Few areas of Jewish life can be as far from picture-perfect as that of shidduchim. But the new and increasingly widespread use of pictures in the shidduch process has totally changed the dynamics of a system already fraught with challenges.
In an effort to mitigate the damage, a New York shadchan pioneered what has quickly become a global project. Dubbed “Nix the Pics,” the campaign encourages fellow shadchanim to sign a 30-day challenge forgoing the use of pictures while redting shidduchim.
Mrs. Lisa Elefant began urging fellow shadchanim to join this campaign four weeks ago to honor the memory of the 45 kedoshim lost in Meron. With over 250 shadchanim signing on, along with the endorsement of many prominent Rabbanim, Mrs. Elefant’s brainchild has succeeded way beyond her expectations.
The initiative acknowledges the need to change “what’s become the norm in redting shidduchim” and its success has spread beyond the participation of shadchanim. In a brief period of time, many parents and children have also signed the 30-day pledge.
With the completion of the 30 day challenge this week, I spoke with Mrs. Elefant, one of her fellow shadchanim, and with several of the Rabbanim who lent their names to support a cause whose time they felt was overdue. I also spoke with mothers and a few singles. In part I of this series, we will hear what a sampling of those interviewed had to say.
Mrs. Lisa Elefant is a highly successful shadchan in New York and the founder of Adopt a Shadchan.
Mrs. Elefant is no stranger to strategizing in the world of shidduchim, but the issue of pictures has bothered her for a long time. “Gedolim and Rabbanim have been speaking about this for years. It’s not in our mesorah. Most Jewish magazines and publications don’t have pictures of women and there’s a reason for that. We are tznius and it’s not appropriate. So why is it appropriate for mothers and boys to have an endless supply of pictures on their phones?”
The horrific tragedy in Meron galvanized Mrs. Elefant to action. “Everyone was concentrating on what individual thing they can take on in the memory of those kedoshim as a zechus, and I decided to take this project on.”
Mrs. Elefant drafted a letter outlining the reasons necessitating the initiative and stated its goal. “In our desire to see more singles dating and ultimately married,” the letter reads, “we decided to change what’s become the norm in redting shidduchim. We have taken it upon ourselves to send resumes to singles sans the shidduch picture in hopes of encouraging our singles to judge a resume based on the written information given and the verbal information offered by references, rather than by a photograph.”
One of the single girls Mrs. Elefant works with suggested the catchy name, and then reached out to other shadchanim. “It caught on and over 100 shadchanim signed on in minutes. In a matter of days, it grew to over 250 shadchanim, with many more anonymous. This project is truly changing the mindset of the dating world by opening up minds and hearts to change. Already we have had those singles who are agreeing to give a ‘yes’ to a shidduch idea that they had previously said ‘no’ to.”
The initiative has been guided and endorsed by many Rabbanim, shlita, including Rabbi Shlomo Miller, Rabbi Elya Brudny, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rabbi Yaakov Forcheimer, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Rabbi Boruch Hirschfeld, Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rabbi David Ozeri, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro, Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, Rabbi Yosef Elefant, Rabbi Shlomo Churba, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter and Rabbi Efrem Goldberg.
According to this veteran shadchan, times have changed. “It used to be that a mother would check out a girl at a wedding or her place of work, often without the girl knowing. And the mother saw her as a real, live person. All of a sudden, pictures emerged and people wouldn’t even consider a resume without one. Peer pressure grew so that shadchanim had no choice. They’re easier, but not everyone is photogenic and a picture isn’t reality. Seeing someone all made up and dressed up isn’t how a girl looks in real life. You don’t see her chein or all the other beautiful things about her. And often a picture isn’t updated or accurate.”
Mrs. Elefant acknowledges the growing prevalence of boys’ pictures too. “Boys are providing head shots and we don’t feel comfortable with that either. But people are now requesting full-length and casual pictures of girls. It’s become very unhealthy. Mothers too are getting very frustrated with the bombardment of multiple pictures. And most boys’ mothers are also mothers of girls and know they’ll be going down the same road.”
