By Rabbi Miriam Berger
Genesis 2:18 God Said, “It is not good for a person to be alone; I will make a fitting match for them.”
When officiating at a wedding, a guest approached me who worked for the TV show “Married at First Sight” asking if I’d be one of the expert matchmakers for the next series. As someone not exactly shy about potential moments of fame, I came home to my husband very excited. He was less thrilled by the prospect… “Is that really what you want the world to see you represent as Jewish views on marriage? Two strangers being shoved together in the name of entertainment!” He was of course right and it wasn’t to be my moment of TV stardom.
I thought about this when Netflix wooed me towards the best dating show ever “Jewish Matchmaking” which brought Aleeza Ben Shalom to our screens. Here is a more authentic way of bringing expertise to potential marriage at first sight.
The anomaly is the name. It’s matchmaking by a Jew or for Jews but this isn’t Jewish matchmaking. Jewish matchmaking is much more superficial and based on one key factor – who your parents are.
Why does Jacob go to Laban to find his wife? He is family even if the oldest needs to be married off before the younger. That was matchmaking in biblical times and it hadn’t changed much generations later in the shtetles of Eastern Europe. What makes the matches suitable in the village of Anatevka for the daughters of Tevye the milkman? Their fathers’ professions. Ultimately the parents question their own marriage, “do you love me?” they sing. What’s a solid relationship built on? Shared values, a shared vision of the future, the ability to stay on the same team.
It’s why I’m drawn to Aleeza’s skills. Listening to people’s superficial list of must haves in a partner, she translates what they need more than they know themselves. It’s a skill the algorithms in dating apps can’t do. An app can match a man who says his family are most important to him with a woman who says she’s got strong family values, but it takes a matchmaker to realise when a boy’s life is so intertwined with his mother, the girl needs to be looking for a surrogate family and be equally enamoured by her potential mother-in-law.
If she was as close to her family where on earth will they spend Rosh Hashanah lunch and Seder night, it’s otherwise a marital broigus waiting to happen!
Matchmaking’s an art far easier when the joint venture was pre-proscribed. Making people understand that what they need is not what they think they want is where the skill really lies and why Yente or Aleeza have a better chance of success than your ability to swipe.
Miriam Berger is Senior Rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue