Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Family: That's All There is to Life

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen 
Dean of the Zomet Institute
"It stems from G-d" [Bereishit 24:50].
"There are proofs from the Torah, from the Prophets, and from the Writings that G-d designates a woman for a man. From the Torah: 'And Lavan and Betuel declared, It stems from G-d.' From the Prophets: 'And his father and mother did not know that the matter came from G-d' [Shoftim 14:4]. And from the Writings: 'A home and wealth are a heritage from fathers, but an intelligent woman comes from G-d' [Mishlei 19:14]." [Moed Katan 18b].

Remaining Single
This week's Torah portion involves the issue of matchmaking, finding a bride and convincing or compensating her family with respect to the match. We will therefore take a look today at this matter and its relevance to the current situation.
Here are some facts from the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel. The average age of first marriage of Jews in Israel in 2013 was 28 for the groom and 26 for the bride (in 2013 about 36,000 Jewish couples were married, that is, about 3,000 per month). However – and this is quite significant – in 2013, the fraction of unmarried people within the age group of 25-29 was 65% for the men and 46% for the women, compared to 1970, when the fractions were only 28% for men and 13% for women. And here is another fact: In Tel Aviv, the exciting city "that never stops" – the fraction of single people in this age category is sky-high, approaching the "advanced" status of Europe – 83% of the men and 71% of the women. And I won't burden you with the low marriage rates in the Western World, where marriages take place at very "advanced" ages.
It is sad to say that the entire framework of the family unit, including family values, has completely changed in terms of status and character all over the world. This has a lot to do with permissiveness, it has a lot to do with the culture of society, it has a lot to do with career choices (by both sexes), it has a lot to do with the virtual world (internet, facebook), and it has a lot to do with many other factors that have been studied and discussed by social scientists and educators, as well as by psychologists and intelligent people.
Within the religious nationalistic sector in Yisrael, to which this bulletin is linked, innumerable conferences and panels have been held, articles have been written and proposals have been made, public associations have been established to improve the situation, and many matchmaking sites have been opened. But many men and women are still "wading in the swamps," by choice or by coercion, in dire need of a heavenly angel which will reveal to them the princess of their dreams or the imaginary prince which is the subject of the passage quoted above: "G-d designates a woman for a man."
My first call is quite commonplace, and it is meant for single and married men and women of all ages and from every family status: Continue your attempts at matchmaking! While this word has ramifications of the "exile" and is the subject of an infinite number of tales, jokes, and comedies, remember that today matchmaking is no longer tied to the "profession" of old. It is first and foremost a challenge for the friends of unmarried men and women and for their acquaintances from the same sector who have had the privilege of standing under the Chuppah (or not). The challenge is relevant for neighbors and friends, as it is for colleagues at work or within the community. In this generation of "dates" and easy iPhone contact, there is no need for prior investigations of suitability. The prospects will check matters for themselves and it is not expected that they will depend on recommendations by the "matchmakers."
I also have one "enlightened" issue to discuss. In many cases, an important factor in putting off marriage is the desire for academic studies, which have almost become a necessary norm in modern times. In the religious sector a question of "delaying pregnancy" from the halachic point of view remains in the background, since not every student is willing or able mentally or logistically to be involved in caring for a baby while they study. Let me state my position about this: I join with the halachic experts and Torah educators who prefer a "young marriage" and a delay of pregnancy to holding back on getting married, especially within a mixed society. I refer my readers to the article by Rabbi David Stav in the latest issue of Techumin (volume 34), "Delaying marriage in order to obtain an academic degree." He comes to a similar conclusion, based on halachic sources and recent halachic rulings.
"Family values" are a treasure of immeasurable worth. My heart goes out to those whose bitter fortune leads them to stay away from this vital treasure to one degree or another – namely, a family made up of a small unit or of a broad base. Solitude causes terrible distress and it becomes infinitely worse in a generation characterized by virtual replacements and "a thousand friends on facebook." In addition, the decreased importance of the community in our generation, being replaced by "personal rights" and individualism, adds to the distress of the unmarried people. While it is true that an active community life with volunteer activities can alleviate the feeling of isolation somewhat, this is better suited to single elderly people than to young ones who are not married.
Do not learn from our Patriarch Yitzchak who married his wife when he was "forty years old" [25:20]. Do not learn either from Rivka, who was three years old when she drew the water from the well, according to Rashi's commentary. This idea from the Midrash is hard to accept, and Abarbanel wrote, "How can it be that a three-year-old went to the well and drew water for all the camels, and then did everything else that is described in the passage?" In fact, there is a version of Seder Olam Rabba which states, "Yitzchak married Rivka at the age of fourteen" (1). The Ramban discusses this matter in his commentary on the Talmud (Yevamot 61b). But this is also not a recommended age! My advice: less than an age of 25!

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