When asked about the origin of the practice, she is quick not to cast aspersions. “I’m not blaming anyone. No one person started it. But it’s almost at the point where we can’t push back. Seminaries are trying to discourage use of iPhones and yet it’s okay to do a whole studio photo session? That’s sending mixed signals.”
Mrs. Elefant acknowledges frum communities “across the board” are impacted. “Some shadchanim claim not to have caved, particularly some in Lakewood. But to be fair, they have access to the most boys and can get away with it. For the majority of shadchanim, we often feel pressured by parents and are left with no choice if we want a shidduch to go forward. It creates an unfair cycle and shadchanim get unfairly blamed. It’s reached a point where a girl is looked at askance if she refuses to give a picture. Without a picture, odds are 96% the resumé goes to the bottom of the pile. Maybe it will resurface, maybe it won’t.”
Some circumstances, however, warrant pictures. “I deal with a lot of older singles who have dated five-plus years and are burned out or disillusioned with the process. I totally understand their frustration of not wanting to ‘waste time.’ Sometimes the picture is necessary. But the intention here is to ultimately raise awareness and try to stem the tide going forward for the younger daters, in hopes that this becomes the new norm. A shadchan should send a resumé and discuss the merits of the person without the picture.”
The campaign met with mixed reviews. “Obviously, girls and their mothers were very happy because for a long time they have felt dehumanized and demeaned. The first week there was a lot of backlash from the male side and boys’ mothers. Some boys’ mothers said, ‘Okay, we’ll sit out the 30 days.’”
This only emphasized the extent of the problem. “It proves that the pictures have become a total crutch. But the negative reactions demonstrated that we’re doing the right thing. If you take on something with little or no reaction, no ripple effect is created. This really hit nerves. I got hate mail. Someone put out a video personally attacking me. I took that as a message from Hashem that I’m doing the right thing and encourage other shadchanim likewise.”
Asked to point to any concrete results, Mrs. Elefant says, “I have never gotten more ‘yeses’ in one week and I hear the same from other shadchanim. At a Shavuos program, several boys thanked me, although they admitted they were initially annoyed. One said, ‘I realize that it’s not my hishtadlus to look at pictures but to look at the resumé, make calls and come to a decision.’ Another boy conceded that it helps him focus on what people say about a girl without having a picture in his head.”
With the campaign gaining momentum and publicity, Mrs. Elefant points to the help of her fellow shadchanim. “I am humbled and grateful to Hashem but I’d be nowhere without their support. This has been tried before by many individuals, but I believe that the missing key was actively recruiting shadchanim. Working as a group sends a powerful message. I think Hashem is propelling us forward precisely because of this achdus.”
Based on his wide experience dealing with boys in yeshivah and in shul, Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison, believes Nix the Pics is a “good idea” and that hopefully this effort is “certainly a first step in the right direction.”
The drawback of pictures goes way beyond the idea that “pictures don’t convey the essence of a person.” Harav Reisman feels that “from a boy’s perspective, pictures distort the whole shidduch process. It distorts his whole priority by having a picture as the introduction to a shidduch. A boy comes to me to talk about a shidduch and he starts by saying that he likes the way the girl looks — this attitude puts looks on equal value with everything else. It’s an unfortunate distortion of the value system and it definitely affected the young men by placing attractiveness on the top of the list.”
Harav Reisman sees no merit in pictures, regardless of differences in hashkafic backgrounds. “I’m shocked that some people who claim to be frum defend this type of practice.”
And in answer to whether it might be emblematic of a decline in Torah values, the Rav counters that he feels it’s a cause rather than a result. “When you start putting a priority on these things, it causes a distortion of Torah values.”
Harav Reisman hesitates to project whether this campaign to raise awareness will succeed. “Sometimes things work well; sometimes they don’t. But the initiative is worth making the statement even if it changes nothing.”
When asked if he feels shadchanim might be complicit in using pictures in an effort to clinch a deal, Harav Reisman exonerates them. “People who blame the shadchanim are obviously making a mistake,” he states. And when asked for who might be behind the new practice, he suggests it might be the mothers of boys.
