How the “Shidduch” System Fosters Sexual Abuse

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The Hebrew noun שידוך (“shidduch”) means “a match” as it relates to marriage.

Specifically, we are talking about an arranged marriage, or one facilitated by a matchmaker, between a male and a female.

Generally speaking, if you are using the term “shidduch,” both parties were born into an observant family or they decided to become observant. (In Hebrew, the term for someone who decides to become observant is בּעל/ת תשׁובה (“Baal Teshuvah” for a male or “Baalat Teshuvah” for a female.)

There is a long tradition in Judaism of the matchmaker who evaluates the fitness of a prospective partner, but that tradition has always centered on virtue. For example, in Genesis, Abraham’s faithful servant Eliezer sees that Rebecca is kind and compassionate. On that basis she is suitable for Isaac.

We learn from the Bible the correct way to act in life. Marriage is a big deal. It’s not only a lifelong commitment for the people involved, but the union of two separate bloodlines from which offspring will result. An extreme level of care, wisdom, and foresight is necessary to make sure that the parents of the family’s future children are worthy of carrying on the name.

“Worthy” in a Biblical context means “moral.”

Of course the man and the woman have to be a good match personality-wise.

The issue I have with the contemporary shidduch system, and why I think it fosters sexual abuse, is that it treats the man and the women like pieces of raw meat.

In the Bible, when Rebecca undergoes her “background investigation,” so to speak, the fact that her father is an idol-worshiper has no impact on her “suitability and fitness.” (The Bible records in Genesis 31:19 that she stole her father’s idols; the commentator Rashi says it was her intention to stop him from worshiping them.)

In modern times, however, in the frum Jewish community, “goodness” just doesn’t cut it. One’s rank in the shidduch system is a function of:

  • Bloodline – who can you claim as an ancestor?
  • Torah studies – which yeshiva or seminary did you attend?
  • References – who will vouch for you?
  • Family – are you well-known in the community?
  • Money – do you come from a wealthy family?
  • Philanthropy – related to money, is your family a big-name donor?

Generally speaking, the more social credits you can claim as a result of the above factors, the higher your status in the “shidduch” world and the more likely you are to get a “good” match.

On the other hand, there are factors that will rank you way down, and it goes without saying that women will suffer a far worse fate for the downranking:

  • A victim of sexual abuse, particularly if you’ve come forward about it.
  • A “troublemaker” or activist for reform

The reality is that a person who comes forward about their own sexual abuse is considered “damaged goods” by the religious community. At best, they are considered “troubled.” At worst, they are “crazy.” (In the olden days they used to say that the girl, for male victims were never even acknowledged, somehow “brought it on herself” because she was “slutty.)

If their parents come forward, the parents are “marked” and so are their children. They may even have to move out of town.

People may argue that the frum (religious community) has made great strides in terms of acknowledging sexual abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, and publicly opposing it, and I think that is definitely true.

But it is a long way from acknowledging a thing to truly handling it appropriately.

It is not just about reporting offenders.

It is about ensuring that victims are completely and totally supported and safe in coming forward.

It is about making sure that they are not penalized for a crime committed against them.

Unfortunately, they used to say to the victims that if they came forward, they would actually be destroying the life of the perpetrator and his family.

The shidduch system and its accompanying “resume,” whether it’s on paper or not, needs a good rethinking.

Otherwise, a good proportion of victims, and their families, will continue to keep their mouths shut, for obvious reasons, thus enabling future abuse.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.