Daily Israel Report

Sixteen-Year-Old May Not Marry

A court has turned down a request by two sets of parents who want their children to marry even though the prospective bride is not yet 17.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/8/2009, 11:26 AM

Israel news photo

Two sets of parents who want their children to marry even though the prospective bride is not yet 17 have been turned down by a court.

Jerusalem Family Court Judge Itai Katz ruled that the “special circumstances” cited by the families are not special enough to warrant making their case an exception to the rule.

The law forbids marriage if one or both sides is not yet 17 years of age. However, exceptions are allowed if the bride is pregnant or has given birth and the prospective groom is the father, or if one side is over 16 and there exist special circumstances that warrant the marriage.

The reasoning for the law, as explained in the past by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, is, “Society must protect a young girl who frequently, for her own short-sighted reasons and under pressure from her parents, wishes to marry, though she is not yet ready neither physically nor emotionally. Creating a family cell and raising children are a privilege and an obligation that require emotional and physical maturity that the law feels a girl under age 17 does not yet have.”

In the case at hand, the parents explained their request: “The girl wishes to establish a Jewish and kosher home, and as we are religious, it is desirable from a Halakhich [Jewish-legal] standpoint to marry and not to push it off for no reason. The girl is more mature than others her age; she skipped a class in school and has even begun studying in a college… Financial backing exists, and both sets of parents agree.”

The judge turned down the request, noting that the request is based on the families’ religiosity, their desire for a wedding backed by the parents, and their fear of violating Halakhic prohibitions against pre-marital male-female contact.

“With all due respect and understanding for the people involved and their feelings,” Judge Katz ruled, “these reasons are not extraordinary enough to justify deviating from the rule or to categorize the case as exceptional.”

G-d, First of All
Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu of Jerusalem, author of the two-volume work “The Secret of Marriage” (and editor of the popular seven-volume work by Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl), explained to Israel National News, “I believe that at age 18-19, youngsters must seriously consider marriage – because this is what the Sages teach us. The ‘first’ of everything in our lives must be for G-d – we say Modeh Ani (the "I thank You" prayer) when we open our eyes in the morning, first fruits, the dedication of a new house, the first words of a youngster are Shma Yisrael, etc. – and the same is true for our first mature emotions of love and giving and our first creative strengths; they should find expression in something holy and dedicated to a home of Torah and sanctity. If this teaching is not followed, then of course it leads to various ills, whether it be many years of bachelorhood, difficulties in keeping various laws, and more.”

Regarding 16-year-olds, Rabbi Eliyahu said, “Every case is different, but on the whole, I would say that 90 percent of youngsters at that age are not ready. For those who are ready, it could be that exceptions should be made for them, but in general, even if they are responsible and have inner strengths and desires to do what is right, marriage at such an age need not be defended or encouraged."

Lawyer: Automatic Sector Exemptions
In the case at hand, the parents’ lawyer claimed that the law should not apply to “public sectors whose norms are different than the norms set by the law.” Judge Katz said that this claim was illogical: “The purpose of the law is to prevent ‘immature marriages,’ and to exempt entire sectors does not jibe with this objective or with the wording of the law.”

Asked for his opinion on this point, Rabbi Eliyahu said, “It could be that the best approach would be for the judge to be religious himself, giving him the extra sensitivity to the community and their members' sensibilities that is needed to make the most appropriate ruling.”

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