In addition to pictures, I ask the Rav about challenges in the current shidduch system and how to alleviate them. “The challenge is the priorities of what people are looking for in shidduchim. The old priorities are not there. People used to look for a good wife and a good mother. Sometimes a boy will come to me after dating a girl five or six times and I ask him, ‘Will she make a good mother?’ He has to stop and think about it. He relates whether he enjoys spending time with her but he’s surprised by my question. It didn’t used to be that way.”
Pictures are playing a major role in this change in priorities and Harav Reisman believes that this initiative is crucial. “It can’t just come from Roshei Yeshivos. The fact that it is coming from shadchanim is very significant. It is an incredible act of courage on the part of every one of the shadchanim. Mrs. Elefant and the other shadchanim are getting a lot of flak over this. I told her it’s fine; it just proves the point that it has to get done. People should be ashamed. They trussed it up with some sort of righteous statement of why it’s good, which is totally absurd.”
As the Rav of the biggest shul in America’s Southeast, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Rav of Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) has long experience in shidduchim, particularly in “fielding reference calls.” And he has grown concerned over what he sees to be harmful procedures in the shidduch system.
“I believe that Rabbanim, Rebbetzins, shadchanim and parents have to work together with courage and conviction to break some of the molds and practices that have risen that are hurting, not helping. The inclusion of pictures isn’t supported by any Gedolei Yisrael, was never the practice of Klal Yisrael, and we should reverse the trend.”
Rabbi Goldberg says that insistence on pictures “can violate halachos of tznius and the pressure to include them places unfair expectations and demands.”
He relays an incident to illustrate the “often misleading” nature of pictures. “A shadchan in a major yeshivah who represents several thousand bachurim told me that he takes a picture of each one for his personal file. He met with a very shy, introverted young man who, when it came time to take his picture, had the most infectious and vibrant smile. He realized that if someone would look at his picture, he would draw entirely incorrect conclusions. And the same is true in the opposite direction.”
When asked if there are certain circumstances, such as with older singles, that might warrant the use of pictures, Rabbi Goldberg answers with some questions of his own. “What did we do before pictures were so easily available? Why do no Gedolim endorse the practice of including them?”
The Rav also laments how the shidduch system has devolved over time, reflecting a deterioration of values. “Attraction has always been a critical element of shidduchim but as people got to know one another, they became more attractive. Now we want instant answers, to draw instant conclusions and to have all the information we seek on demand. Unrealistic expectations of other people’s looks and physical appearance are causing people to hire professional photographers and to Photoshop [edit the pictures]. This emphasis on appearance even before meeting someone and becoming attracted to their personality was never our way and is only hurting, not helping.”
When asked if the trend has become so commonplace as to preclude its reversal, Rabbi Goldberg is optimistic. “It is not too late at all. If those involved and invested in the shidduch process simply refuse to participate or cooperate with pictures, the trend can be reversed.”
And while he doesn’t see any direct connection between the initiative and the memorial of the 45 kedoshim in Meron, Rabbi Goldberg does see a merit. “Anything we can do to promote Jewish continuity and to promote Torah values in their zechus is worthwhile.”
In response to the question of what more can be done to alleviate the overall challenges singles face in shidduchim today, Rabbi Goldberg proposes going back to the basics. “Uncomplicate things, go back to simpler times, don’t rely too heavily on shadchanim. Rather, if everyone would get involved in trying to think of shidduchim among people they know, it will all go a long way.”
Mrs. B., who currently has a son in shidduchim, is open and honest regarding this initiative. “I’m personally conflicted, because inherently I can’t argue with the fact that pictures are a terrible thing. It makes me ill to know that they are being passed around, making girls into a commodity. I wouldn’t be happy if it were my daughter. She’s a person and so much more than a picture. Yet, looking back to when my married son was dating, when pictures were not prevalent, I think it would have saved us time.”
Mrs. B. believes it should go both ways, and she presents her son’s picture if requested. She also maintains that there is some merit to a visual. “Some pictures save me from even making phone calls. For me, it’s certainly not about whether the girl is pretty. One picture I received showed a girl wearing a loud dress, with heavy makeup and wild hair. If this reflects her judgment then she’s not for my son. Honestly, I am uncomfortable asking for a picture but we have eliminated names this way.”
No picture demands more background checking. “I’d almost have to go to the girl’s school or work and stalk her. That’s what we used to do. My married daughter remembers people pointing right at her at a wedding and it was a horrible feeling. I’m not sure what’s really better.”
