A letter from a mother concerning children marrying no later than the age of 24 * Can a young man learning in yeshiva and serving in the army start a family at an early age without becoming a financial burden on his parents? * Yeshiva students who are not certain they are fit for teaching or the rabbinate, should immediately begin learning a trade after finishing the army * An reply to a mother’s letter: The obligation of parents, and the responsibility of society as a whole, to help young adults combine marriage and professional studies * The plight of divorced, religious women who suffer from a negative stigma, and find it difficult to get married after undergoing menopause
About a month ago I dealt with the precept of marriage, and I elaborated on the halakha that a person is obligated to marry by the age of twenty in order to fulfill the mitzvoth of marriage and procreation, and that the situation today is defined as a sha’at ha’dachak (pressing circumstances) in which, l’chatchilla (from the outset), it is permitted to postpone the mitzvah until the age of 24. Indeed, the intention of the mitzvah is not to obligate a person to marry an incompatible partner, but rather, to require he strives to get married by the age of 24.
In the wake of these articles I received many responses, one of which was a notable letter that came from the heart of a loving, worrying, and responsible mother, which I believe can benefit many.
A Mother’s Reply
“Shalom, Rabbi. I imagine that as a result of your article on the proper age of marriage, emotions ran high in many houses on Shabbat (the day after its publication). As a mother of sons and daughters who are essentially the same age as you spoke of (a few married, others not), I want to focus on the recommended age of marriage.
Rabbi, you cited the words of our Sages and the Rambam, etc., stressing that a young man should be well-prepared for the challenges of marriage, namely, to study Torah and learn a trade, so he can support his family. And yet, you wrote that nowadays one is permitted to postpone marriage until the age of 24, because preparations take longer and the mitzvah of serving in the army also causes a delay.
I cannot figure out how, by the age of 24, a young man can build himself spiritually, serve in the army (even an abbreviated service), and also learn a profession so he can support his family (as he obligated himself in the ketubah [Jewish marriage contract]!).
In practice, young men who are loyal to their rabbis in the various yeshivas, remain there to study and build themselves spiritually while postponing military service, and get married at a young age – at best, after finishing the army, and in many cases before, or while serving (which is also a problem for the woman). Only afterwards do they learn a trade – on the average, for about three years.
If all is well, the women get pregnant without delay – seeing as it’s forbidden to postpone – and have difficulty finishing their studies, or finding a job to support the family. And just who is supposed to provide for the young couple and their children? In many cases we, the parents, must help out with considerable and steady support for many years!
Rabbi, you cannot encourage young adults to marry at an early age and not postpone the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply”, without addressing in detail the implications thereof. The fact is that from the outset, a very large majority of young couples simply rely on the steady financial support of their parents, because they have no other source of income!
Clearly, this is not a healthy situation in any respect, and surely not all families are able to support all of their married children, and it doesn’t have to be the ideal solution to the situation.
In my humble opinion, the wording of the directive, or halakha, should be a little more moderate. It’s impossible to “toss the young adult into the water” at the maximum age of 24 in the hopes that God-willing things will work out, while in reality, knowing he is incapable of supporting his family.
Rabbis should also address the issues of earning a living, acquiring a profession, and prepare young men for overall family life.”
I agree with the main point of your argument, but my conclusion is that within this complex reality, we need to pave the way for the fulfillment of our Sages words.
For example, in regards to yeshiva study: A student who is uncertain whether he is fit to be a teacher or a rabbi, should start learning a trade immediately after finishing his army service. Incidentally, in Yeshiva Har Bracha, we do not allow students to continue learning in the yeshiva beyond this time. For that reason we created the ‘Shiluvim‘ (‘combination’, in Hebrew) program, in which students learn full academic studies in one of the universities, while at the same time, combine a few hours of study in the yeshiva every day, and for this, students receive a scholarship which helps them make ends meet during their years of learning.
On the other hand, when no attempt is made to get married by the age our Sages determined, many young adults experience tremendous difficulties in finding a partner, and get delayed for many years – over and above what they had planned – and in the end, get married with much less enthusiasm, joy and love, because the appropriate time of marriage is when people are younger (this week my wife lead a discussion for hundreds of parents and individuals who undertook to help single people get married. The sad stories she heard after the discussion is proof – out of pain and anguish – just how correct our Sages were in determining that a person should marry at a young age).
Indeed, the difficulties raised in your letter are true, and thus I would suggest you read a few paragraphs from my book, “Simchat Habayit u’Birchato“, in which I referred to these issues. Here are some excerpts:
The Obligation of Young Adults, Parents, and Society
Today, the mitzvah of marriage poses a major challenge for young adults, parents, and society. Within the span of a few years, young adults are required to establish their Torah worldview, acquire a profession that suits their capabilities, and start a family; in addition, young men are required to also serve in the army and further their Torah study.
