Time Magazine recently asked on its cover “Who Needs Marriage?” (In the spirit of full disclosure, I canceled my Time subscription some time ago in protest of its Israeli coverage.) It raises an important question in both the broader society and the Jewish community. Less people are getting married; those who do, much later. These trends have not taken hold in the more traditional end of the Jewish community, where divorce rates remain very low, and kids tend to get married in the early twenties.
Two years ago my then-19-year-old daughter asked me out for coffee. “It’s time to consider getting married” she told me. I was a bit taken aback; she had spent a year in Seminary in Israel, and then another teaching in California. The plan was to go to New York, work on a degree and in a year or two pursue the marriage option. A few months later a suggestion was made; his name was Yossi. From Melbourne Australia, he had completed his rabbinical training in Los Angeles and was 23. Matches, or Shidduchim, in the Orthodox community are not arranged. Only the initial dates are. Family, friends and at times even an official Shadchan (matchmaker) make suggestions. The family helps vet the prospects; the young people decide if they are going to date and if they want to get married.
This approach is fundamentally different from the broader culture. Marriage is considered a primary goal; in the secular culture the focus is on college and career. Marriage is in second or third place. In the traditional Jewish world, marriage and setting up a family is considered far more vital than your vocation and job opportunities. From the time they are young, we instill this ideal in children. Also in many segments of the Orthodox world, boys and girls restrain themselves from social interaction until they are ready to pursue a serious relationship that will result in marriage. Young people do not live together prior to marriage. Relationships are considered sacred, not disposable.
I realize that non-Orthodox are not willing to adopt such an approach. The question can still be asked: What ideas can Jews who are less observant draw from their religious brethren? Something is working right; in the Orthodox world, divorce is in the single digits. Most families are happily adjusted: they have kids, jobs and are pursuing productive lives. Teens and young adults do not ride a roller coaster of relationships that do not develop into serious commitment. They get married and get focused in life younger.
The Jewish community has to make marriage important again. Younger Jews waiting longer to get married, it’s time that leaders and educators make marriage important again. We should embed its priority into our educational programs for children and teens. We should encourage young adults to date and get married earlier, in particular those who have finished college. We should move this issue to center stage to encourage the next generation to set up Jewish families enriched with Jewish values.
As for Yossi and Dina, well, they went out, and the wedding was great. They are living in Melbourne, he is working on a degree and career in property management and she is teaching in a local Chabad preschool. And thanks to Skype and e-mail, we are in daily contact.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. He has five married children and one more in the batter’s box. The grandchildren are very cute. His email is rabbi @ocjewish.com.