Mrs. B.’s son would never look at a picture, but she knows that a boy who wants one will get one anyhow, and it might be a compromising one. And while she feels that a shidduch can work with no picture if you trust the shadchan, “If people randomly suggest ideas, asking too many questions might lead to lashon hara.”
Despite these concessions, which Mrs. B. has made “with a heavy heart,” she hopes this initiative will succeed. “Maybe this is the best way and only shadchanim should have a picture and use their discretion. People should be encouraged to speak to references and find out about a girl. At the very least, this will bring awareness and make people feel guilty asking for pictures. For that alone it’s worthwhile.”
For herself, Mrs. B. is cautiously inspired. “I might have to revise how I feel about not getting pictures. They can’t sufficiently convey a sense of refinement or character. It’s not our way and certainly not a tzniusdig way to go about it.”
Tamar, who comes from a balabatish family in Queens and attended Michlalah seminary in Yerushalayim, has been in shidduchim for over a year. From a girl’s perspective, she is disheartened by what she sees as an inherent double standard. “It is absolutely the norm for a girl to send her resumé and a picture, whereas for a boy the norm is just to send the resumé. Whether or not one should get pictures, it should be the same process for both.”
Asked how she feels about the process, Tamar replies, “It’s very uncomfortable to have to find a picture that you feel you look the best in and send it out to random strangers, knowing you’ll be judged based on it. Not everyone comes out great in a picture, and it doesn’t reflect someone’s chein or character. I don’t think I look my best in any picture, but it’s not worth refusing to send one because I would get rejected off the bat most of the time. If a boy has 20 resumés, why would he pick the one that doesn’t have a picture? I have to conform to the rules if I want to be part of the system.”
Tamar is disturbed by what she sees as the hypocrisy of that system. “The boys I go out with are against social media and the idea of a girl putting herself publicly out on display, but then I realize that this is the same thing. Here I am, expected not to use social media, which I don’t, but on the other hand I am sending my picture out to shadchanim and mothers, knowing that it gets passed around.”
Tamar accepts that she may not have much of a choice, but she points out the necessity of “drawing a line” between mothers looking at pictures and boys viewing them.
“I am aware of many boys who have pictures of girls on their phones, which is so inappropriate. And who knows who’s looking at them? They would never have pictures of girls on their phones otherwise. Everyone is working on shemiras einayim but when it comes to shidduchim, it seems like it’s an easy pass. It’s very uncomfortable because I would never send a picture of myself to a boy.”
There is also the realization that if a girl does not send a picture, chances are the prospective boy or his mother will get a picture elsewhere. This leads Tamar to conclude that “if they are getting a picture, I would rather it come from me than some other source.”
From her own experience, Tamar emphasizes the importance of concentrating on personality over looks. “Why shouldn’t a boy go out with a girl if she seems his type hashkafah-wise and personality-wise, instead of basing a decision on a picture that might not even be the way she looks? Sometimes I’ve hesitated after seeing a picture of a boy, but his looks didn’t bother me at all after talking to him and getting to know his personality. When you meet someone, you get a different impression, as opposed to just seeing a face in a picture.”
Asked whether she thinks this campaign will succeed, Tamar thinks it can have a positive impact. “If the whole system changes where everyone’s on board, including shadchanim, mothers and boys, then it will have an impact. I think the problem is that if an individual takes a stand against the shidduch system, he’s the one who loses out. But when there’s a whole movement with shadchanim and the norm becomes not to ask for a picture, then it really could change.”
In Part II of this series, we will hear from Rabbanim, Mrs. Elefant’s colleague, a mother of daughters, and a single boy. In the interviews, they share with us their thoughts on the initiative.
Harav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah in Mir-Brooklyn and member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America, speaks with heartfelt concern about the use of pictures in shidduchim and ardently supports the initiative opposing it.
“Many young ladies feel that giving a picture with a resumé is undermining their standards of tznius, which they have worked hard to maintain in a permissive world. This practice has almost become like a form of silent blackmail and girls feel that if they don’t give a picture, it’s going to be very problematic. And some of the young shadchanim — even in yeshivah communities — are pressuring people to go along with giving a picture.”
