“Make me a match” sing the three young Jewish sisters in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. They’re gently mocking the character of Yenta, the town wise woman who pairs up potential marriage partners. In this society and others like it, the Yenta played a critical role in fostering marriage in the community. Once relegated to particular cultures and religiously centered societies, the modern era has seen a resurgence of matchmaking in various forms.
Historically, the accepted role of a matchmaker varied from culture to culture. In societies where arranged marriages were the norm, the matchmaker helped align eligible singles based on knowledge of both families and the prospects of the would-be bridegroom. In cultures like the village of Fiddler, matchmaking was often more about overseeing relationships as they developed—a chaperone of sorts.
Nowadays, professional matchmaking for Jewish and non-Jewish singles alike is big business. A New York Times 2007 profile of the industry put the number of professional firms at 1,600. Matchmakers even have conferences. It’s not hard to see the reason for their rise in popularity. Without the close-knit community ties out of which relationships were formed in earlier eras, people living alone in large, anonymous cities have few options for finding potential lifelong mates. Dating websites and agencies are one solution, but many singles find them unsatisfying and random, with too much misrepresentation and even outright deception. Professional yentas, on the other hand, offer singles looking for love a more personal touch.
Matchmaking services spend a considerable amount of time with their clients, usually conducting one-on-one interviews and offering individual counseling to the lonely-hearted. Some agencies offer background checks to ensure the prospective client’s background is valid. And a few are combining the technological reach of dating websites with personal consultations to broaden the pool of potential partners. But for the singles who choose to avail themselves of these yentas, the chief appeal is what it has always been: a keen insight into the particular personality traits that makes for a successful relationship. No wonder more and more singles of all cultural and religious backgrounds are willing to invest time and money in the service.
Online dating services frequently tout their success rates. But the truth is that many more people are realizing technology’s limitations as a way of meeting suitable partners. Some of these singles are turning to a time-honored tradition often associated with Jewish culture but known in every society which places a premium on marriage: matchmaking.