Around 2004, pop singer Jesse McCartney unleashed a hit song, Beautiful Soul. This catchy tune features memorable lyrics like, “I don’t want another pretty face,/ I want you and your beautiful soul.” If secular entertainers attribute more significance to a romantic partner’s soul than physical appearance, shouldn’t we?
The Gemara says, “You should marry someone beautiful.” Pop culture experts suggest beautiful = pretty. Students of social psychology understand these two terms ain’t identical. The compliment “pretty” offers praise for a person’s favorable physical features such as hair-color, bone structure, curves, eyes, etc. The compliment “beautiful” goes way beyond physical appearances. A typical “pretty girl” wears high heels, possesses zilch body fat, and accumulates public attention for eye-catching good looks. A typical “beautiful girl” organizes surprise birthday parties for friends, wakes up at 2 a.m. to get Grandma from the airport. Unfortunately, many of today’s Jewish singles deem prettiness more important than beauty. Consumption of this impure philosophy has prompted religious singles to perform anti-Torah behaviors.
Shadchans from around the tri-state area have listed two common anti-Torah behaviors.
Behavior number 1– Picture observation and evaluation.
Often, religious guys request photos of prospective girls from shadchans. Upon receiving the female’s picture, guys perform a visual analysis. Height, face, smile, hair, etc. Following multiple photo evaluations, most guys agree to meet the prettiest girl. Forget personality, yirat-Shamayim – awareness of God – values, it’s all about looks.
Behavior number 2– My Look
Sadly, many single guys request specific physical looks from a shadchan’s lineup. She’s gotta be this tall, brown hair, particular smile. That’s my look. She’s not my look.
Why do today’s rabbis, shadchans, and highly-valued Jewish communities tolerate this anti-Torah behavior?
Out of curiosity, this author asked a few shadchans to explain our communities’ misguided romantic priorities. One notable shadchan relayed the following off-putting response. “Most girls will learn to like a guy’s appearance. But men, well, um, have harsher looks standards and turn down great girls for this unjustified reason. You know the ole’ expression, whoever holds the gold makes the rules.”
Amongst the Orthodox community, more Jewish girls remain single than men. This population gap provides a numbers advantage to eligible Jewish males. Undoubtedly, statistical leverage encourages these better positioned males to act more choosy than female counterparts. Many law school applicants have this mindset. If New York has plenty of well-established law school programs, I want to attend the prettiest, smartest, and most appealing institution.
Taken aback by this shadchan’s response, my saliva-filled lips offered a follow up suggestion. “Men should also learn to like the girl’s look. Shadchans and rabbis need to call guys out for judgmental misconduct. Rav Moshe Feinstein would vomit at this nonsense. It’s a mitzvah to get married, not marry a supermodel.”
Composed and collected, the shadchan offered a conciliatory response. “Rabbis know about this grotesque looks culture but don’t call guys out for two reasons. First off, most guys won’t listen. Second off, rabbis don’t want to offend loyal students and lose a strong teacher mentor relationship over shidduchim-dating related critiques.”
A few months back, amidst a reference phone call, this author experienced a new personal low. Out of goodness grace, one thoughtful family friend suggested a single girl to me. “She’s smart, genuinely nice, attends shul every Shabbos, volunteers Sundays at a nearby orphanage, has wonderful parents, learns Torah after work,” the good stuff. Following these impressive statements, a hesitant reply sounded from my embarrassed vocal cords. “Do you think I could find this person attractive?”
Unalarmed and un-offended, my family friend offered a chilled-out reply. “I think so. She’s nice looking. Would you like to see a picture of her?” Without a beat, I responded back, “Nooooo, my rabbi says it’s assur (forbidden) to see pictures of a potential shidduch date.”
Last year, I asked a YU rabbi this exact question. “Could I ask shadchans for pictures of shidduch suggestions?” Following a short pause, my rabbi provided an unexpected answer. “You shouldn’t look at pictures of prospective dates. Humans cannot accurately predict attraction from a single two-dimensional image. Hundreds of other factors showcase someone’s beauty beyond a snapshot photograph. The way a girl offers compassionate care to roommates and family members. Does she have an Ayin Tova – positive outlook? Does she have respect for Torah? Don’t observe a one-time visual glimpse via WhatsApp and think, eh, not for me. Wouldn’t you want someone to give you a chance?”
Confused and discombobulated by this anti-picture idea, I asked my rabbi a follow up question. “But you won’t know going into the date if you’ll be attracted to her, it’s a gamble. Why waste time on a gamble?”
Rolled up sleeves atop the office’s brown work desk, this Yashar – respectable mentor – provided a memorable answer. “On every date you gamble on a girl’s personality; you gamble on romantic chemistry; Everything in life is a gamble.”
Following my family friend’s comment, anxious thoughts attacked. Nice looking. She’s nice looking. Nice looking isn’t good looking, and good looking isn’t pretty, and pretty isn’t gorgeous. Based on this irrational thought pattern, moral observers will accurately conclude, he ain’t no Chafetz Chaim, Lubavitcher-rebbe, nor Rav Aryeh Levin. Unfortunately, this woman’s quick description, “nice looking”, demolished all of my romantic interest. Two minutes later, I told this family friend, “I’ll think it over.”
Social psychologists might offer two reasons to explain my shallow behavior.
Reason number 1- The Big Fish syndrome
During middle school, these eyes observed Zach Morris, Drake Bell, and other charismatic actors via TV. All charismatic male actors seek to acquire their show’s prettiest female. The acquisition of a highly attractive romantic partner delivered each show’s actor crazy Kavod – honor – from peers. Fishermen undergo a similar Kavod attainment process. If two fishermen catch a pack of Blue Marlins and bring each fish back to shore, fellow fishermen will offer high fives and sick praise for this impressive feat. Comments like, “No wayyyyy,” “Dannnng,” will occur for several seconds. Likewise, this author hopes to land a pretty girlfriend and experience similar reactions from peers.
Reason number 2 – Inferiority complex
Many humans lack movie-star-good-looks. Everybody has warts, pimples, wrinkles, etc. This author has a few visible physical flaws. From a realistic standpoint, many girls prefer to date someone without physical irregularities. A large supply of self-conscious and insecure thoughts has caused this author to develop illogical romantic demands. If my looks ain’t perfect, hers must be.
A few readers might finish this article and think, why would anyone allocate nine hours of Pesach break to discuss an unchangeable issue? Pause these thoughts and close your eyes. Imagine the following scenario: Your future daughter wants to get married. For this goal to be achieved, she must have an attractive shidduch resume picture: the perfect lighting, dress, makeup, hair, you know. This photo will be sent around for male evaluation. One thought should enter your mind: Uchh.
I encourage all single guys and girls to be better than this shallow author. Search for beauty, not prettiness; a beautiful person, not some big eye-catching fish.