Harav Brudny empathizes with the plight of these girls. “I see the tzaar of girls, good girls. Frankly, some of the girls are very presentable. They don’t have ulterior motives, but they just feel helpless. This goes against how they were raised and brought up. I feel that it’s really wrong to encourage a culture that almost forces them to do this, which goes against their sensibilities. It bothers me very much.”
The problem, according to Harav Brudny, is exacerbated by its lack of control. “Once these pictures go around, the girl really has no control anymore over her picture — who’s looking at it, who’s showing it, which guy is showing it to his friend, which girl is showing it to her friend. And the girl becomes a reshus harabbim. It’s uncontrollable.”
Harav Brudny does not think it’s “terrible” for a prospective mother-in-law to want to see a picture of a girl and suggests feasible means for doing so that will protect a girl’s privacy. “If a boy’s mother wants to see a girl’s picture on terms of privacy, I have suggested to have the girl’s mother or someone else show the picture and then take it back. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing per se if a lady wants to see a picture, as long as the picture remains under the girl’s control. But any time you give a picture out and it goes into someone else’s reshus, you’ve just left the ‘kol kevudah bas melech penimah.’ Chazal teach us that ‘kol kevudah’ — the entire dignity of a woman — is ‘penimah.’ The minute she leaves the ‘penimah,’ her dignity is on the line.”
Might this initiative be enough to reverse the practice of using pictures?
“The initiative is a pushback and may give pause to people who do it because it’s the style. It raises an eyebrow and causes people to say, ‘Look, these Rabbis are not appreciative of it and think it’s wrong.’ So that might make a difference. Although definitely there are people who don’t care what Rabbanim say, Rachmana litzlan. But in a little way, shidduchim have become very commercial, and [we] have lost the chashivus for the dignity of a bas Yisrael.”
In response to a question about whether the use of pictures in the current shidduch system reflects a possible downward trend in the general value system among frum communities, Harav Brudny is not quick to condemn.
“When I was young, there was a vort going around, I think from the Tchebiner Rav’s Rebbetzin or mother, on the passuk, Lo yei’aseh chein bimkomeinu laseis hatze’irah lifnei habechirah’ (Bereishis 29:26). They made a play on words that ‘hatze’irah’ is similar to ‘hatzurah,’ meaning a picture — we don’t give a picture before we choose. If that was said by a Galicianer Gadol 70 years ago, then obviously it’s not only the modern age that’s struggling with it. But I’m involved on a much more fundamental level, with the undermining of the dignity, kavod and tznius of bnos Yisrael. Pictures have commercialized shidduchim, and bachurim show them to one another. It turns a bas Yisrael from a subject to an object.”
What about the challenges of shidduchim today?
“It’s a big nisayon. The crisis of shidduchim is a big problem. It’s not fiction; it’s real. There are a lot of older singles. The majority of them are girls, but there is a very sizeable minority of boys that are already over the age of shidduchim and struggling in shidduchim. It’s hard.”
Harav Brudny commends the many shadchanim who volunteer to be osek b’tzibbur in this very important mitzvah. “There are initiatives of people who work hard to try and help with shidduchim. There are people who are doing it only l’shem Shamayim.”
Harav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Mara d’Asra of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin in Brooklyn, NY.
Harav Lieff is a big believer in Mrs. Elefant’s initiative and bemoans the advent of pictures in the realm of shidduchim.
“It sprouted out of nowhere,” Harav Lieff says, “and it doesn’t seem proper. The word for face is panim and panim really means penim, the inner core of a person. But a picture is not the actual panim. It is only a very superficial reflection of the penim and cannot convey the real essence of a person. If you don’t see the person in action, the movements, the smile, the charm, and the chein, then you don’t see anything. You’re looking at a picture that’s meaningless.”
Pictures have also diluted the system. “Honestly, you need a little mystique when you start a process in shidduchim — where neither one knows how the other is going to look. You work on yourself for a good presentation and everything starts from ground zero. Of course, the parents have done their due diligence, but this concept of a picture seems to fly in the face of sensibility and tznius.”
