Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Put Faith In Unorthodox Dating Service Young ultra-Orthodox Jews are increasingly pursuing college degrees or joining the workforce. That's challenged matchmaking customs and led to a new service that connects like-minded men and women.
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Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Put Faith In Unorthodox Dating Service

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Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Put Faith In Unorthodox Dating Service

Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Put Faith In Unorthodox Dating Service

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, the business of matchmaking is adapting with the times. By tradition, a woman's ideal catch has been a man who devotes his life to religious study.

Well, now, NPR's Emily Harris has found a matchmaking network designed for changing tastes.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Yael Mizrachi is 30 - old for an ultra-Orthodox woman to still be single. She's been to many matchmakers.

YAEL MIZRACHI: (Through translator) The problem is they don't know me well enough. They don't know my soul. They don't understand who I am.

HARRIS: Mizrachi calls herself a modern ultra-orthodox. She wears long sleeves and long skirts but she drives. Unmarried women normally don't. She won't attend mixed parties but she bucked tradition by getting a BA and a Master's. Most ultra-Orthodox women here only finish religious high school. Men traditionally study religious texts up to 14 hours a day.

MIZRACHI: (Through translator) Matchmakers were always trying to set me up with somebody who studies the Bible all day. I don't want that. I want somebody who can also make a living.

HARRIS: Ultra-Orthodox Jews are about 10 percent of Israel's population. When men are dedicated to religious study, they rely on welfare checks or wives with limited education to support their families. Rabbi Yehezkel Fogel says for decades, few ultra-Orthodox contributed to Israel's economy.

RABBI YEHEZKEL FOGEL: They live their whole life in their own neighborhoods. So they have small businesses like having a deli, but they were not involved in really economic life.

HARRIS: But things are changing. As the number of ultra-Orthodox has grown, so has pressure to join the workforce. Rabbi Fogel runs a community college for ultra-Orthodox men and women. The four-story school in central Israel blends in with office buildings around it. Here, 3,000 students study law, business, accounting, health and occupational therapy. This college might seem a good place for young ultra-Orthodox pushing boundaries to meet. But men and women attend classes on different days. Third-year law student Eli Potavsky started a digital dating service to help.

ELI POTAVSKY: (Through translator) My friends and I talked about needing this. The men and women who study there are probably very suitable for each other but don't have any way to make connections.

HARRIS: But it's not like most online dating.

TUBI POTAVSKY: You fill out the form and you send pictures. And then I speak with everybody.

HARRIS: There's a human matchmaker behind the screen. Tubi Potavsky, the founder's mom.

TUBI POTAVSKY: I'm trying to open them and to learn them, to learn what they need.

HARRIS: How is this different from traditional matchmaking then? Twenty-four-year-old Natanel Schlesinger says it values ultra-Orthodox who are a little bit different.

NATANEL SCHLESINGER: (Through translator) What interested me was that it was for ultra-Orthodox who were going to college. There seemed to be more chance I would find a good match here than any other place.

HARRIS: He married a woman four months after they met through the service. About 400 students have signed up. It's free until you find a spouse, when a matchmaking fee of perhaps $1,000 would be expected. Rabbi Fogel says the program helps prove to skeptical ultra-Orthodox that education can respect tradition.

FOGEL: We're not against the community. We are part of the community. And this is why it's important. One of the ways to show that we are part of community is through this matchmaking system.

HARRIS: Yael Mizrachi, the 30-year-old with two degrees, has met several men through this matchmaking service but no sparks yet. Marriage is very important to her, says this modern ultra-Orthodox woman, as are children and her career. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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