One of the problems with the liberal Orthodox Jewish Zionism that we live by here on this blog is that it delays young people’s entry into adulthood and marriage. When I graduated from a public high school in the U.S. in the 1970s, the path before me was four years of college and the real world. My son graduated high school, then studied at a yeshiva for a year and a half, and is now performing military service in a unit that will require him to serve at least one year beyond the already long mandatory term of three years. Add the de rigueur year of travel after the army, and he won’t even begin college until he’s 25. If he goes for an advanced degree, he may not reach the real world until he’s well into his thirties.
It would be absurd to pretend that the expectation that our sons and daughters will pursue high-level religious and secular studies, as well as serve extended terms of military or national service, doesn’t clash with the family values we also espouse as religious Jews. Understandably, many young modern Orthodox men and women have chosen to delay marriage and spend extended periods as singles, a phenomenon almost unheard of previously in the religious community and now the subject of a popular new television series, Serugim.
So it’s not surprising that when the Ma’aleh Gilboa Yeshiva, where my son studied and where Gershom’s son is currently enrolled, devoted its second annual Hoshana Rabba all-night study session at our synagogue, Kehilat Yedidya to the subject of love and family life. What is surprising is that all the speakers in the evening’s panel discussion about bachelorhood, friendship, and marriage think that we can all have our cake and eat it, too. The message from all four panelists—Ma’aleh Gilboa’s Rabbi Yehuda Gilad and Hezi Cohen, Rabbi Yoel Ben-Nun, and matchmaker Rivka Shimon was—get married young and work it out.
Each speaker claimed the acquaintance of young couples who do it all—maintain happy marriages while husband and wife pursue Torah studies, academic degrees, and military service. We all know couples like that—but they are few and far between. None of the speakers stated the simple truth that the larger part of the burden in such marriages falls on the woman, who, while pursuing her own studies, generally spends much less time serving her country and is therefore the parent who keeps house and raises the children.
As the speakers noted, delaying marriage means risking no marriage at all, especially for women, who generally marry men somewhat older than them. And the modern Orthodox community is not immune to modern popular culture’s cinematic and television illusions that one must find the perfect match or none at all. But it was only one young soldier-cum-yeshiva-student who stood up and said the truth—when a young man and young women marry while they are still intently pursuing their academic and military callings, they may well find that they see or talk to each other only a couple times a week. That’s not a good way to get a successful marriage started.
Rather than pretending that we can have it all, we need to make choices. My children will, of course, decide for themselves when to marry. But I will not be encouraging them to rush.