The Essential EndTheMadness

Q: What is the goal of EndTheMadness?

A: The basic goal of ETM is to alleviate the needless stresses and hardships of dating in the observant Jewish community. We aim to accomplish this by expanding the range of available dating options for observant Jewish singles, and to give people the confidence to explore the option or options that are most amenable to them on an individual level.

In addition, ETM seeks to promote greater achdus by tearing down stereotypes and encouraging observant Jews with different backgrounds and personal customs to consider one another as viable marriage candidates.

Q: How can challenging common assumptions and practices lead to greater achdus?

A: In the short-term, it is certainly more convenient to ignore the issues and blindly follow the status quo. An honest and analytical assessment will naturally bring disagreements to the surface, which can seem to reduce achdus. However, only by bringing serious issues to greater light and exploring them in an open and intellectually honest fashion can we repair the many rifts in our fractured community. A healing process often involves great pain, but the consequences of blithely overlooking serious problems in our community are unthinkable. The community as a whole and each individual in it must be introspective and continually seek to improve, even though change can be difficult and uncomfortable. We must dialogue in a healthy fashion and put the betterment of ourselves and the community before pride and fear of change.

Q: The first point in "The Covenant" states that "it is fundamentally wrong to judge someone based on non-Halachic externalities", and that this is even an act of sinas chinam. This is pretty strong language; what do you mean by this?

A: This is not a reference to personality, physical attraction, etc., which are important factors to be considered. The act of sinas chinam is judging a person's worth as a religious individual and, by extension, as a potential marriage candidate by things like head-coverings, Shabbos tablecloths, and other such things that are nowadays viewed with exaggerated, if not entirely fabricated, religious importance. It is indeed an act of sinas chinam to denigrate someone based on such things.

Within the rigid confines of Halacha there is room for great diversity in religious thought and expression. We should seek conformity to true Torah ideals, not to cliques and costumes.

Q: But isn't it important for couples to have things like background and customs in common?

A: To a degree. Certainly the core values and ideals should be similar if they hope to work together in life and help one another achieve spiritual fulfillment. However, things have gotten completely out of hand, to the extent that people are seeking carbon copies of themselves. In addition to being unrealistic, this removes the focus from factors that are truly important in a healthy and successful relationship, not to mention factors on which the Torah places a premium.

Some people are best off marrying someone who is fairly similar to them in personality and background. Many others are best off marrying someone who would be complementary, not merely supplementary. The rich diversity within our ranks is something to be treasured, and one should open himself up to the possibility of spending life with someone not exactly like himself. The most important factors in a successful shidduch are that both parties enjoy each other's company, that they are interested in and attracted to one another, and that they are looking for roughly the same things out of life. The rest are just details that are often blown way out of proportion.

Q: Are you Modern Orthodox? Yeshivish? Heimish? With It?

A: I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't understand the question.

Q: Who is your target audience?

A: The principles of ETM can benefit a wide range of people. Our primary efforts are geared to Jews who are committed to Torah values and Halachic observance, but we see no need to be more specific than that, nor to implicitly or explicitly make anyone feel unwelcome.

Q: What is ETM's position on shadchanus as a way for singles to meet?

A: Contrary to common misconception, ETM is not ideologically opposed to any Halachically acceptable method of meeting. Different methods of meeting work for different people, and no individual or group of people should feel compelled or otherwise pressured to limit themselves to a particular form of meeting that does not appeal to them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and within the rigid confines of Halacha there are numerous valid methods, all of which should be more readily available.

While ETM seeks in particular to promote more informal methods of meeting, we do not limit our constructive efforts to our most preferred methods. All of the various methods have pros and cons - both Halachic and practical. We seek to identify the cons of the various methods and improve them, so that dating for everyone will be more pleasant and will ultimately lead to more stable, happy, and successful marriages.

Q: How does ETM expect to influence the dating culture?

A: One person at a time. The problems in the world of shidduchim are largely the result of societal pressures. We seek to give chizzuk to those who wish for things to change but until now have been afraid to "stand out". As it becomes easier for people to speak out about the issues, as individuals feel more comfortable doing things a little differently than the tried and untrue status quo, the culture of dating will slowly begin to change. Since the problems are more attitudinal than anything else, the solution consists of education and giving people the confidence to put these ideas into practice in their own lives.

Q: You write that one should not "judge a person based on his family or his background". How does this fit with the importance that Chazal place on yichus, upbringing, and family background as strong indicators of what that person is like?