The problematic issue of tznius has intensified with the introduction of full-length pictures in addition to head shots, and Harav Lieff is outraged. “Is that proper?! That seems to me to be counter halachah. Pictures can get out and bachurim can share them like baseball cards.”
Just like bachurim ask many she’eilos of a Rav or Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Lieff encourages them to do the same with pictures and not go along with the trend just because “everyone else is doing it.”
While the Rav does not negate the importance of attraction in marriage, he laments the lack of priorities emblematic in the use of pictures before a shidduch even begins. “The Gemara says it’s assur to marry a woman without seeing her first. But that doesn’t mean you need a picture. You want to base at least the initial encounter on the basics — is the person a mentch and a baal middos? How does the picture convey mentchlichkeit? And why is it not a two-way street? Why Bnos Yisrael? What happened to kol kevudah bas melech penimah?”
Harav Lieff also addresses the role of mothers in the process and urges them to reevaluate the use of pictures that they have come to rely on. “A mother might discover a flaw in a girl’s appearance, but she should be much more concerned about whether the girl is accommodating, whether she angers easily or is stubborn, whether she is compassionate and if she has real and not superficial Yiddishkeit.”
According to Harav Lieff, pictures seem to be counterintuitive and actually inhibit the shidduch process. “Whatever happened to the anticipation and looking forward to going out and thinking this might be the one? Eighty percent of it is thrown out even before you get to the starting gate. Psychologically you look forward to something and you put your energies into it. It’s not just a face you’re looking into; it’s a person. There’s more than just the guf — we have a neshamah, seichel, intellect, wit, kindness and sensitivity. How does that come out in a picture? It doesn’t. We’re selling ourselves short.”
When asked if the concept of pictures has become so entrenched in shidduchim that it might be impossible to reverse, Harav Lieff seems hopeful and compares it to the internet. “It’s here to stay, but Rabbinic intervention created a revolution which has led to limited access and strong filters. It’s the same thing. You need a groundswell. This initiative, with 250 shadchanim refusing to redt a shidduch with a picture, is a fantastic start. I believe everything can be changed in Yiddishkeit. Maybe it’s time to have a soft revolution concerning this.”
Harav Lieff also points to the resistance that met Mrs. Elefant’s initiative. “We have a big klal in Yiddishkeit — every time you do something and there’s great resistance, it means that it’s good.”
And while Harav Lieff concedes that pictures aren’t the “worst” thing in the world, he emphasizes the need to work to eradicate them and highlights the connection to the tragedy in Meron. “I think that if we as a whole make changes in our lives and are more sensitive to issues, particularly when it comes to shidduchim, the kedoshim on high will intercede with Hashem. Especially the youngsters who weren’t zocheh to shidduchim. We’re honoring them by doing something l’ilui nishmoseihem, and in kind they will help us.”
Harav Shlomo Churba is Rav of Congregation Shaare Rahamim in Brooklyn, NY.
Harav Churba has witnessed the harmful effects of shidduch pictures taking root in the Sephardic community and signed onto the initiative in an effort to stem the tide and discourage the practice.
Asked about how the shidduch landscape has changed with the introduction of pictures, Harav Churba begins with the shidduch resumé. “Resumés today are a new item. Thirty years ago, there was no such concept. We knew a shadchan and the shadchan would recommend someone, and they would try it out. More recently, resumés became part of the whole shidduch industry. The resumé in itself is not so terrible. But it could be misleading, doesn’t provide the full background and can be a little exaggerated. It doesn’t give a real picture of who they are; much more comes out on a date. We shouldn’t look at the resumé as a bible.”
Pictures have only aggravated the process. “The pictures are very misleading. There are times when singles look prettier than they are or, conversely, they can have a tremendous amount of chein that doesn’t show in the picture. And that’s all part of the attraction between chattan and kallah. I think it’s a deterrent to some good shidduchim. Many good shidduchim are not even being tried because of misleading resumés and pictures.”
More than that, Harav Churba points to the demeaning aspect of pictures. “I think it’s very insulting for a young girl to show her features. It’s not respectful for the young girl nor is it respectful for a young man to get a picture.”
