OU Issues a Remarkable and Groundbreaking Study

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

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    There was a remarkable Talmid Chochom who, by all accounts, represented serious Rosh Yeshiva material.  He plummeted the depths of Gemorah and halacha.  He was fully fluent in Chassidus and the pathways of Litvishe Mussar.  He authored numerous seforim, had exemplary midos, and had all the qualities of great leadership leadership.

    But, this remarkable individual was unjustifiably marginalized like so many others in our community.  Why? Because he was single and faced a dirty little secret that exists in our community.  That secret is best explained and understood with a term from the lingua-franca of the yeshiva world:

    We are not “gorais” single people – both “single women” and “single men.”

    And just in time for Rosh HaShana, and the aseres yemei Teshuvah, the OU has issued a remarkable and ground-breaking study, telling us just how to address this problem.

    The authors who conducted the research were Matt Williams, Michelle Shain, Guila Benchimol, Channah Cohen and Elisha Penn.  They also conceived of the study, design the study, collected and analyzed all the data, wrote it, revised it and revised it again and again. And, to use contemporary parlance – “they nailed it.”

    These authors (and the OU itself) deserve a tremendous yasher koach.  What they discovered could be a new set of “al chaits” in vidui – all involving an abnegation of the remarkable mitzvah of v’ahavta larayacha kamocha.

    • Al chait that we have caused single men and single women to feel a sense of loneliness during their search for a shidduch and thus negated this Mitzvah.
    • Al chait that we have made the single men and single women in our community feel invisible, blamed, and judged.
    • Al chait that we have treated them like children.
    • Al chait that we have inadvertently hurt them and have criticized, degraded, and dismissed them.

    These four “al chaits” could actually be put on a Post-It note when we recite the vidui for the Mitzvos assei and lo saaseh.  [This is what the Chayei Odom essentially did when he applied contemporary examples for the other al chaits.]

    The OU report respectfully has brought this issue front and center and seeks answers to five crucial questions:

    1. How can we recognize single men and women as full, adult members of our community, rather than treating them like “boys” and “girls”?
    2. What changes to language and behaviors, on both an individual and communal level, would convey this recognition?
    3. How can we create a place for belonging within the Torah community for those who are searching for a spouse, and for those who perhaps may not find one?
    4. How can we expand communal structures and roles to include single people?
    5. How can we offer single men and women opportunities to learn more about relationships, as they so desire?

    Essentially, the report’s recommendations are:

    1. We need to increase the conversation. We have organizations for addictions, for fertility issues, (even for people in prison) – but this issue has not been adequately addressed
    2. We have to first appreciate who they are and not refer to them disrespectfully by calling them “boys” or “girls.” Even the term “singles” identifies them by this one description – and they are so much more.
    3. Invite single men and women for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals more frequently and to do so with much greater and more attuned sensitivity. It should not be a “chessed project” but as friends, and it should not be an after-thought, chalilah. 
    4. We should avoid offering unsolicited advice betachlis harichuk.
    5. We have to realize that “I am happy to have you, call if you ever need a meal” is not the way to go.

    THIS AUTHOR’S SUGGESTION

    If possible, at the very first shul and school board meeting of the year 5784, this issue should be placed on the agenda.  Every board member should read the report and try to create programming to address this long-ignored issue.  It should also be the topic of conversation perhaps at our Rosh haShana meals.

    The full 27 page report can be read here:

    https://research.ou.org/content/uploads/2023/07/the-challenges-of-singlehood.pdf

    Oh, and what happened to the individual mentioned at the beginning of this article?  He did get married, Baruch Hashem.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]


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    28 Comments
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    Liam K. Nuj
    Liam K. Nuj
    10 months ago

    The correct phrase is “plumbed the depths of Halachah”, not “plummeted the depths of Halachah”.

    Mr. Cohen
    Mr. Cohen
    10 months ago

    Everything said by this “Groundbreaking Study” has already been said by Chananya Weissman [founder of End The Madness] over the past 20 years — and not just a few times, but again and again and again, more times than anyone can count.

    Moishe
    Moishe
    10 months ago

    I wonder how much this study cost, and I can’t figure out what’s a groundbreaking about it, it’s everything we all know all along.

    Mr. Cohen
    Mr. Cohen
    10 months ago

    Rosalie J Lieberman said: “Unfortunately, in Europe, there were always older girls who couldn’t marry, especially if they came from poor families.”

    I have heard many Jews talk Jewish life in Europe: how great it was, how holy it was, how it was such a high madreigah and everyone should try to be like them.

    But what Rosalie J Lieberman said makes it seem that Jewish life in Europe was not so great, and not so holy, and not something we should work to return to.

    What she said will never be included in the ArtScroll version of History.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    10 months ago

    “He plummeted the depths” should be “He plumbed the depths”.

    Rosalie J Lieberman
    Rosalie J Lieberman
    10 months ago

    Women have a much harder time getting married, once they get into the 30s. Some may refuse to consider divorcees or widowers, but most wouldn’t, if the eligible person has many good qualities. Women are typically more put together than single men, as they age. Unfortunately, in Europe, there were always “older girls” who couldn’t marry, especially if they came from poor families. Never mind the horror stories my (late) mother told me. The Holocaust actually changed the futures of many poor female survivors, who otherwise may have stayed single because in Poland and Hungary, if you had little to no dowry, you were “redt” to much older widowed men, or younger men who were mentally ill, or other major deficiencies. I recall a relative of my husband who, before the war and despite being from an outstanding family, married a widower 20+years older. After the war, as her husband didn’t survive, she married a most chashuv widower, closer to her in age. Our hearts should go out to those who wish to marry a mensche, that they find likable, but cannot find one. That is typically the case, certainly for older females.

    ruby
    ruby
    10 months ago

    once you care, now help them get married ! many older singles need some coaching to leave a comfort zone, the last message we need is its ok you have a full life now if it happens one day great…there needs to be a cultural sense of urgency
    chas veshalom we not blaming the singles but they are stuck waiting for the train to their next stage in life it is a pity
    chazal clearly “LABEL” A single person as a ” PALGA GUFAH” loosely translated a half a person besuros tovos

    Nobody
    Nobody
    10 months ago

    Is not recognizing them as fully adult a bad thing? I mean for the community as a whole?

    It creates an important social pressure that marriage is the ideal state.

    It certainly won’t solve the shidduch crisis, other than as a cop-out, to say they are just happy being single.

    Sure, on an individual level maybe someone shouldn’t get married, but social positions, pressures and hierarchies serve a purpose for the community as a whole.

    What would an Orthodox community that isn’t centered around families look like? Socially, would singles really mix with those married with children, given their fundamentally different experiences?

    How many people would avoid marriage if they were viewed as equivalent?

    Questions this study doesn’t even begin to touch.

    In any event, it is definitely not a question that can be answered in a study that interviews only single people.

    You need to tease out what pushed people who were marginal into a successful marriage and you can only do that by interviewing married people as well, with perhaps a focus on those who got married late.

    Savannah
    Savannah
    10 months ago

    plumb

    verb
    plumbed; plumbing; plumbs
    transitive verb

    1
    : to weight with lead
    2
    a
    : to measure the depth of with a plumb
    b
    : to examine minutely and critically
    plumbing the book’s complexities

    Chaim
    Chaim
    10 months ago

    Yes but very often this is not the case.