Matchmaking is an ancient tradition, central to Jewish culture. In Hebrew it is referred to as Shidduch and is considered a mitzvah (commandment). Traditionally, any member of the community could (and often would) try his hand at matchmaking, thus becoming a matchmaker or shadchan. Often, when the amateur matchmakers (mothers, family members, friends, etc …) failed to succeed , a professional shadchan would be hired. At a time when contacts between young Jewish boys and girls were restricted if not forbidden, this community involvement ensured that every Jewish single of marriageable age would find a mate so the community would survive and eventually grow.
In today’s world, there are many ways for most Jewish men and women to meet, and the role of the matchmaker has declined. However in Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish communities, where contact with the opposite sex is still limited outside the family circle, matchmaking remains a vibrant activity and, as in the past, the entire family and professional matchmakers can be involved in the process.
In these closely-knit communities, matchmaking often starts with a personal recommendation. Those considered for marriage are carefully scrutinized. Many inquiries are made about the potential mate. The matchmaker has to find out information about character, intelligence, education, future plans for work and family, wealth, level of religious observance, expectations, etc. A complete picture of the person must be formed before the matchmaker can consider introducing potential partners. Once a person is selected, the next step can begin.
The young (or not so young) man and woman meet several times, usually in public places, and try to determine whether or not they are indeed compatible. They are encouraged to talk about subjects like the way they envision married life and parenting duties, life dreams, values, etc. No specific number of dates is required but throughout the process the couple has to keep family and matchmaker updated on how things are going. Some people take months to make a decision whereas others take just a few days.
If things do not work out, the couple does not have to go ahead with the marriage. The process starts again until the right mate is found.
Today most non-Orthodox Jews find the process of traditional matchmaking too old-fashioned and prefer to rely on their own skills to find their soulmate. However, with modern living and the dispersion of the Jewish communities, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Many people are disappointed by their experience with online dating sites and more singles are starting to turn to Jewish matchmakers to find their beshert. With ancestral know-how and the help of modern technology, it seems that those matchmakers often succeed where everything else has failed.