Not Getting Married Today–When Should Young Modern Orthodox Jews Get Hitched?

Haim Watzman

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.

7 thoughts on “Not Getting Married Today–When Should Young Modern Orthodox Jews Get Hitched?”

  1. Mainly because of the Haredim, Israel hasn’t had to worry about the birth dearth that’s plaguing European countries. Similarly, principally because of the Hispanic influx, the U.S. hasn’t had to worry either. But ultimately, these things do catch up to you. And Israel, tiny as it is (and defenseless as well in some scenarios) can ill afford to waive on growth in its Jewish population. None of this contradicts what Haim says. It just makes you think.

  2. I married my first wife at the age of 22, right after I graduated from college. Then we spent 3 years in grad school together (different subjects). Surprisingly, we actually got to see quite a bit of each other on a regular basis, even though we were both full-time grad students. Then I hit the “real world” at age 25, and my job required me to travel quite a bit, which I think put some stress on the marriage. My wife took several years to start a career, and when she did, she dumped me.

    I did much better with my second wife, who I married at age 36. We had a couple of children, and are approaching our 20th anniversary. (I even worked part time on a PhD during the early years of the marriage [and the early years of Apikoris Juniorette’s life] in addition to working full time.

    So count me as one who is a strong advocate of delaying marriage. If anything needs to be put off, I would suggest the advanced-level Torah study (except for the few who show the talent and interest to have remunerative careers in Jewish scholarship.) Why the rush to become a talmid hacham? You can wait until retirement, with maybe some short-term experiences in the meantime to whet the appetite.

  3. Well…When I was growing up I basically was taught to have the same expectations: HS, College, Marriage, kids, etc. — in that order. That I did not follow that trajectory is another story. However.

    I am married, (second marriage, 5 kids between us, all from previous marriages). Our 2 oldest daughters both went to Israel for a Shana B’Aretz, stayed and made aliyah, then in SHORT order, met and married. One is a mother now the other is on her way to becoming one. Both are attending school full time — one at Machon Tal the other at Bar Ilan U (if it actually OPENS this year, yet another story!). Will their lives be easy? No. BUT. YET. They are YOUNG. And I DO remember being young. When one is young, one is stronger, and usually has more endurance. It is easier for young kids to deal with harshness than for older more set in their ways adults to do the same. I think age is in their favor to marry young, and deal with the harshness of life trying to do and have everything. Eventually, the harshness gives way, life gets a bit easier — and by then they have learned more wisdom than they will ever get learning Talmud!

    We taught all our girls (all five of them) that love is a choice, an active choice. We taught them that marriage is an act of compassion and compromise. I think they will all be just fine…

  4. The Srugim picture you used to illustrate this post shows Amir and Reut. In this scene, Reut who is a secular accountant, pretended to be Amir’s religious wife so that Amir wouldn’t get fired from his job at a religious girls’ school. Amir’s employers did not know that he had gotten divorced and the policy at the school is not to hire unmarried men.

    In any case, even though some Rabbis have banned their followers from watching Srugim, it does demonstrate that single life and love in the dati leumi (Zionist-Religious) crowd in Israel is… complicated. Though they sure do go on a lot of dates. Or “date-im” as they call them.

  5. Either choice is tough on women — I delayed marriage to finish law school — and found out that there were not a lot of unmarried Jewish men available. I married a man who was divorced with children, so there you go–you can go the full educational route, have a smaller family plus all the problems of stepchildren and ex-wives, OR marry younger, have your own family and struggle through the problems together–and hopefully make it a success.

    Nothing is easy.

  6. i’m surprised that all the panellists all gave the same answer. i wonder if they have thought about all the implications of this, and why they would reject various approaches. obviously, not a simple issue, which is why giving a simple answer seems to me to be, well, simplistic.

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