Since Netflix released “Jewish Matchmaking” earlier this month, people have become obsessed with the age-old Jewish practice. As it turns out, it’s a lot more complicated than “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
While the show gives a good overview of how matchmaker Aleeza Ben Shalom makes matches (she’s raked in over 200 married couples!), there’s still so much to be learned about one of the greatest mitzvot. Yes, you heard that right. Setting up your friends is, in fact, considered a mitzvah.
Unpacked spoke to Cindy Seni and Alyssa Lezerrovici, two of the stars of “Jewish Matchmaking,” as well as Jewish matchmakers from the United States and Israel to learn more about how the timeless practice works today and what it looked like on the show.
So what exactly is Jewish matchmaking?
Jewish matchmaking has been done by a professional (or hobbyist) matchmaker, also called a shadchan, for as long as the Jewish people have been around.
While every matchmaker approaches the process differently, it typically involves meeting with a potential client, understanding who they are and what they’re looking for in a potential spouse, and eventually sending them off on dates.
In the Middle Ages, communities would typically have informal matchmakers — oftentimes, people who knew a family would try to set up a match. However, in the 15th century, professional matchmakers emerged, who would charge for their services.
Especially in more traditionally-observant communities where interactions between young Jewish men and women were limited, a shadchan often served as a vital link, aiding in the search for an appropriate match.
Today, matchmaking serves as a way to help young Jewish people meet suitable future spouses. And it’s a lot more popular than you think — if you’ve ever set up a couple, then you have played “matchmaker” too.
Although the formal practice has declined in popularity since Ashkenazi Jews left the shtetl and began assimilating into local cultures, it is still used by people from all sects of Judaism. And with the recent release of the Netflix show, many argue it is making a comeback.
The ancient roots of Jewish matchmaking
The history of Jewish matchmaking goes all the way back to the biblical era.
The first recorded match or shidduch in the Torah is Isaac and Rebecca. As the story (told in Bereshit/Genesis 24) goes, Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for his son, giving instructions on what kind of woman he would like his son to marry.
The servant immediately sees Rebecca who quickly proves her kind and generous qualities, and decides she is the perfect woman for Isaac. After discussing it with her family, they all agree that it would be a great match.
However, it is important to note that even in this situation, both Rebecca and Isaac gave their consent to the match. Bereshit/Geneisis 24:57 states “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply,” emphasizing the importance of consent and approval.
This has always been and still remains an important tenet in Jewish matchmaking: The Talmud requires that a couple must meet before the marriage and give their consent to the match. The couple must also be mature and old enough to determine whether they would be suitable for each other.
How was matchmaking done on Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking”?
Now that we’ve explored the ancient roots of Jewish matchmaking, let’s dive into the modern process of what it looks like today, starting with the Netflix version.
Content creator Cindy Seni, who has also hosted videos for Unpacked, was asked to be on Netflix’s “Jewish Matchmaking” when the production company reached out to her and encouraged her to audition.
“I was making a lot of reels about being single,” Seni told Unpacked. “So I was sent an email, and then I just applied as a joke at the beginning, because I had just gotten out of a relationship. And I was like, Well, why not? You know, if someone’s gonna find me a husband, it’s going to be Netflix.”
In addition to the opportunity to find her match, Seni also chose to participate to represent Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, who are frequently underrepresented in film and media.
“Growing up, I didn’t really see anyone like me on TV. I always saw the gefilte fish and jokes about being lactose intolerant in Hollywood, and I never felt like I connected to that,” Seni explained.
“I saw this as an opportunity to represent as a Sephardic and Mizrahi Jew. I’m so grateful for Netflix for being able to reach out to a different type of Jews. In the end, that’s why I did it — because I wanted us to be represented.”
Alyssa Lezerrovici, another contestant on the show, was contacted by a matchmaker who worked with Ben Shalom, who believed she’d be an excellent choice for the show. She hadn’t considered matchmaking before, but decided not to rule out the process.
“I never would have thought that I would do something like [using a matchmaker],” Lezerrovici said. “But the opportunity came up and I was like, why not? I’ve been trying dating for so long, and it never works out.”
Lezerrovici said that she was tired of dating for long periods of time only to discover incompatibilities along the way. “And you start to question, ‘have I been wasting my time?’ So I decided to accept this unusual way of dating. And I hoped for the best.”
As for Seni, she liked the idea of the matchmaker selecting candidates for her and the assurance that everyone in the process was also looking for marriage.
“I was looking for something a little bit more serious. The fun thing about matchmaking is that the person has already been vetted, so you don’t have to worry about who you’re actually going to meet,” Seni said.
Reflecting on her dates with Daniel on the show, she said that the presence of cameras on their outings initially made them both feel somewhat “stiff.” However, as they spent more time in front of the camera, they eventually loosened up and felt more at ease.
While her first date on the show went well, Seni decided to call off her relationship with Daniel when he showed up late to their next date. For Lezerrovici, she and Noah decided not to go on a second date.
