On Marrying Young

 Posted by on April 25, 2013
Apr 252013
 

 

on marrying young

Marriages in the womb? Why not? It’s all done in heaven prebirth anyway! Marrying young is so enviably simple! I betcha all the goyim would dream themselves such a smooth and guaranteed betrothal.

In conversation with some Hasidim who are capable of a degree of self-criticism (in itself a sign of great deviance) I’ve heard that one of the biggest problems with the system is that children are married off when they are still… children. Some have suggested that the first thing that needs to change is an extension on the age of marriage. Between 18 and 21 one can mature quite a bit, gain insight into life and have enjoyed some youthful freedom.

Personally, I can’t see how pushing arranged marriage off by a year or two will address the issues of incompatibility with arranged partner spouses, postnuptial marital discord, lack of youthful experimentation and premature parenting.. As far as I see, young boys and girls itch to get married young because it is one of the most exciting events that Hasidic children can look forward to. Additionally, life in Yeshiva is terribly boring and boys want to get out of there sooner rather than later. I have known plenty of twenty years old who were desperate down to their white hairs when they were still on the market, waiting for the pinnacle of life’s happiness as they entered their twenties. The system of schooling, yeshiva and the culmination of youthful happiness in marriage, ensures that the Chasidic youths perpetuate the system of teen marriages..

There’s also the issue of sexual release; since only monogamous sexual activity within the framework of marriage is permitted, Hasidim believe that marriage at a young age will provide an opportunity for youths to fulfill their sexual needs in a religiously acceptable way. I don’t know how the Litvish and MO saints manage so many peak sexual years of abstinence, but I do understand that this kind of abstinence gives room for a lot of deviance. People who can’t express themselves sexually in acceptable ways will very likely do it in ways society does not consider acceptable.

I believe there’s also a historical factor to marriages at a young age. Marriage used to be the institution through which children are prepared for life and given an economic headstart. The dowry was meant to support the couple, and during the residency with the parents for the first few years after they got married, they usually learned a trade and began their own business. Parents, who died at a much younger age, may have been eager to see their children settled financially. There were also the infamous Cantonists, young children drafted to the army (or kidnapped by “Khappers”), and perhaps parents quickly married off their children to circumvent the draft. Of course, these motives may serve no purpose anymore, but the tradition of marrying young has clearly survived.

Frieda Vizel

Frieda Vizel left the Hasidic community, the Modern Orthodox community and the Formerly Orthodox (OTD) community. She now lives in Pomona and is actively looking for a new community to leave. She deals with the perplexities of the communities she left by drawing cartoons about them, a habit that gets her into an excellent amount of trouble.

  9 Responses to “On Marrying Young”

  1. Considering that the sex of the fetus is one of the best guarded secrets in Hasidic society, often even a secret to the parents, womb-betrothment will produce many same sex marriages – statistically speaking.

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  2. You said it yourself: “Between 18 and 21 one can mature quite a bit, gain insight into life and have enjoyed some youthful freedom.”

    So pushing off marriages with a year or two will help somewhat with “issues of incompatibility with arranged partner spouses, postnuptial marital discord, lack of youthful experimentation and premature parenting” since first-time parents will be older, boys and girls that have matured into young men and women will have gained a bit of insight and will be more actively involved in actually choosing a mate and not grabbing the first one their parents throw at them, having more financial security, and maybe more maturity to deal with marital issues that crop up instead of running right back to momma’s apron strings and letting her call the shots.

    Of course this is all theoretical and blissfully, ignorantly idealistic, because we know many 22 year old “boys” and “girls” who are hardly any more mature, independent, or insightful at 22 than they were at 18. And the secular world, and even other Orthodox Jewish communities who do not marry early, hardly seem to offer credible solutions to the problems of postnuptial marital discord and premature parenting, so it must be that freedom in sexual experimentation, later marriage, and later parenting are not panaceas in and of themselves. Statistics seem to indicate, although these are statistics that are unverifiable as they are subject to every kind of bias possible, that arranged marriages (e.g. in traditional societies in Asia, where marriages are almost contracted on he unborn) among suitable partners (i.e. he isn’t old enough to be her grandfather and she isn’t wife #72) are as happy or happier than Western-style marriages, and certainly have a lot more longevity.

    You’ve really touched on a complicated topic here :-)

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  3. It’s foolish to attempt to solve all problems inherent in marriages in general and in a conforming community in particular. Perhaps the the most unfortunate problem is being “stuck” with a partner not really chosen and children that are burdensome before life has even begun in earnest. Fortunately, this one can be significantly mitigated by staving off marriages. Subjects will be more mature, will have more time to explore themselves and to explore the world, and in general, adults are not be pushed around like teens.
    Nothing develops in a vacuum, and by changing one variable the others will not remain constant. Raising the age alone may alter the dynamics of marriage. More sophisticated boys and girls will approach marriage from a different angle. Again, no guarantees for happiness, but many a tragedy spared.

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  4. I’m with HH on this. If the marriage system will be reformed just a bit by moving up the age from 18-19 to 21-22, the domino affect may be more dramatic eventually. The main reason parents are rushing to find a shidduch at 18 even-though they secretly know the child is not yet ready & would gladly wait another year or two, is because 20 is considered over age already and your shiduch prospects are lower. Once 21 will be the norm marriage at 18 will fall out of favor.

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  5. All things being equal, and mostly staying the same, would there really be a major difference in the maturity and insight of 21-22 year olds vs. 18-19 year olds? Maturity and wisdom do not come from the aging process alone, or cabbage and whiskey would be the winning the Nobel prizes each year. Personal growth comes largely from experience, and as we know, experiences are severely circumscribed in chassidishe society. If girls and boys spend another 3 years doing the exact same thing, dreyen in yeshiva for boys and teaching in schools or doing secretarial work for girls, there isn’t a lot of room for personal growth there.

    There would have to be more significant social change, such as a rebellion or realization for the opportunities of higher education and better jobs, less insularity and more openness, for twentysomethings to stop being naive teenagers.

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  6. SB, yes, I think 2-3 years makes an enormous difference. You don’t ask between 15-16 and 18-19, right? Because you are fully aware that the cognitive development, even barring plain old experience, in these crucial years – 3-4 and even 2 years, absolutely make a difference. For one thing, you can get an 18 year old to not say no far more readily than you can a 22 year old. And that crucial detail itself will probably make a difference.

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  7. It makes a difference, but not the kind of significant wide-reaching society-changing differences we are talking about here. I look around me and see that most of the chassidishe girls and young men who got married at 21 did not do so much differently than 19 year olds. Some had more personal maturity, but most got engaged and married in exactly the same manner as their younger counterparts did (uninvolved in their shidduch, parents pulling all the punches, ignorant, had children right away, etc.)

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  8. Funny, because in the litivish world they are pushing boys to marry younger (20, 21 instead of 22, 23) like their Chassidish counterpart to avoid the litvish so called “shidduch crisis”. “Look at the Chassidishe oilem”, they say, “they have a much lower rate of singles.”

    Nothing is said about the quality of marriage and encouraging young adults to become ready for marriage so they are able to raise emotionally healthy and happy children.

    They (litvish rabbonim) just don’t get it!! We’re not living in early 20th century Europe.

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  9. The Litvish rabbonim just want the overt problems to go away. They’re annoying, after all.

    PS is anyone listening to them? Not as far as I can tell. And that’s because unless you put the yingel and the maidel in the room, stand outside with schnapps and balloons and dare one of them to say “no” – people will tend to not make such a decision at such a young age.

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