The Rav agrees that pictures of boys are also “absolutely” problematic, and he cautions against preconceived opinions based off them. “One should not judge from a picture. It’s enough to know a person’s background and her parents’ background in order to form a good idea of what they represent. To go beyond that is very insulting.”
Asked about differences between shidduchim in the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities, Harav Churba asserts there is a “major difference” between them. “In the Sephardic community, being that it’s close-knit and most of the people know each other, much is already known about the parents. If not, they can find out whatever they want to know in one phone call. In the Ashkenazic world, it’s much more common for suggestions to be “blind” because most parents and singles have never heard of each other. The groundwork starts at the very foundation and often there’s very little to go on unless they both come from the same community and the resumé then becomes a bible.”
Both communities seem to share an uphill battle in reversing the trend of pictures. But Harav Churba feels that it is not an insurmountable task. “It’s possible to reverse this if the parents on both sides don’t respect the idea. Boys and girls want to get married and have to follow the system. If the system insists on no pictures, then both the chattan and the kallah will have to acquiesce.”
Mrs. Ruchie Giberstien has been involved in shidduchim for over 20 years and is a lead shadchan and coordinator for Adopt a Shadchan in New York.
According to Mrs. Giberstien, shidduch pictures have long been a thorn in the shadchan’s side. “Things have spiraled out of control in the shidduch world. People are considering their next date according to the picture. Sending a picture with a resumé is expected now, but often they don’t even look at the resumé. They look at the picture, which determines whether they should look into the idea. It’s so unfair to the girls. The ones that have the great pictures are getting ‘yeses’ every other week and the ones who don’t, unfortunately, are really struggling.”
She agrees that the growing prevalence of boys’ pictures is also problematic. “It’s becoming more common and I find girls are caring more about looks. In speaking with mothers, we feel that engagement pictures also pressure girls into envisioning what their engagement pictures will look like and it causes them to overly concentrate on looks too.”
There are some situations, however, where Mrs. Giberstien feels there might be a benefit to pictures. “Sometimes a girl’s resumé can reflect a family situation or doesn’t list the ‘right’ seminaries. Then a good picture might get them in the door. Age also plays a role. Older singles who might be more burned out definitely want the pictures more.”
Asked about the different attitudes among those from different hashkafic backgrounds, Mrs. Giberstien responds that “usually those from more yeshivishe and sheltered backgrounds are not asking for it as much. And I do find that the ‘old-fashioned mothers’ or those who have been doing this for a while without pictures are not asking to see one. But maybe they’re one in every fifteen; it’s not so common.”
While agreeing that shadchanim might also be complicit in the problem because a “great picture gets the person to look at the resumé,” Mrs. Giberstien asserts that this initiative has forced her to hold back. And it’s not just shadchanim. “I’ve been finding that so many people are really open to this concept, even people who favored pictures or have sons in shidduchim. They are open to it even though this system makes it harder for them because it demands more initial checking. Most people are complying with this as long as we all stay strong.”
When asked about the long-term goals of this initiative, Mrs. Giberstien would like to see the 30-day period extended but emphasizes that it’s a process that involves placing more trust in the shadchan. “The long-term goal is changing the way people now choose to look at resumés based on pictures. At the end of day, they will get their hands on a picture if they really want to — through a yearbook or friends. And many girls prefer that the picture they choose is the one that people see. It’s okay if they eventually see a picture, but let them first look into a shadchan’s suggestion as a person, find out if it’s shayach and then, if everything is good, a picture should be the last step.”
Mrs. Giberstien concurs with Mrs. Elefant that there is strength in numbers. “Both girls and boys are really frustrated with the shidduch system. By banding together, shadchanim are trying to make changes and improve that system. Obviously, it’s all in Hashem’s hands and everyone will find their right zivug at the right time, but the frustration is real and we are trying to alleviate some of that.”
Mrs. T. As a mother of several daughters who have recently gone through the shidduch system, Mrs. T. is a fierce opponent of girls’ pictures. “I feel that for a society that is trying so hard to be makpid on tznius and halachah in so many aspects, including not having pictures of women in our publications, to send around pictures of girls that both mothers and boys are trading on their phones is wrong to the core. Mothers make such inappropriate comments, and the level of critique and judgment on 19-, 20-, 25-year-old girls is so offensive. And then they show the pictures to their sons. It is so wrong on a foundational level, and we are overlooking this and pretending we don’t see this ill in our society.”
