Dating and the Synagogue


In my earliest years of graduate school, I was absent from one problem that many of my colleagues were not: dating. I got married to my spouse before we entered graduate school, so I did not have balance the dating scene with the crushing schedule of classes, reading, and researching. For many of my colleagues, this was a nightmare. For others, they found novel ways to date by their own terms. One colleague signed up for JDate, a website for Jewish singles. At the time, I was surprised that such a site existed, much less survived against dating giants, like, but this site filled a particular niche. It provided Jewish singles with the ability to meet other Jewish singles, so they could possibly avoid intermarriage. A subscription to JDate also held the appeal of other forms of internet dating, one could screen potential dates from the confines of one's home.

In his aptly titled, "Sex and the Synagogue," Newsweek reporter Tony Dokoupil points the sensitivity that many American Jews have to the rise of interfaith marriage. Thus, JDate has now partnered with rabbis to face the challenge. JDate now offers a bulk membership for rabbis for their congregants. Dokoupil writes:
According to Gail Laguna, JDate's vice president of communications, singles who sign up through their congregation get a slight discount on the site's $149 six-month subscription fee. "This is a way for us to break down the walls of the synagogue," said Rabbi Michael Cahana, who leads the Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore. "We should use all the technological tools that are available to us."

Technology that might lead to more Jewish marriages. Interestingly, some rabbis are paying from their own pockets to secure subscriptions for congregants, and some synagogues are using their discretionary funds for the expense of JDate. Dokoupil continued:
The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970. "This is about creating an opportunity," says Cahana. Sometimes even Cupid needs a nudge.

Internet dating becomes another supposedly secular, technological tool to be absorbed in the religious realm. Rabbis can help their congregants find love, but also perpetuate Jewish instead of interfaith marriages. So, how can we understand how internet dating can fit into religious practice? Dating is already fraught with various tensions, and religious belief and practice can often be one of these. Thus, JDate diffuses this tension for subscribers, but I wonder how different this dating site is from any way? Are there surveys that allow one to proclaim undying devotion to long walks on the beach? How are the logistics similar to more secular sites? Does allow someone to screen by religious preference? Has anyone explored the place of internet dating in the religious lives of Americans? Am I the only one interested? (Any suggestions would be more than welcome in the comments section.) I never found out if my colleague found love on JDate, but I wonder if her rabbi subsidized her subscription.


Anonymous said…
This is an interesting topic. Some of these questions were answered over six years ago in the New York Times:

More recently, how about's religious ties, and's television ads directed against them? Or the fact that there are many JDate members are not Jewish, but would like to date Jews?

That the world of online dating has all kinds of connections to religion and religious histories should be no surprise to us in 2008 when the World Wide Web has been a part of everyday life for over a decade. The question is, why do these aspects of life so often seem to be outside the view of American religious historians?
matt b said…
There are, unsurprisingly, given the central place of marriage in the faith's theology and praxis, dozens of online Mormon dating sites - and are the two most well known. There's even an LDS version of Facebook called ldslinkup.

All these sites intertwine with another phenomenon familiar to young single Mormons - the singles ward, or congregation made up entirely of single 18 to 30 year olds, explicitly designed to promote mate-finding. This has sometimes unintended and counterproductive social effects, however; there's a taboo called 'ward incest' - or dating within one's own ward. This is a bad thing, due presumably to the potentially devastating social fallout of breakups. Ldslinkup allows one to sort the mass of profiles by ward; this leads to an interesting virtual reproduction of ecclesiastical boundaries on the internet.
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