Swipe Your Mobile Phone for a Jewish Date: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Dear Rabbi,

My twenty-something daughter told me that she went on a date with a boy she met via a smart phone app called JSwipe. I gather that apps like that are meant to help people find casual hook-ups, and are not intended to lead to a serious relationship. Am I justified to be concerned?

Worried parent in Wyckoff

Dear Worried,

Although many of us have smart phones by now, most of us do not know how an app like JSwipe works. When I got your question, I didn’t. So I loaded the app onto my phone to see how it works. From what I gather reading about the app, it is a knockoff of the much more popular app Tinder. The premise of JSwipe is that it targets a subset of the population — Jewish people.

If you have a Facebook account, you can log in to the app with your ID and password and it pulls in your photos and other information from that site. You answer a few basic questions about your Jewish preferences (e.g., kosher or not, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or a few others). You can be swiping actively through pictures of potential matches with the app in a matter of minutes.

There is no learning curve. You look at a picture of a possible date and swipe left to reject it or right to accept it. If you swipe right and the other person does as well, then you have made a match. You then can chat with your match in the app and possibly make a date.

Several shortcomings of this technology jumped right out at me. When I tried it out, the app did not actually screen who I was. I downloaded it, signed in, set some values, and was ready to swipe. That should worry both young users and their parents. If the new user wants to meet a Jewish date, you should know that the other JSwipe user might not be Jewish even if they say they are. And yes, Jewish or not, there is no way to know if they are stable or reputable people.

Once you get the app on your phone your activity in it is limited mainly to looking at pictures — many of which are the grainy snapshots that people use for their Facebook accounts. A small percentage of users put in additional descriptions of themselves and their interests.

A user can set some preferences — but not many. You can tell JSwipe the age range you want to see and the geographic proximity to potential matches and set a few Jewish preferences.

I certainly hope that people who match through the app and agree to a date will meet in a safe public place, to get a chance to validate somewhat that their match is a suitable person.

Does this system help people find proper matches? I’m no specialist in the sociology of Jewish dating. But I seriously doubt that this type of superficial app produces many fulfilling relationships or even enjoyable dates. To use totally non-analytical terms, at first blush, to me the system seemed simplistic, rude, and creepy.

Should you be worried if you find out that your child uses the app? A little. Most kids have common sense to be cautious about whom they meet and date. So you need not be that worried. But the superficiality of the choice process and lack of vetting of the population using the app are big drawbacks.

Well okay then. Is there anything you can do to help your kids find suitable dates? Parents I spoke to agree that trying to set up your child with a shidduch is not at all welcomed in the more liberal segments of our Jewish community. Apart from the ultra-Orthodox, who deem arranged marriages desirable, it’s common that children will not want your meddling at all into their social lives. Young people spend a great deal of effort to establish their own identities and their independence.

What I recommend, then, is that you help enable your children to find and join communities of like-minded peers, where they will have a better chance of meeting a suitable date or mate in person. Synagogues, community centers, artistic and cultural groups, charity activities, sports activities, and the like are valid starting points.

Try to be patient and let real human processes of meeting and making dates and establishing relationships take their course.

Bottom line, as you can tell, I’m not impressed with a dating methodology based on swiping through tiny pictures on a phone.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

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