Marry Younger

Letter to the Editor: In Response to the Proposal Encouraging Our Young Men to Marry Very Young

By BJL/Chaim Yudkowsky

Posted on 07/12/13 | 22 Comments and 0 Reactions

To the Editor,

In light of a recent effort by unnamed individuals who have successfully launched an advertising and poster in shul campaign that specifically encouraged our 21 year old young men to marry at a younger age, I feel that I must speak out.

This proposal with many of its absurd specifics that include suggesting ending sending young bochurim over 21 to Israel is defined as a solution to the “shidduch crisis.” I was disgusted by the condescending, insulting nature of this proposal to parents and young people as well as the naiveté that it suggests. As a parent of both boys and girls in this age group, I have discussed this proposal with both other parents and young people in the age group to which it was addressed.

When this activist movement began, I asked an American rosh yeshiva of an Israel-based yeshiva for American bachurim aged 18 to 21 for his insight into the appropriate nature of this movement. His comment, off-the-record, was that the idea is an insult to him and to any person familiar with Americanbachurim of that age.

So using the format of the ad, I’d like to suggest more suitable response:

► Myth: The current shidduch crisis is mostly the result of the “age gap” issue.

► Truth: While that might be a symptom of a more significant problem, it is not the source.

 Myth: The age gap theory is predicated on the limited availability of bachurim for the young women who are looking for a shidduch, due to our frum community’s ever-expanding population.

► Truth: There is a religiosity gap between boys and girls in our system. This means that there areavailable young men. However, the Bais Yaakov system and seminaries have convinced them that onlybachurim who are learners (or dress and go through the motions to appear that way) are suitable for marriage. There are young men who would make fine husbands and heads of family who are not in a “mainstream” yeshiva. Or, they may attend college or work and make time for regular learning. I would suggest that some of the “inspiring stories” of early 20th century heroines in the US have been abused to become rallying calls for furthering an expectation that fine frum husbands is not good enough – only a future Gadol Hador for me!

► Myth: Once the age gap issue is addressed, everything will be okay.

► Truth: This initiative does not help any young woman over the age of 22. If young women aged 22 or older would be open to dating older, single Orthodox men who may not be that “yeshivish,” they might find men who are not only already gainfully employed (like most frum Jewish males of yesteryear) but also possess the requisite maturity to make better husbands and fathers.

► Myth: Today’s system of “shidduchim,” as practiced in today’s Litvish yeshivish world, has been in place for hundreds or thousands of years.

► Truth: Historians estimate that today’s system, with all of its shtick – meaning the “rules” regarding resumes and dating protocol (like no first phone calls) – probably dates back to the late 1980s. Around that time, the American Litvish community started to mimic the shidduchim practices of the chasidishevelt, where structured, arranged marriages have been the norm for generations. There are many problems with this mimicking: Two of them: 1) the traditional chasidishe marriages are arranged withlittle input from the young coupleand 2) chasidim who marry young generally do not spend more than a year in kollel before going out to work. The current Litvish system breaks both of these norms. In the Litvish system, the couples have a great deal to say about the progress of the shidduch, and it is accepted that males can go into kollel indefinitely.

► Myth: When a young woman marries young, that is optimal, and she will likely build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.

► Truth: In the short term, such a chasana is a success. However, at age 19 or 20, it is unlikely that most young women have yet “found themselves,” either in terms of personality or career (which they will need to support their family). Marrying before “finding oneself” is detrimental to marriage and might even be the cause of the rash of early divorces.

► Myth: A 20-year-old male is ready to get married.

► Truth: On a hormonal level, that might be true. However, at age 20, he rarely has a plan for supporting himself or any real depth in learning. Many American bachurim had an underwhelming high school experience or are burned out of learning by that time. Following this planand entering kollel after an early marriage would therefore be either remedial or merely going through the motions.

The reason why many young men go to bais medrash for three-to-four years before marriage is often because, in high school, they only learned 50 percent of the day, and they realize that they really do need to invest in a Torah focus before they do anything else. In addition, many bachurim who attend yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael go there for reasons that include freedom to be away from parents; conversely, parents of very young married couples have overwhelming influence on the marriage. In addition, the very serious bachurim often realize that getting married early will shter (disturb) their learning because of all the time spent on dating, wedding, sheva brachos, and now, two sides of an extended family.

► Myth: The Modern Orthodox system of dating and marriage – where young people most often marry later – is superior to that of the Yeshivish velt.

► Truth: The MO community has its own challenges, many significant in their own right.  No one is claiming that system to be perfect.

► Myth: Okay, the current shidduch system has some minor problems. But, it is still the best way to do things, with the endorsement of our Gedolim. What else are we to do, let our children meet at singles bars?

► Truth: The current shidduch system is a recent invention. In previous generations (and still today in more “modernishe” circles), young men and women met through groups like NCSY, Bnai Akiva, naturally through the community via coincidence, and even – dare I say it – at Shabbos Nachamu singles events. In fact, many community leaders, including prominent American (and European) rabbanim and roshei yeshiva met their wives this way. The current shidduch crisis is a function of the suppression of “hashgacha pratis” (divine providence), which has long been a core operating principle of Yiddishkeit. Somehow, letting hashgacha pratis run its natural course is now out of vogue. Furthermore, the extreme gender separation, previously only known in chasidishe circles, has prevented people finding one another or effectively networking. So, the shidduch crisis is, for the most part, self-inflicted by the system.

► Myth: Marrying young is a good thing, say age 19 or 20.

► Truth: Marrying young is great in the short-term, and gives parents a sense that they have “made it.” However, no couple that age can be financially independent. They need to be totally supported by parents and in-laws. Often, parents will dote on children and einiklach and meddle in the couple’s life. After all, they are entitled to manage their financial investment in any way they please. This not only leads to shalom bayis issues but also contradicts Chazal, who say that a person would rather have one measure of his own toil as opposed to a handout of nine.

In the long term, marrying young is often a disaster. Let’s say that all of the eligible 20-year-oldbachurim in yeshiva, most without a plan of how they will support their families, would get married. Such a solution to the shidduch crisis would exacerbate the already suppressed reality of the “parnassacrisis.” Financial distress in a marriage is the number one basis for divorce, according to many studies both in the frum world and secular worlds.

I will conclude with data from recent studies. In recent years, up to 33 percent of marrying couples in the secular world are meeting online, through dating sites and social media. Some of those studies show that there is more substance to those initial meetings and the relationships that result than those who meet for the first time in person. This is because communication must progress via these online forums before in-person meetings happen. I am certainly not advocating that our community use these same online dating sites. My point is that it is the frum community’s avoidance of these media – at least until singles become older – together with a shidduch/dating process that has become so mechanical and pre-orchestrated that it has precluded significant avenues in which hashgacha pratis can operate, prevent us from finding a solution to the shidduch crisis.

Let’s hope that, with sincere communal desire along with the acceptance of multiple paths and solutions to resolving the obstacles placed upon the shidduchim process, everyone will find his or her appropriate spouse for a lifetime of deep friendship and happiness.

Chaim Yudkowsky 

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