In addition to the injustice, Mrs. T. points to the deception in pictures. “They are just not accurate. You can see a picture of a girl and then meet her and she’s nothing like the picture. A picture holds so much clout in the decision-making and it’s off so many times. There’s an argument that it will save a girl time and rejection if the boy feels she’s ‘not his look.’ I don’t agree with that because after sitting down with someone for three hours, an initial impression based on looks can change. It might not always happen, but it’s not right to use a picture to nix someone before getting to know their personality. Judgment is being made over a one-dimensional picture without the smile, the chein.”
Worse, Mrs. T. finds that many mothers are independently nixing shidduchim for their sons based on a girl’s looks. “Some boys are involved, but I think many mothers will just look at pictures on their own and decide. If they don’t like the picture, the suggestion doesn’t even get to the son. All in the name of ‘I know my son’s look’, instead of having the boy meet a girl and decide on his own.”
The situation seems to be worsening with mothers demanding more and varied pictures, with some insisting on full-length pictures. And Mrs. T. feels that, in addition to being “insulting and off-putting” to girls, the practice of having them be photographed by a professional photographer is “wrong and unfair.”
In answer to whether this campaign will have an impact, Mrs. T. says, “There is a difference between what impact it should have and what it could have. It should show that dating can exist without pictures of girls and we can reset to a more normal standard than what we’re allowing here. It’s not aligned with all the other things that daas Torah demands of us in terms of tznius. What could it do? I don’t know. I’m wondering if shadchanim are getting pushback and if mothers are waiting out the 30 days and then asking for the picture.
“It’s very upsetting. I have a boy too. But if you have principles, you know it’s wrong.”
Eliyahu has been dating for over two years and is adamantly opposed to the idea of girls sending pictures. However, he concedes that he is in the minority. “My impression is that there are circles where pictures are widely accepted and almost a given, but there are definitely pockets of different chevrahs where it’s the other way around. Within my close group of friends, it’s actually a given that the boy does not want a picture and that the shadchan shouldn’t send one.”
There are several damaging aspects of pictures that Eliyahu enumerates. “First and foremost, I think it’s a very big breach of tznius. It’s way too intimate. It’s bad enough that we throw around girls like pieces of paper; we don’t need to throw around their faces too. I myself have little personal experience with pictures other than the rare times that a shadchan has assumed I wanted one and accidentally sent it to me. But my involvement with other guys and my siblings has shown that often it’s a big misrepresentation of what’s actually there — mitov u’mira. It could be better or it could be worse.”
Personal experience has taught him that “there are many more aspects to a shidduch and hopefully many more reasons you’re trying to marry someone other than what they look like. There are times when a shidduch doesn’t look like someone I’d be attracted to at first glance, but by continuing to go out, I find other aspects of the person that are attractive. Of course, things often won’t work out because human beings are wired to be attracted to certain looks, but more than once I have found myself getting more into a shidduch as it progressed than I thought I would be able to.”
Eliyahu is opposed to boys sending pictures as well, but he does admit that boys may put more of an emphasis on looks than girls, which leads to more boys requesting pictures than sending them. “I think boys put more of a premium on looks because it may be innate, but there is a range of boys. Some are more makpid on looks, some less makpid. But I do think that range is more extreme with boys than girls.”
To the question of who might be behind this practice, Eliyahu ascribes equal blame to shadchanim, mothers and boys. “In my experience it’s all three. Some shadchanim push an idea through looks. I’ve also seen some mothers who are looking for a trophy piece and demand pictures. And looks are also a very high priority for some guys.”
According to Eliyahu, those involved in the shidduch process might have to adjust their expectations if they want this initiative to succeed. “I think to eradicate it completely would take a lot of work, because you’re still going to have that underground network of people using pictures. But I think the strong statement coming from Rabbanim will make a big difference. A lot of it is lack of awareness. Many boys who aren’t attuned to the sensitivities and nuances of tznius, or who don’t have siblings or friends who are dating, don’t have proper awareness. If there is enough pressure against it, I think that definitely can go a long way.