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Internet Dating's Major Impact Jewish Life

Oren Lee-Parritz

Dr. Bruce Phillips; Photo by: Marvin SteindlerIt is difficult not to notice the powerful presence of internet dating on the Jewish social scene. While Jdate.com seems to be at the forefront, with its massive billboard in Times Square, there are many other very influential Jewish dating sites that have emerged. It is important to look at impact of and reason for its rise and what implications it may have for the future.

While it is difficult to concretely measure the success or permanence of these sites, many boast membership in the millions and claim responsibility for numerous happy marriages. Jdate.com and other sites offer lengthy testimonials regarding their successes. After talking to various sources, the feedback on these sites has generally been positive.

With internet dating on the rise as a whole, and ethnically oriented sights neither new nor limited to the Jewish community, it is interesting to note that the popularity does seem to be higher among Jews. According to Professor Bruce Phillips of Hebrew Union College, the number of Jewish dating sites significantly exceeds those that are Catholic or Protestant. Data was not immediately available for Islamic, Arab, or various ethnic websites.

According to Rabbi Zev Wineberg of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island City, internet dating is a very good resource for single Jews. Given the growing problem of intermarriage, he believes that every resource available to help bring Jews together romantically is a welcome development. Rabbi Wineberg's activities involve many activities with Jewish youths and others whose social lives operate outside Jewish circles. He contends that among many of these people, it is a priority to marry Jewish, but many are cut off from their community as they grow older and life circumstances change. He argues that despite people's initial priorities, people gradually tend to "meet who they meet, and date who they date", thus relying on serendipity in order to follow their original goal of marrying Jewish. With the rise of Jewish dating on the internet, however, people now have a specific tool to help them, and are not limited by the immediate exigencies of their lives.

In addition, Rabbi Wineberg contends that evolving social realities have created more of a need for Jewish dating websites. He likens finding one's partner to "finding a needle in a haystack". This situation becomes more challenging as both Jewish and American society grow and change. This trend is reflected in the large variety of different Jewish dating sites catering to many different niches. Such sites range from a large selection of observance- related sites (orthodate.com and frumster.com) to age group-related sites (jewishseniorsdating.com) to numerous gay and lesbian Jewish dating sites.

Concerning orthodox and ultra-orthodox dating sites, this may represent an interesting shift away from the traditional matchmaking practiced by some communities. While some might have believed that this shift would have been unwelcome, Rabbi Wineberg states that this is not the case. According to him, internet dating augments, rather than replaces, more traditional methods and thus "The more the merrier". As far as old world matchmaking, in which marriages are arranged, the two spheres are so different that they do not overlap.

Jewish or not, these websites create a valuable resources for those who are too shy or uncomfortable to engage in traditional nightlife. After all, urban nightlife, a significant avenue to meeting people, can be an onerous financial burden, especially in New York City. Compared to an average of $30.00 a month membership, the appeal is obvious.

While there may have been a stigma attached to meeting partners on the internet originally, this seems to have diminished recently. According to Professor Phillips, changing social realities may explain this. Such realities may include Jewish people working longer hours with less of a social outlet or the decline of traditional means of meeting people such as at synagogue or through relatives. In addition, citing research from the Pew center, people have developed different attitudes regarding marriage and divorce is becoming more common, creating a changing market for single people.

This raises some more questions regarding the Jewish dating scene. Namely, is membership reflective of a growing concern among Jews regarding intermarriage? According to research conducted by Professor Phillips, people for whom it is a priority to marry Jewish have found internet dating quite useful. This research, in addition to the rise in popularity of these websites, could reasonably suggest a growing general concern about intermarriage.

There is also the factor to consider that many people are using these sites to not only look for partners. For some, relocating creates a need to find Jewish community and friends and many of these sites have helped with that. In particular, Israelis that have moved to the states have found it to be an invaluable resource. In fact, Jdate.com has a Hebrew option for its page.

According to Joe, a 23 year old political analyst from Washington DC, he originally thought Jdate.com would be a valuable resource for him to meet Jewish women his age. Joe also responded that marrying Jewish was important to him and that this was a factor in his choosing to use these websites. However, he did express disappointment in the quality and number of his potential matches. Generally, he said that people were honest in their profiles though pictures were often deceiving. Given his location in the Washington DC area, it is interesting to note that perhaps certain regions experience a great deal more activity than others (New York or Los Angeles) as epicenters of Jewish life. Joe also did agree that there was a certain stigma attached to internet dating in general, but that it did not discourage him fully.

While there certainly many positive aspects associated with these sites, there are always potential problems. Aside from the obvious risk of unsavory characters, there are many difficulties involved with how well they can actually set people up. The point of the sites and profiles are designed for people to search and choose based on honest criteria. However, there may be a tendency for people to "pad their resumes" in order to get their foot in the door with prospective partners. If this becomes excessive, it is quite likely that many will find themselves disappointed upon meeting and getting to know each other better.

There is also the issue that many might be searching based on shallow criteria. As many have pointed out, those without photos experience far less activity. Even if they have photos, many people might be passed over if they are not overtly attractive. In addition, criteria such as income might be overemphasized. Photoshop and income inflation might be prevalent.

One other interesting development is that when searching Jewish dating sites, there are many members who are not Jewish. According to both Rabbi Wineberg and Professor Phillips, this is a new and widespread trend; non-Jews seeking out Jews. This is quite interesting and raises questions about why someone would go out of their way to specifically to seek out a Jewish partner.

Some express concern about internet dating in general. Such critics claim that "digitizing" people's social lives is bad for proper social development and will not build healthy relationships. However, Rabbi Wineberg disagrees: "All that the internet does is bring people together. Their compatibility will be determined when they meet and grow to know each other. Therefore, no element of the 'human touch' is lost in the context of internet dating."