Meet, Pray, Love ... Eventually

Lawmakers discuss later marriages among national religious camp.

In a city like Jerusalem, it's not easy to be a religious male who stays single past his early 20s. His parents fret; matchmakers lose their patience; and worshippers in synagogues give him pointed looks. Katamon and Nahlaot, two neighborhoods filled with Orthodox singles, constitute the "big swamp" and the "little swamp."

Together with a desire to see the world, priorities for thousands of young single religious men and women have changed - they are not in a hurry to start a family. Television channels in Israel have stopped ignoring this trend, and have devoted to it special programs, like Yes' hit series "Srugim."

A meeting of the Habayit Hayehudi party this week in the Knesset reflected the trend, and the challenges it poses.

Slowly, religious singles filed into a small room, and tried to explain to the Knesset representatives why they aren't finding partners and getting married.

The MKs tried to figure out how they can reduce this growing trend in the Orthodox community. Minister Daniel Hershkowitz got married at the age of 19. MK Zevulun Orlev was married at the age of 24, whereas former MK Nissan Slomiansky waited to the ripe age of 26.

The trio tried to determine what is causing young people in their community to pass the age of 30 without a beloved, though in the end they admitted a quick-fix could not necessarily be found.

Orlev told the participants that while he married young, he has familiarity with the phenomenon from his own family. "I have a son who got married at the age of 30, and that seemed excessive to us. On the family level, it causes pressure. I assume that single men and women feel this pressure, but the fact is that they stand up to it, because they get married very, very late. This is a trend which must be discussed."

Chaim Falk, chairman of Yashfe, a non profit for singles in the national religious community, said that his empirical investigations have yielded "truly alarming numbers."

"Being single is much more prevalent among males than females," he said.

In the national religious community today, he estimated, there are 31,000 unmarried males and 21,000 single women between the ages of 25-40.

Participants in the meeting cited a number of factors keeping the chuppah canopy folded away. First, marriage age is rising generally around the world, and so follows the national religious as they are exposed to Western culture. Second, whereas in the past Orthodox women married on average at the age of 19, today many are free to get married only at the age of 23, after they complete first degree studies. Males at that age are just finishing their army service or yeshiva studies; and such differences in their stations of life creates gaps.