Is "the freezer" broken? Some blame it for the "Shidduch crisis"

Popular Haredi radio show Headlines tackles the issue.

Haredi couple. Credit: Alex Eidelman/iStockPhoto

Jul 27, 2023 4:15 PM


Claims of a “shidduch crisis” plaguing the Haredi community, in which young women are said to be unable to find a young man to marry on the dating market have circulated for years. Much has been written on the subject, and in 2007, the North American Shidduch Initiative was founded, with a goal of addressing the perceived imbalance.

While research has not determined that there is, indeed, a shidduch crisis, or what factors would be driving it, various theories circulate in the community as to why there seem to be more young women than young men left without a mate by their late 20s or early 30s. One popular theory is that an “age gap,” in which older men frequently date younger women, but not the reverse, is a key factor. Another concern among some is the so-called “freezer” for young men studying in yeshiva. That term is used to describe a policy in some Haredi yeshivas in which young men in their early 20s are forbidden to date for their first semester of study in American yeshivas, after returning from several years of study in Israel.

The topic was discussed in a recent episode on popular Haredi radio show Headlines, where host Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein suggested that perhaps “opening the freezer” could be one solution to the problem as some have been calling for.

“I've heard many people who have daughters who are struggling, voice anger at the yeshiva system and the freezer,” Lichtenstein said, adding, “they said, ‘what right do they have to make a freezer?”

Lichtenstein went on suggest that women who are left unmarried are comparable to those who are unable to re-marry because their husbands won’t give them a Jewish divorce. “It’s because of that, there are going to be girls who basically become agunos,” Lichtenstein said, using the term for women who are “chained” in their marriages.

But a representative of NASI who was a guest on the podcast, Rabbi Yitzchok Reichman, said the freezer is not the problem it’s made out to be, and suspending it would not solve perceived problems. “It’s not a solution,” Reichman said of opening the freezer.

“The freezer is for the toeles [“constructive purpose”] of the boys’ learning and even for shidduchim, and most boys accept this,” Reichman said, explaining that the freezer’s purpose is for young men, “to take a few months and have a good foundation, to be able to be oisek [“involved”] in shidduchim from a stronger place,” once that freezer period is over and they embark on the dating journey.

Reichman said he believes the shidduch crisis is owed to factors other than the freezer, and spoke to one version of the age gap theory. He described a scenario in which most yeshivish men begin dating at around 23, while their female counterparts might start dating several years earlier, such that there is a persistent imbalance between the number of young men and young women dating at any given time. With population growth creating larger groups of younger people at each stage, Reichman said, too many women are left competing for too few men.

Nonetheless, the freezer is cracking open a bit. While the freezer policy is often associated with Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, one of the most prominent Haredi yeshivas in America, the heads of multiple American yeshivas met with Israeli rabbinical leaders in June and agreed to open the freezer on the first day of Channukah this year and potentially do away with it completely after that, according to Lakewood Scoop, a Haredi website.