"The Role of Parents in Marriage"

1. The Parents’ Obligation to Marry Off Their Children
2. Money Matters
3. Parental Involvement in Choosing a Mate

The Parents’ Obligation to Marry Off Their Children

The Sages teach (Talmud Kiddushin 30b) that Jewish parents are
commanded to marry off their children, i.e., to provide assistance in
the marriage of their immediate offspring, as it is written (Jeremiah
29:6): “Take wives and bear sons and daughters, and take for your sons
wives, and give your daughters to men so that they bear sons and
daughters.”
In other words, the Torah precept to reproduce does not come to an end
with the bearing of children rather; it continues to be in effect even
later, when it comes to the turn of the next generation. At that point
the parents must help the children to marry, and, by so doing, become
active participants in the continuation of the generations. And just
how do the parents help? To begin with, they aid by providing
encouragement and advice. But that is not all. They must also help
financially by paying the expenses of the wedding. This is what is
written in the Talmud – the father should give his daughter money and
possessions in order to increase the number of potential grooms; by so
doing, he fulfills the commandment to marry off his children.

In our generation, when the majority of young men and women choose
their partner independently according to personality and overall
character, and the question of “how much will the parents give” is not
so central, parents can fulfill the commandment of marrying off their
children by providing them with a good education at prestigious
schools, supporting them so that they be able to learn a profession,
and clothing them in attractive attire. This will make it easier for
them to find a partner. In addition to all this, once the son or
daughter has decided to get married, the parents are obligated to help
with the expenses of the wedding.
And the obvious question that arises is: Just how much are the parents
expected to help?
Regarding the aid which must be provided for a daughter, the Talmud
states that the parents are obligated by the Torah to clothe her in
attractive attire according to their social status, and it is also
appropriate for the parents take part in the purchase of a home and
furniture for the couple (Talmud Ketubot 52). For this, parents ought
to be willing to pay up to a tenth of their assets.
It indeed appears that in the past this had been the accepted custom
in Jewish communities.

In practice, though, it is clear that things have changed. Today,
property does not always reflect the financial capacity of the
parents. In addition, there is another central factor to consider –
monthly income. At any rate, the Talmud provides us with a general
direction: If the parents are capable, they must provide as much aid
as possible toward the weddings of their children.

It is also advisable for the parents to try to marry their daughter to
a Torah scholar. The Sages of the Talmud teach (Pesachim 49a): “A man
must be prepared to sell all of his possessions in order to marry the
daughter of a Torah scholar, and to marry off his daughter to a Torah
scholar.” The commentators explain that this is not to be understood
literally, in the sense that one must actually sell all of his
belongings, for one must hold on to his possessions in order to
sustain himself and earn a living. Rather, the intention is that a
father must make a great effort to marry off his daughter to a Torah
scholar. And there are those who write that one must be prepared to
invest up to a fifth of his assets to this end (Hitorerut Teshuvah
vol. 3, ch. 13 and 5 according to Rema; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim
656:1).

Money Matters

The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) teaches: Rabba bar Rav Adda said: “Whoever
marries a woman for her money will end up with contemptible children.”
The reason for this is that marriage must be founded upon the mutual
affection of the partners and not upon any other external factor.
Therefore, a marriage which came about as the result of a desire for
wealth will not flourish, and, naturally, the children which are born
of such a union will be contemptible.

Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (“Rema”) writes that the groom must
not quarrel with the family of the bride over money, and one who does
quarrel with the family of the bride because of money, will lack
success, and his marriage will not thrive (Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer
2:1). The reason for this is that if the groom chooses to behave in
such a manner, the money which he receives with his wife is not honest
money, and one who does this is referred to as “Noseh Isha Leshem
Mamon” (“one who marries for money”).
Rather, the son-in-law should receive gratefully whatever his in-laws
are willing to give, and by following such a path he will surely
succeed.

Question: Is it permissible to force the parents to assist in
financing the wedding of the children?
Answer: Though we have said that there is a Torah commandment which
obligates the parents to marry off their children (and this obligation
of course includes financial involvement), still, the obligation
remains the parents’ alone – they are responsible, and neither the
bride nor the groom are permitted to force them in this matter. Even a
religious court cannot obligate the parents to assist in the wedding
of their son, no matter how wealthy they might be. But when it comes
to the daughter, the court can force the parents to assist (if the
parents are capable) in providing a minimal sum for a modest wedding.
Hence, regarding assistance in marrying off the daughter, Rema writes
(Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 70:1): “Even though one is commanded to
give his daughter a proper wedding gift, we do not force him in this
matter; rather, whatever he wants to give, he gives.”

In other words, the court does not get involved in family disputes
between the parents and the daughter. Therefore, even though the
parents are commanded to assist their children according to their
financial standing, the court does not force them. When, though, it
comes to the wedding of the daughter, the court pressures parents to
give at least a minimal amount in order that she will be able to marry
(Chelkat Mechokek 162, Shulchan Arukh, Even Haezer 58).
So, in summary, it is proper that the parents contribute toward the
wedding of their children, and if they do not offer of their own
accord it is permissible for the children to speak to them and request
their help. But they must not enter into an argument on this issue.
And even if the parents do not provide financial assistance, the groom
should go ahead and marry his bride and rest assured that God will
assist the two of them in their endeavors.

It is also worth pointing out that, according to one important
authority, the parents need not go into debt in order to marry off
their children (Az Nidbaru vol. 9, 51).
In addition, it is perhaps worth mentioning that though the son or
daughter is about to marry, they are still obligated to honor their
parents, and, of course, they are obligated to make things as easy as
possible for the parents. If, as a result of the wedding, the parents’
standard of living will suffer, it is certainly the responsibility of
the children to make sure that the parents not end up investing too
much money in the wedding. It is all the more so forbidden for the
children to pressure the parents to resort to taking out loans which
will cause them hardship.

Parental Involvement in Choosing a Mate

The role of the parents is not always an easy one. On the one hand,
the mother and father have to concern themselves and assist in the
marrying off of their children; on the other hand, the actual choice
of partner is not up to them.
Indeed, it often happens that serious disagreements arise over the
son’s choice of bride. The son chooses his partner and believes that
her character suits his character and his aspirations, and the bride
feels the same – yet the parents disagree. They believe that the
choice is not a fitting one. Sometimes the parents are adamant in
their position and even threaten to cut off ties with the son or
daughter.
The question arises: What should the son or daughter do in such a
situation? Should they follow the advice of their parents and forfeit
their heart’s desire? Or need they not listen to their parents
regarding this matter?

The bottom line, from a Halakhic perspective, is that the children do
not have to heed to their parents’ desire on this question. And
despite the fact that the parents may have the very best intentions,
every individual has the freedom to make choices regarding his own
future. The obligation to honor parents includes all that is connected
to relations between parents and children; it does not mean that the
children must give up on their own path in life. True, such questions
often result in family tragedies, but one must understand that
children are not the private property of their parents; they are
independent individuals who possess the right to make decisions
regarding their future. Certainly they must listen to, and seek the
advice of, their parents, and they must understand that their parents
mean well, but, in the end, the decision belongs to the couple (Rema,
Yoreh Deah 240:25).

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