Monday 26 October 2015

062) When Should You Get Married?


At what stage of one’s life should a person start thinking about settling down?
I want to share with you a very interesting halachik[1] take on when one should get married.

Theoretically (and I stress theoretically), under Jewish law, a boy can get married from the age of thirteen. The reason for this is simply that a boy of thirteen becomes legally obligated to keep all the mitzvot, and one of those mitzvot happens to marriage.

There are, however a number of reasons to delay marriage until the twenties:


Although thirteen is the theoretical legal  age for marriage, a boy or girl in their early teens would be severely discouraged from getting married so young, because of the following principle: Marriage should be delayed until one has mastered ‘yesodei haTorah’ (a basic but thorough and comprehensive Torah education which usually takes a young person about twenty years to achieve). Since very few thirteen year olds would manage, intellectually and time wise, to complete such a study regimen, marriage is usually put off till much later.

We need to point out at this stage that Torah study is divided into two categories;
i)                 Yediat or Yesodei haTorah[2]  (a basic but comprehensive Torah education which usually takes about twenty years), and
ii)                Limud haTorah[3] (the lifelong study and revision of the basic foundations that were mastered earlier, but with an emphasis on intellectual depth and breadth).

Now, hardly anything is allowed to interfere with a youngster[4] undergoing the first critical process of learning the basics. Even the important institution of marriage cannot stand up to someone in the process of studying the yesodei haTorah. Hence the practice of delaying marriage until the individual has reached his or her twenties.

Then, in the twenties, as soon as one enters into the second phase of Torah learning, limud haTorah, a number of things can and must take precedence. One of them is marriage, and another is studying for a profession or work itself. Work would never be considered bittul Torah (taking away from Torah study time)[5]. Even if work or marriage causes one to neglect and forget his Torah study, it is not considered sinful as it was a result of oness (a genuine and sincere attempt to create a good marriage and make an honourable living).[6]


Practically, in today’s world, we even delay the average marriageable age a little longer, because we have so much more Torah literature to study than ever before (as each generation compounds its wisdom upon that of the previous generation’s) and it therefore takes longer to get through the first phase of ‘learning the basics’.

Rabbi Melamed points out that our Torah school system is not always up to par, and the student may find that he or she has to supplement their studies over a number of years in post high school Torah learning institutions, further delaying the marrying age.


Another reason to delay the average marrying age is the crucial need to prepare for a profession or job that will enable the couple to sustain themselves with a degree of dignity. In this regard Rambam writes; “A wise man prepares for work that will uphold him, then he acquires a house, and only then does he marry. A fool marries first, then looks for a home, then later tries to find some work or decides to live off charity.”[7]

However, the Peninei Halacha explains that since, today, many professions require many years of study, which could delay a marriage considerably, and since, on the other hand getting married too early could deter a young couple from studying for a profession - a balance needs to be struck somewhere in the middle.


Another practical reason for marrying later today than in earlier generations is that our world is far more complicated than it ever was in the past. To marry today, with all the stress the modern world brings, requires a great deal of maturity and empathy, something which only comes with age and experience.

[It is important to mention at this stage that these principles are not cast in stone. If two people are ready for marriage at a reasonably younger age, there is nothing to stop them from marrying. The assumption, though, always is that they should at least be well on the way through phase one of Torah study (or make some effort to continue their studies after marriage, even part-time, before children arrive and their time is no longer their own).]


Lest you think marriage is only about numbers and calculations, take a look at how some rabbis write about love. The following is an extract from a talk by Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff:[8]

We should educate our men and women in the charaidi and in the modern orthodox world, [to] develop a wonderful relationship with each other....A person should feel towards his wife [that she is] his best friend. [She is] his confidant. [She] is his soul mate...To me, wherever I go I always want my wife at my side. I have seen gedolai Yisrael. I grew up watching Rav (Soloveitchik), I saw Rav Moshe (Feinstein), I saw Rav Yaakov (Kamenetsky), and I saw the way they related to their wives...It was truly chavairtecha ve'aishet britecha.

The greatest joy is to have my wife next to me...She is a lot more than just my physical partner or the mother of my children.She is smarter than me. She supplements me, complements me. Sometimes helps me paskin sheailot [make halakhic decisions]. I always appreciate when someone asks me a question [while] my wife is listening.

Her input to me is sacred.

[1] The primary source for most of the material in this article is Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halacha, Likuttim 1, 8; Talmud Torah VeNisuin, p16.
[2] Lit.’Knowledge of the Foundations of Torah’. i.e. A basic Torah education.
[3] Lit. ‘The Study of Torah’. i.e An advanced Torah education.

[4] Or for that matter a baal teshuva, who only started learning yesodei haTorah at a later stage in life (although to a lesser degree because he or she is usually somewhat older and does not have the luxury of spending twenty years in study).
[5] ‘She kol zeman shehu  oved veosek beyishuvo shel olam, ayn zeh bitul Torah’. Ibid. P 19.
[6] Ibid. P 17.
[7] Hilchot Deot 5, 11.
[8] See Emes Ve-Emunah Thursday, February 23, 2006. Rabbi Rakeffet is Rosh Kollel at Yeshiva University Kollel in Jerusalem.

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