The first duty lies with young adults, who are required to plan their paths well, and not waste time during these precious years. For even after having defined our times as a sha’at dachak, in which marriage can be postponed until the age of 24 – one who wastes his time during these years nullifies the fulfillment of themitzvah. Therefore, it is the duty of every young adult to pave a path in which they can integrate all of these ideals jointly – to get married at an early age, and at the same time, acquire a profession that suits their talents, so they can support their families and contribute to the improvement of society.
The second duty rest on the parents, as our Sages said (Kiddushin 29a; 30b), parents are obligated to marry-off their children, as it is written: “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:6). In other words, the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply does not end with a child’s birth, rather, it continues afterwards until they reach the age of marriage. At that point in time, parents should encourage their children to marry, and help with advice and financial assistance, thereby contributing to the continuation of the generations. Our Sages instructed parents to devote a tenth of their assets to each of their children’s weddings. It seems thattoday, a significant part of the parents’ assistance should be aimed at facilitating their children’s significant challenge of combining marriage together with professional studies.
Society as a whole is also obligated to create most favorable conditions for young adults to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage at the appropriate time. In order to do so professional studies should be streamlined as best as possible, young adults should be given assistance in finding affordable housing and dormitories, and women’s professional studies should start as early as possible so that in the first years of marriage they can offer greater support for their families.
It is important to know that together with the difficulties modern life presents, it also holds solutions. True, studying for a profession takes more time, but on the other hand – investing in it pays off, and as a result, banks are willing to grant students loans whose payment commences only after one begins working.
These are a few the sections I sent to her.
“Rabbi, thank you very much for your detailed reply! The greatest novelty in my eyes is the parents’ obligation to help their children.
You spoke about your yeshiva, however in most yeshivas, unfortunately, the situation is different. Many yeshiva students learn in higher, Zionist yeshivas, in which each student enlists in the army at different times.
Additionally, in most yeshivas, even Hesder, the boys may continue studying as they please, even after their five year program of yeshiva studies and army service is over, and many of them do so with the encouragement of the rabbis, instead of learning a profession (I heard an interesting excuse from a yeshiva student who had not yet married: he did not want to go a university with a mixed student body while he was single).
Thank you and, yasher koach (a job well done)!”
A Painful Letter Concerning Divorced Women and Marriage
“Shalom, Rabbi. I gladly follow your enlightening words each week. Recently, you dealt at length with the marriage of young adults, and I wanted to arouse your attention to a painful problem: the marriage of divorced women in their fifties.
There is a stigma about religious, divorced women that they are improper and untrustworthy, and this is a shame. Not all of us betrayed our husbands, or behaved immodestly. Because of the prohibition of loshon ha’ra (defamation), the reasons for divorce are not publicized, and thus, many people are unaware that there are husbands who beat, abuse, and humiliate their wives, and the rabbis are unable to help. The problem becomes even more painful when we, women who are not so young, search for a suitable partner who we can grow older with, in dignity.
I tried to build a glorious marriage, but my husband did not love and respect me as much as he loved and respected himself, and happiness was nowhere to be found. The discourse was violent and disrespectful, and sadness prevailed in our family.
Regrettably, women like me can no longer have children, and this is what prevents us from the road to happiness. Most men prefer women nearly ten years younger than they are.
Our Sages said: “For a man who divorces his first wife, the very altar sheds tears”. I am one of those women for whom tears are shed, and I continue to shed my own tears because of society’s alienation – the same society from which I nurtured all my values and entire faith. And nevertheless, I still have hope they will not judge us negatively, and give us another chance.
I needed great courage to save my soul and that of my children. With the grace of God, I was liberated from my personal prison, and will no longer say “Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer”, but instead, “I will exalt you, God, for you lifted me out of the depths”. Also, I have no sorrow – but joy – for meriting blessing over the bad, as well as the good. But now, I want so badly to reciprocate, to be a compatible helper; to establish a home in which love, brotherhood, peace and friendship dwells. May we merit establishing a binyan shalem (a complete structure) from the ruins of Jerusalem, speedily in our days, amen.
Rabbi, can you give some encouragement or advice, and maybe even help calm the fears of men regarding religious, divorced women, whose only wish is to open a new page, and establish a blessed, binyan shalem?
A: Unfortunately, I have no useful advice. Perhaps the publication of this letter will arouse the hearts, and ascend as a prayer for all of the lonely who crave to build a relationship of love, holiness and joy.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.