Online Dating's Real-Life Matchmakers

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If you thought the traditional Jewish matchmaker went out of style with Fiddler on the Roof, has 35,000 love-seeking, Orthodox Jewish singles who beg to differ. Online dating sites are nothing new, but unlike eHarmony and its nameless algorithms, SawYouAtSinai employs an army of actual, flesh-and-blood matchmakers, charged with scouring the site's database in search of potential soulmates.

Technology and tradition don't always mix — witness several ultra-Orthodox communities' resistance to cell phones and internet use —but matchmaking turns out to be an ideal candidate for modernization. "Traditionally matchmakers only had 100 people they might set you up with," says Marc Goldmann, co-founder of SawYouAtSinai. But online dating expands that pool to tens of thousands of people and erases the "blind" element of the classic set-up. As Goldmann puts it, greater efficiency means better matches.

The site has been so successful that Goldmann and co-founder Alan Cutter have replicated the service for non-Orthodox Jews and hope to do the same for Mormons as well as South Asian expats. The duo has even been approached by alumni associations looking for novel ways to foster romance after graduation (and to spur fundraising while they're at it).

SawYouAtSinai, which was launched in 2004, takes its matchmaking seriously. Members fill out comprehensive profiles detailing their religious observance and outlook (frequency of Torah study? Black hat or knitted yarmulke?) and can't access an individual's profile until that person has been suggested as a match. That crucial limitation has allowed the site to win the blessing of well-known Orthodox rabbis and thereby reassure hesitant singles concerned about the propriety of online dating.

SawYouAtSinai's most popular matchmaker — and there are 365 of them —is Tova Weinberg, a legend in the matchmaking world. Based out of Pittsburgh, Pa., Weinberg spends eight hours a day combing through SawYouAtSinai's database and claims she is responsible for 1,000 dates a week.

"It's just this innate knack I have," she says, proudly recounting how her first match got engaged the night of their first date. Weinberg is also determined, going to great lengths to set up even the most challenging of clients: elderly women.

"I go to my health club and I ask every man, 'Do you know an older, single man who lost his wife?,' and I call and set them up," she says. "Right after their wives died. I was like a hawk."

Of course, not every aspiring matchmaker has Weinberg's gifts — or tenacity. "Are you Jewish?" she asks during our interview. "I can help you!"