some level religious teens and their families face and need to overcome the same insecurities, expectations and pressures as their secular counterparts. Perhaps the shidduch resume is a flawed starting point?
Knowing that my mother has spent close to two years sifting through attorney resumes to hire one or two for her team and how she would occasionally come across glaring misrepresentations in the resumes she reviewed, I wanted to know if there was any chance of a person lying on the shidduch resume. My rav’s son insisted this was impossible. “There is no lying here. You can’t lie on the resume,” he told me emphatically. “You provide such basic information that it is not possible to lie. If you lie, then you will mess up your dating experience and people won’t redt (recommend) you a shidduch.”
Finally, is the shidduch resume the only way to bring couples together in my Yeshivish community? Is there perhaps a better way? The Baltimore rabbi I spoke to felt there were some potential pitfalls regarding shidduch resumes. “It can be detrimental because some people overanalyze a resume and that is not good,” he explained. “You need to meet the individual in person. Families are very nervous over lineage, education, how the shidduch will be perceived, so things on the shidduch resume may be read it the wrong way. This would prevent people from actually going out.”
While the overall feedback I received on the shidduch resume was positive, there are other views on the shidduch resume in my community as well which were less generous. One shadhan in Baltimore I spoke to, who has been making shidduchim for 55 years, was very adamant: “The shidduch resume has to go.” While her remarks were contrary to the rest of people I spoke to, she was very passionate about her opposition to the resume. “The shidduch resume is not a way to meet and get married,” she explained. “In the old days you met. You didn’t even have a shadhan, you just met. Or if you went to a shadhan, you trusted the shadhan and usually it worked out. Nowadays, it is a whole new ball game. There are FBI investigations on families. People focus on the wrong things—on the details of the resume, on references, on asking too many irrelevant questions and not on meeting the person.”
Overall, its seems like shidduch resumes and the shidduch system are here to stay. With larger numbers of single Yeshivish and modern-Orthodox people looking to get married than in the past, it seems like the shidduch resume is the most efficient way to pair up couples. Casually glancing at the internet, there are numerous websites which offer help in writing the shidduch resume, so the need is definitely there and is being addressed. Similarly, I have heard several times that an employer or recruiter spends on the average only seconds reviewing an individual employment resume. In contrast, shadhanim and parents are spending significant more time than this when considering shidduch resumes, which has to be positive.
I guess long gone are the days when my maternal great-grandfather was a young man traveling through Canada. In 1933, he stopped in Calgary to pray at the House of Jacob Synagogue; Calgary had only 1,600 Jews at that time, representing two percent of the city’s population. Immediately after davening, a man he never met tapped him on shoulder and asked my great-grandfather if he would like to marry his sister. A few months later, they were indeed married.
If only things were that easy today.