A: While these notions are certainly important, they should not be taken out of proportion. Every individual person is judged on his own merits. Those with favorable backgrounds do not always live up to the examples of their forebears, and those with unfavorable backgrounds can rise above their circumstances. Family background is indeed an indicator - but only an indicator, one of many indicators. Just as first impressions are important but not always accurate, indicators are important but not always accurate. To condemn people from unfavorable backgrounds, however broadly or narrowly defined, without entertaining the possibility that an individual in question might be an exception, is foolhardy, if not criminal. It is self-contradictory to believe in the concept of a "basherte", yet refuse to date people strictly based on generalizations and stereotypes.

Q: So should people just date one another without asking any questions or knowing anything about the other person?

A: Of course not. But one should never lose sight of the fact that pre-date questions often reflect inappropriate biases and assumptions, and that inappropriate biases and assumptions make it more difficult to find a truly ideal spouse. One should be very honest with himself about what information is really vital and what is frivolous. In addition, a short date can involve much less time and stress than thorough preliminary research, and even a few minutes with a live human being can lend much greater insight into the potential for a relationship than a litany of questions. One may come to appreciate certain qualities that he had never even considered, or realize that certain "essentials" are really not that important in the greater scheme of things.

Advance knowledge can be helpful in avoiding inappropriate dates - but the need to have one's every idiosyncrasy satisfied before the first meeting is narcissistic and self-defeating.

Q: What is the position of EndTheMadness on the "singles lifestyle" prevalent in such communities as the Upper West Side?

A: We recognize that, due to a variety of circumstances, it takes longer for some people to find the right person to marry or to prepare oneself for marriage. No one should enter into a marriage without being prepared to assume the tremendous responsibilities of sharing life with a spouse.

However, we also recognize the supreme value that Judaism places on marriage and family, and do not favor pushing off marriage in favor of career advancement, social considerations, or other non-essential factors that are often viewed with exaggerated importance. Getting married and starting a family are goals that singles should always strive for, and should view as top priorities.

While single men and women should be valued by the community and treated with the dignity and respect befitting accomplished adults, singles should not become complacent with their current, perhaps comfortable, lifestyle. They should continue to be positive and proactive in all aspects of their lives, but should not lose sight of the fact - painful as it may be - that they are missing something special. Singles can accomplish tremendous things, but the attainment of one's fullest spiritual potential can occur only within the context of a healthy marriage.

Q: What role should Rabbinic guidance play in the area of shidduchim?

A: We encourage people to discuss these issues with Rabbis, parents, friends, and anyone who can offer insights. We do not encourage people to blindly follow anyone's advice, regardless of how knowledgeable or pious that person might be. Every individual is different, every personal situation has its own nuances, and there is rarely one line of advice that is appropriate for everyone. It is wise to seek the advice of several people and to use one's own mind to arrive at a conclusion. In Halachic matters one may not "shop around" for the most convenient opinion. In personal matters that are not strictly defined by Halacha, one owes it to himself to explore a broad range of perspectives and be intellectually involved in determining what fits best for him. One must not use respect for religious authority as an excuse to not think and act independently, nor should one believe that everything in life is a Halachic matter with one correct approach.

Issues related to dating, shidduchim, and marriage occasionally require a Halachic decision. In such cases, of course, one should consult a competent Rabbi who is qualified to issue Halachic decisions in these areas. At other times the guidance and perspective offered by Rabbis can be helpful and should be carefully considered. However, this advice should not be mistaken for binding Halacha or objective Truth, and should thus be followed only at the discretion of those seeking the advice. To follow questionable advice strictly out of deference to the one proffering it is reckless and brings no honor to the Torah.

Q: ETM supports mixed seating at wedding meals (especially for the singles) and promotes social interaction in general. How do you reconcile this with the legitimate concerns that social interaction can lead to inappropriate behavior?

A: We are not oblivious to the potential pitfalls of men and women interacting in an unsupervised venue. The temptation for sin is great, and the most pious among us can fall prey to it. However, we must realize that all reactions to potential problems have consequences. Limiting the potential for men and women to socialize, while making it more difficult (though certainly not impossible) for them to sin also makes it extremely more difficult for them to develop healthy relationships that will lead to successful marriages. In this case, the problems that are caused by severely restricting social interaction are greater than those we seek to minimize.

ETM does not advocate uninhibited and completely frivolous social interaction. However, if religious Jewish singles are educated in the ways of the Torah, we must trust that they will make the proper decisions in life, even though we know that not everyone will withstand every test. Interaction between men and women is normal and healthy, and will naturally lead to successful marriages. Removing or artificializing all such opportunities has already led to great destruction in our community. As always, the Torah approach is neither one of sweeping restrictions nor uninhibited permissiveness, but balance, moderation, and careful consideration of all the consequences.