Why love marriage is mostly unsuccessful

Engaged, married, in love: How two Jewish Orthodox in Zurich are paired up for the purpose of marriage

Two weeks after their first meeting, Ilana and Chaim Lipschitz got engaged, five months later they were already married. The Jewish-Orthodox Zurich couple on the advantages of an arranged marriage and dates that feel like an interview.

Dust-dry biscuits or tense silence on a park bench: Mordechai “Motti” Wolkenbruch has to endure a lot in the film of the same name in order to satisfy his “mom”. His mother wants him to finally marry and forces him to meet "nice Yiddish Meidele". The young Jewish Orthodox from Zurich fell in love with a Schickse, a non-Jew, for a long time. What has already made over 220,000 Swiss people laugh and think in the cinema is a reality for many Orthodox Jews: they are paired up for the purpose of marriage. This process is called Schidduch, and it comes from the Hebrew word "imagine".

Ilana Lipschitz remembers her first meeting with her husband Chaim. "It felt like an interview - although we weren't even allowed to shake hands." Shy and very stiff, they sat across from each other in the lobby of a five-star hotel in Zurich Enge, she on the coach and he in the armchair. While the spring sun was shining outside, inside they talked for two hours about their hobbies, their family and dreams of the future. But also about how religious you want to live. They agreed that both would go to work and that the milk in the Sabbath refrigerator does not have to be expressly certified, but is kosher enough if it comes from a cow and comes from Migros.

Only if you look closely will you notice that the calm, tall man is wearing a black kippah, a small circular headgear, on his wavy hair. It is almost invisible that his wife, who looks very petite and lively next to him, has also covered her head: with a wig. The fact that Jewish Orthodox women veiled their hair after marriage - very few shave it off completely - suits her: "My own is frizzy and difficult to tame," she says and laughs. Mainly, the wig is about signaling to other men that she is married.

Separate sexes

The two 26-year-olds receive us in their modern apartment in an apartment building in Zurich Enge. Two suitcases are still standing by the entrance on the light tiled floor. They apologize for the "mess" and immediately rave about their vacation in the USA and the beach in Miami. It would never occur to you that the couple's first meeting was just as arranged as the marriage, which they have had for five years now. The two describe themselves as modern-Orthodox and make a cosmopolitan impression. So why did they get paired up traditionally?

She would not have been averse to a romantic love marriage, says Ilana Lipschitz frankly. She would have liked to meet her future husband by chance, but: "I wouldn't have known how." In kindergarten and primary school, she was always among girls, she says. "Unmarried women and men never actually meet outside of their own family - at most on the street, in a shop or at a wedding." During her commercial apprenticeship and later while working at a bank, she had contact with men, says Ilana, but not with Orthodox Jews.

Professional intermediaries, friends or acquaintances act as “matchmakers”. If you get married, you will receive a portion of the dowry, usually a four-digit agency fee.

The Jewish community is very small: in the city of Zurich it has around 6,000 members, around a quarter of whom live ultra-orthodox. There are around 3,000 of the latter throughout Switzerland. A total of 18,000 Swiss people are registered with Jewish communities. Only five to ten boys were sitting in the classroom with Chaim Lipschitz, the Lucerne-born recalls. He was rather expecting to get to know his future wife in Israel, where he studied the Talmud after completing school, i.e. devoted himself to the practical interpretation of the religious texts of the Torah. Ilana could also have imagined that her husband would come from Antwerp, London or Manchester. In any case, he had to be Jewish Orthodox.

Put through its paces

In the end, it was not Ilana who happened to meet her future husband at Zurich Airport, but her sister. With her baby and luggage, she was about to board the plane to Tel Aviv when a young man offered to help her. This scene was observed by a lady who knew their families and thought: Could Chaim be something for Ilana, the youngest of the Bollag family?

There are no coincidences in Judaism, because God directs all events. Even a wife or a husband is "given" to you. In Jewish orthodoxy, however, it is desirable that man helps to carry out the divine plan. Their writings and commandments not only regulate everyday life, but also the coupling of those willing to marry. Professional intermediaries, friends or acquaintances act as “matchmakers”. If you get married, you will receive a portion of the dowry, usually a four-digit agency fee.

With the Lipschitz it was the said lady, a former teacher of Ilana. She got the Schidduch rolling, which means: She first called the Lipschitz family, and when both parents and son agreed, the Bollags. When they also agreed, a three-week research began: Do Chaim and Ilana fit together? Are they similarly religious and educated? What do his friends and their neighbors have to say? What is the family's reputation; are there any financial or health problems? “References are obtained to a certain extent,” says Ilana Lipschitz.

Even the genetic compatibility of those willing to dome was checked: Both of them sent in blood samples to have them tested for hereditary diseases. Especially to rule out Tay-Sachs syndrome. This is a metabolic disorder that is common among Jewish families. There is no test result in the anonymized clarification, but Chaim and Ilana received the green light: Nothing stood in the way of the command to increase.

The imperative not to speak badly of others, which is also very important in Judaism, is weakened during the research process. “After all, it's about one of the most important decisions in life,” says Ilana Lipschitz. Instead of expressing themselves negatively or critically, the respondents allude to it indirectly. There is a kind of “Schidduch slang”, comparable to the coded sentences of a job reference. Nevertheless, in rare cases critical information is not passed on. The Lipschitz remember a case in which the woman only realized at a meeting that the man was autistic. You obviously did not inform yourself enough, says Ilana.