“On paper, everything sounded nice, but even if people think you’re compatible, in the end, you end up meeting them and it’s just not what you hoped,” Lezerrovici said.
How is Jewish matchmaking done in real life today?
Outside of the Netflix show, Jewish matchmaking is practiced around the globe with Jews from all walks of life.
While matchmakers may live an ocean away from their clients, FaceTiming and email have bridged the gap and created a larger database for shadchanim to pull from. There are even networks of hundreds of matchmakers across the world who have pooled their clients to create more potential matches.
At its core, the matchmaking process hasn’t changed much since the days of the shtetl. However, the practice has evolved to focus more on creating partnerships through relationship counseling.
Marriage educator and matchmaker Daniella Rudoff — based in Beit Shemesh, Israel — uses her training and education on relationships to help mold her matchmaking process.
She integrates learning into the dating process, ensuring her clients not only find a spouse, but also gain a deeper understanding of how to sustain a healthy relationship.
“I call myself a ‘marriage architect’ because I build marriages with education,” Rudoff told Jewish Unpacked. “I feel it was important to teach the couple something. So I teach them communication and relationship-building skills to make sure they have an awesome marriage. … To me, it’s about [building] that foundation.”
Rudoff emphasized the importance of meeting and getting to know her clients and developing a relationship where they get to know her as well. It’s only through those discussions that she can begin understanding what they’re looking for and start matching them up.
“That initial meeting, frankly, changes peoples’ lives to bring them closer to getting married. I get them married by conversations and the coaching that I do,” Rudoff said. Her mentorship includes regular check-ins with her clients and hearing what they liked or didn’t about their dates.
New York-based matchmaker Lizzy Savetsky agreed that the initial meeting plays a significant role in the matchmaking process. Typically, the first meeting gives her valuable insights into the most suitable match for her client.
“I’m very intuitive,” Savetsky told Unpacked. “I like to FaceTime with [my clients]. Usually, within five minutes, I know the kind of person that I think would be good for them.”
One matchmaker, who preferred to remain anonymous, discussed benefitting from the internet age in casting a wider net for their clients. The shadchan initially had the idea of pooling together a larger client network while hosting a shabbaton with other matchmakers.
With a network of over 2,000 singles, the matchmaker hopes to increase the chances of successful shidduchim, and has already seen the system flourish.
“If I fix up somebody for three or four dates, and two months later, I don’t have anybody else for that person, they’ll ask me, ‘well, do you have anybody else for me?’ And I’ll say, well, we can blast it through to our network and that’s when I might consider involving other matchmakers.”
However, this matchmaker said that no additional setups could be made unless the new matchmaker thoroughly understood the candidate and their motivations for using the service to find love.
From a matchmaking perspective, “the resume is not enough. I need to know the ‘why.’ The most important thing is why. Tell me about the journey,” he said.
“Most of [my clients] are not 21 or 22 years old. They all have some journey that they’ve gone through, changing careers, becoming less observant, more observant. I’m dealing with so many people in their mid to late-thirties, so I try to understand how they want to be understood,” he added.
Rudoff stressed that it’s important for clients to understand their priorities of what they want in a partner, and keep these priorities top of mind throughout the process.
She encourages her clients to maintain their lists of desirable traits in a partner, contrary to the common advice of focusing solely on the most important qualities. She puts it this way: “Keep your list. And when you meet the guy or meet the woman who you want to marry, you’ll know what to take off the list.”
How is Jewish matchmaking done on social media?
Savetsky began informally matchmaking because she simply loved setting people she knew up. She began taking it more seriously about two years ago when she was asked about setting up people on Instagram.
From that, Bashert was born.
The company’s Instagram account — consisting of a weekly IGTV series and photo profiles of eligible singles — has expanded Savetsky’s reach to help people find love.
I just thought it would be a fun idea,” she said. “I was just blown away by how many incredible submissions we got. Whether or not they wanted to appear on my Instagram, we had so many people, so I just saw how much of a need there was — the ‘shidduch crisis’ as they say.”
In recent years, there has been discussion about a “shidduch crisis” among young people in the Orthodox community, especially women, who are having trouble finding suitable marriage partners.
Bashert soon blossomed and has allowed Jewish singles to meet after being screened by Savetsky. However, she underscored the importance of the account being public so that others could help set the person up as well.
“My hope with Bashert was to exploit my platform and my audience to help people find love because I’m just one person who can help. I am putting them out there to thousands of potential matchmakers who may be able to help them,” Savetsky said.
She emphasized that “anyone can be a matchmaker,” and what makes Bashert so special is her ability to show that — while actively helping someone find love.
“A lot of times for me, it’s just about seeing this amazing single person and wanting to give them exposure on my Instagram platform…I know that by giving them the opportunity to put themselves out there on my platform, thousands of people are going to see them and somebody will know of somebody for them,” she added.
Savetsky recently began hosting Bashert live events as a way to bring the Instagram series into the physical world. The gatherings range from singles parties, where hundreds of people mingle over cocktails and snacks, to a live-show version of Bashert.
Originally Published May 25, 2023 06:09PM EDT