Jewish Online Dating Gets a Makeover
by Jennifer Cole
JDate.com doesn’t call itself the “leading Jewish singles network” for nothing. The massive online matchmaker—which boasts 750,000 users and attracted major media buzz in April with its rebranding campaign, “Get Chosen”—is known as the go-to for Jewish online dating. So it’s no wonder that in its 17 years, JDate hasn’t faced much competition.
Until now. As online dating becomes more tech-savvy and complex, Jewish dating is following suit. Now there are a host of new services for Jewish singles, from the strictly Jewish JZoog to Tinder-based JSwipe. And with the rise of these new interactive options—some more salacious than others—comes an important question: Is all of this kosher?
New Matchmakers on the Block
JSwipe, a mobile app that was released in April, is similar to the popular yet questionable app, Tinder. With just the swipe of a few buttons, the location-based software finds other Jews who are using the program nearby. With the options of liking or passing on matches based on a small profile picture that appears, the user helps narrow the dating pool in his or her current geographical location. If both users “Like” each other, a match is made and private messaging can take place.
JCrush, another app released in April, is quite similar to JSwipe. With a list of potential matches right around the corner, users can not only choose “Crush” (yes) or “Oy Vey” (no) but can also select “Maybe.”
“While relying on friends, family and fate is great, we have to keep up with the times and use technology to make our lives easier,” says Sonya Kreizman, JCrush’s COO.
Kreizman adds that there was a clear need for a more modern tool that allows Jews to meet in an interactive way. With more than 30,000 global users, from Australia and back, the app, Kreizman hopes, will unite and strengthen Jewish communities.
“Anything that is going to help single Jews meet other singles Jews and marry is ‘kosher,’” says Rabbi Arnie Singer, author and JZoog.com founder.
However, apps like JSwipe and JCrush have led to criticism that goes beyond religious lines. Many argue speed-dating apps like these fuel today’s “hookup” culture, a Generation Y-type group obsessed with casual and frequent flings. This no-strings-attached mindset is made much easier when location-based apps appear, allowing users to instantaneously find matches in their area merely based off of physical appearance, and in this case, religious denomination.
“These apps are extremely superficial by nature,” says Lauren Cooper, a front-end developer from New York City and JDate user. “Many men swipe right for every single girl—just to see all the women who choose them and instantly it becomes a match. This leaves a lot in the hands of the men, and very little reciprocity for the women.”
“I think it’s pretty clear that people use location-based apps that offer minimal information, like Tinder, as hookup tools,” he says.
However, Kreizman sees it differently.
“We think it’s up to our users to determine whether they want to hook up or have something more serious,” Kreizman says. “We just provide them the tools to be exposed to one another and they take it from there.”
To combat this issue, Singer developed JZoog in 2013. He says he got involved in the online dating world after hearing several complaints from singles about inadequate dating services. His website (and soon-to-be app) is different than JDate or JSwipe because the site strictly screens users before accepting them.
“With JDate, all you need to join is an email address,” he says. “In other words, anyone can join and create multiple profiles, real or fake.”
Singer says the process of joining JZoog is quite complex. The service screens a potential user’s Facebook profile to obtain basic information and ensure he or she has a minimum number of friends—enough to confirm the profile wasn’t created just to join JZoog. His team then manually checks the compiled profile to make sure everything is complete before accepting a pending membership.
“As a rabbi and committed Jew, I feel very strongly that Jewish sites should be exclusively for Jews,” he says. “I think it’s shameful for the biggest Jewish dating site [JDate] to allow non-Jews as members and thereby enable the possibility of intermarriage.”
Keeping it in the Tribe?
In April, JDate, which was established in 1997, launched a major rebranding campaign, dubbed “Get Chosen.” Users submitted their best taglines via Instagram and Twitter. Now, the winners—like “Find Mr. Right to Left,” submitted by New York comedian Jonathan Morvay—shine bright throughout major cities, in hopes of enticing new users.
According to Greg Liberman, chief executive of Spark Networks, the company that owns JDate, JDate’s recent tune-up was intended to emphasize the “‘J’ in JDate” and reinforce the company’s purpose “to build the Jewish community.” But some users, Jewish or not, are offended by its attempts.
With recent ads reading, “More Jews than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas” and “Shiksappeal is overrated,” some feel the campaign is too exclusive—and even a bit derogatory.
Referencing the Chinese restaurant ad, one Twitter user writes,“@JDate tries to be hip, but might come off [too] brash…”
Similarly, in response to another JDate ad reading, “6,000 years of persecution just so you can go on Match.com,” a Twitter user says, “Inappropriate folks. Hire better intern.”
Jeff Newelt, a social media and public relations consultant, told The New York Times, “It’s so clichéd that it’s almost as if this campaign was written before ‘Seinfeld.’”
Moreover, Cooper says that although the site has progressively gotten more exclusive throughout the past few years, she doesn’t mind non-Jews being users and feels JDate shouldn’t reject them.
“I know I came across many non-Jewish people on the site,” she says. “I may have shied away from them due to my own preferences, but clearly they had an interest in dating Jewish women.”
However, Sandy Greenberg, co-founder of Terri & Sandy Solution, thinks otherwise. In February, she told The New York Times that her company, which was responsible for the rebranding campaign, didn’t empathize with those who felt left in the dark.
“If non-Jews are stumped about Birthright, that’s probably good,” she says.
Only time will tell whether this approach toward Jewish mingling and dating is indeed successful. Will speed-dating apps like JSwipe and JCrush increase marriage within Jewish communities? Or, will they ostracize non-Jews and continue to fuel frequent (and merely temporary) flings?
“I guess online dating is like a cow,” Singer says. “The animal is kosher, but it depends on how you slaughter and prepare it.”