The then 21-year-old knew so much about Chaim Lipschitz before the first meeting that she never had to google his name. She also did not expect to find anything about him - "Talmud-studying young men are usually not on Facebook," she explains. "That's why I found you there and looked at photos of you," says Chaim and smiles. Apart from that, neither of them actively researched the other. But she was informed about every phone call and every new piece of information, says Ilana. She could have broken off the schidduch at any time: "It was never a must." Chaim also says that in the end his parents had no real say or veto. The fact that Ilana did not want to move to Israel as they wanted so that Chaim could finish her studies was not decisive in the end.

Still, she would have liked to have had more time to get to know her future husband, Ilana admits. However, she emphasizes that it was her and Chaim's decision to get engaged two weeks after the first meeting. You could have extended the phase of getting to know each other, but: "At some point you want to touch the person you like and not just talk." As unmarried and unrelated, they were not allowed to do this any more than to be in a closed room together. That is why the Schidduch meetings usually take place outdoors, with the future in-laws or in a public place. The desire to touch drove the two to quickly become engaged.

Pressure, but not compulsion

Alisa Winter, herself a modern Orthodox Jew, dealt with the Schidduch in her Matura thesis. She examined the extent to which the family and community put pressure on those willing to marry. Winter comes to the conclusion that arranged marriages in Jewish orthodoxy cannot be equated with forced marriages, since neither physical nor psychological violence is exercised. Although they only want the best for their children, there are parents who are pressing for an early marriage or who have high expectations. For example, that the daughter or son rises socially with the choice of partner.

"In the secular world, many people first fall in love or hop into bed with someone before they look any further."

The pressure that the boys put on themselves is even greater. Those who are not yet married at a certain age are increasingly socially isolated in strictly religious communities. Because married couples often only have contact with their own kind. The longer someone is unmarried, the more difficult it becomes to find someone. Anyone who accumulates too many unsuccessful Schidduchs is considered difficult to place. This is another reason why the meetings are usually top secret.

Winter, meanwhile a law student at the University of St. Gallen, would like to get married in a Jewish way - but not with a formal Schidduch. The 21-year-old mainly criticizes the short period of getting to know each other and the young age of the person she was placed. During her research and discussions with those involved, she was positively impressed by how much they trust the judgment of their parents and the matchmaker. That makes perfect sense, Winter thinks, after all, they are more experienced and usually have been married for a long time: "They know what is important in a marriage." She can also gain a lot from the reason-based. "In the secular world, many people first fall in love with each other or hop into bed with someone before they look any further." An indication that the Schidduch is a successful concept for many couples is the very low divorce rate in the Jewish Orthodox community, although divorce is not a taboo there.

And what about love Alisa Winter is convinced that, like elsewhere, this is not a matter of course, but can only mature with time, challenges and shared experiences - whether in a longer relationship or a marriage. Ilana and Chaim Lipschitz see it the same way. "I thought I was already in love", Ilana remembers of her wedding day and the moment when she stood next to Chaim under the chuppah. Even if she, who likes to be comfortable, felt like she was at Carnival in the lavishly decorated white dress. "God," she says, looking back, "I didn't even know who he was." She immediately adds: "It's not much different with you in the secular world - being in love and love are just not the same." In any case, their feelings for each other have become much stronger since then, both say.

Her five-month-old son Elisha, who is currently recovering from his jetlag from his return trip from the USA, is sleeping in a buggy and doesn't necessarily have to marry with a shidduch. It is enough if he gets involved with women with serious intentions. Or as Thomas Meyer, the author of “Wolkenbruch”, put it in an interview: “I think it's basically right to think about a few things while getting to know each other as to whether this is a smart - and not just a cool - thing. »

Alisa Winter: Schidduchim. Between love and compulsion? The marriage brokerage in the Jewish Orthodoxy. Available from Wolfau-Druck AG: [email protected]

The stranger in my bed

len. · At first sight it is a world without sensuality. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls and boys grow up separately, touching the opposite sex is forbidden outside of the family. But as soon as the knot is tied, the sexual taboo suddenly becomes a religious duty. Then spouses are required to live according to the biblical instruction «Be fruitful and multiply».

Because young men and women are sometimes only informed shortly before their wedding night, the way to a relaxed relationship in dealing with body and sexuality is often a long one. The Jewish sex therapist David Ribner, who works in Israel and the USA, published the first sex guide for ultra-Orthodox Jews in 2011. It is a cautious attempt at reform, because even in the ranks of the God-fearing Haredi, the doubters are increasing, and the number of dropouts is increasing.

In 2012, the autobiographical novel “Unorthodox” by Deborah Feldman caused a sensation. The American grew up in the strictly religious and highly isolated Jewish community of the Satmar Hasids in New York. At the age of 22, she got out with her then three-year-old son. She relentlessly describes the fears and taboos with which the subject of sexuality was afflicted for her and how problematic this affected her marriage to a man she hardly knew.

Feldman is also one of five protagonists in the new documentary «#Female Pleasure», which brings misogyny and religion into a connection. The book "Unorthodox" is also on the shelf at the Lipschitz ’(see main text). They describe what they have read as “crass” and “extreme”. These descriptions have little in common with their reality. Your religious community is not that fundamentalist. She never felt sexually suppressed, says Ilana Lipschitz. Although there is a clear division of roles between men and women in Judaism, they feel that they have equal rights.

“NZZ Format” has accompanied two young Israeli couples in mastering the balancing act between religious duty and physical needs. The program will be broadcast on SRF 1 on December 27, 18 at 11 p.m.