Firstly, I want to thank all the shadchanim for their mesirus nefesh for Klal Yisroel.
I was recently speaking to a shadchan regarding my daughter’s shidduchim and we were discussing the difficulties that many girls have getting dates. The shadchan told me that many parents pay shadchanim upwards of $800 just to get a first date, and it is understood that the shadchan will be compensated if it proceeds to a third date. This is in addition to the regular shadchanus that s/he will receive if the shidduch concludes.
I am wondering if this is true. It is hard for me to understand why parents of singles have to buy theirway through the system. Is the chinuch that we give to our children that just to get a first date we need to pay for it? And do families without money have a lesser chance in the system? Have we come to a point where moneyis the deciding factor of our children’s destiny?
While I can certainly appreciate such a reaction to one’s learning of the relatively novel phenomenon that is paying shadchanim for date production (amounts vary, and $800 for a first date is on the high end in most circumstances), I believe that the macro view paints an entirely different, and far more palatable, picture. And while there are plentiful points to ponder which can help the Klal come to more pleasant terms with this practice, I would like to focus on what I consider to be the two most salient aspects of this convention.
First, for the sake of clarity, I am not personally aware of any shadchanim who outright charge a fee for any date they procure. Rather, there is a comparatively small number of individuals who have voluntarily offered such compensation when they begin to feel the need to do so. In most cases, these are not wealthy families. These are families who choose, of their own determination, to stretch themselves for the sake of their children. And by and large, the shadchanim I have spoken with about this matter are remorseful that we have collectively created an environment wherein such payments need to be offered every now and again for a dater to succeed, and only accept because they profoundly appreciate the predicament and plight of daters who could use some additional attention. When a family offers payment, and a shadchan turns it down, it only serves to further the despondency of that family. It is as if to say, “Not only will I possibly not work on ideas for free, for you, I will not even work on ideas for pay.”
Furthermore, in my experience, the majority of daters do receive a sufficient measure of opportunity, and most daters find themselves married within a very reasonable timeframe. For such daters, there is no need to offer compensation for dates, because the system is taking care of them just fine. Similarly, families that already possess certain advantages, be they related to finances or stature, will typically never have to propose recompense, as they generally receive ample attention as it is. In fact, many families with resources significantly support shidduch initiatives so those with less will not need to make such offers. Accordingly, this model is not one which heaps even more prerogative upon those who already dominate the landscape. Quite the contrary, it is a tool which is best utilized by those who have slipped through the cracks. In this case, money is not driving destiny, it is but being used as a saving grace for those who fear their destiny will otherwise forever remain out of reach.
Second, and as has been written in this column a great many times, the job of a shadchan in our generation looks nothing like it ever has in the past. The degree of difficulty and time commitment is almost unfathomable, and shadchanim are under immense pressure to immediately respond, and be of intimate service, to hundreds upon hundreds of families. They are scrutinized for their every word and deed, and are oft unfairly maligned as families struggle with the frustrations of shidduchim. They are an easy target and a rather convenient punching bag. In most industries, a professional can pass on a client if they are overwhelmed, or confine themselves to the most profitable of endeavors, with little to no backlash or belittling of their reputation. Shadchanim, on the other hand, are expected to be available at all times to anyone and everyone, and are grossly demeaned if they are perceived as not willing to give of themselves unconditionally.
If the job was not made so ludicrously laborious, it would be conceivable that shadchanim could, and would, always limit remuneration to shadchanus. However, given that the reality is what it is, I think it more than apropos for shadchanim to accept some payment for dates from time to time; both in order to allow them to expend supplemental devotion to a particular dater in need, without having to sacrifice time that may lead to other avenues of the shadchan’s own parnassah, and so that they can continue doing the work we so desperately need them to do, without fizzling out and becoming thoroughly disenfranchised with the enterprise.
In short, the vast majority of families – whether they are of substantial means or not – will never have to pay a red cent for a date. But for those who for one reason or another are suffering from a paltry array of provisions, it is a perfectly suitable strategy to employ in order to even the playing field and regain some level of communal equilibrium.
May the Einei Kol Negdecha grant menuchas hanefesh and zivugim hagunim to all those who travel the road to the chupah.