Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Third in a series about the Shidduch Crisis in the American Yeshiva world:

Part One: "Thoughts About the 'Shidduch Crisis' in the American Yeshiva World" (July 31, 2023)

Part Two: "The Need to Overcome 'Shidduch Crisis' Obstacles: Advice For Older Yeshiva Singles" (Aug 15, 2023)

Readers have been responding to my articles on Israel National News as well as to the video interview that resulted on VINnews "To Help Shidduch Crisis, Boys and Girls Should Skip the 'Year in Israel'" (Aug 11, 2023) and on YouTube "Shidduch Crisis: Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin's creative solution" (Aug 8, 2023) and I would like to delve into some of the issues and concerns expressed.

Basically in my first article in this series "Thoughts About the 'Shidduch Crisis' in the American Yeshiva World" (July 31, 2023) I proposed a straightforward idea: That the added year in Israel by post high school young men and women creates an avoidable backlog in the Shidduch dating process by delaying the time these young men and women should and could be dating for the purpose of building a Bayis Ne'eman BeYisrael (a true home amid the Jewish People) by getting married in America and only then consider moving to Israel to learn in Kollel as a newlywed couple.

I pointed out that it is basically humanly impossible to have two main goals, one of spending a year in the prime of life studying in Israel and at the same time another of dating for the purpose of finding one's true Bashert (predestined one). Indeed, while the Yeshiva boys (a term for young men) and Bais Yaakov girls (a term for young women) are studying in Israel they do not and are not allowed to date either each other or others like them that they could potentially meet in Israel.

While this idea may at this time seem outlandish in the American Litvish Yeshivishva communities of skipping the year in Israel by boys and girls, and stay on in America by either going to local seminaries in America for girls (some even have programs that give them college credits for a profession, so it is a win-win) and date at the same time starting from 18, or by boys staying in yeshiva in America and start dating at an earlier age, such as at 20, nevertheless it is not far fetched because it is exactly what is practiced in virtually all hassidic communities in America as well as by both all haredi, hassidic and Litvish communities in Israel.

It is time for the American haredi Litvish Yeshivish communities to align the ages of dating age young people with the other haredi communities that allow and practice dating and Shidduchim to begin at earlier ages and gain extra years of dating for their sons and daughters if marriage is the top priority. Proof of the benefit of such a move is that there is no "Shidduch Crisis" in the American hasidisha communities and in the Israeli haredi communities where the ages of marriages begin earlier than they currently do in the American yeshiva world.

As straightforward as this may sound, many have serious doubts and questions about this proposal!

For example, one concerned reader wrote in response as follows:

"18 year old girls are generally not ready to date and get married. They are still kids and should be focusing on school and friends. 20 year old boys should be focusing on their learning. We need to calm down, stop panicking about shidduchim, and start to think rationally about what is best for people instead of statistics. Pushing people to marry younger will lead to: 1. More divorces and unhappy marriages. 2. Poverty/lowered income levels as people start families without having built up work experience or degrees. 3. Teenage pregnancy and parenthood before the individuals are ready, mature enough, and have enough stamina, and larger family sizes with younger parents who can’t handle it. And more. Or it will just lead to longer dating periods and ultimately no change.The best way to address the age gap is 1. Daven 2. Have men aim to date women who are closer to their own age."

I would like to respond as follows:

1. "18 year old girls are generally not ready to date and get married. They are still kids and should be focusing on school and friends."

Response: You are infantilizing them. In any case by 18 they are out of school, and in many other haredi communities they do get married at that age.

While in secular non-Jewish and non-Frum (non-religious) society women are objectified and seen as babies and "dolls", whereas unlike in Frum society a young woman of 18 is regarded as a young adult and an Eishes Chayil (woman of valor) in waiting, a product of a very thorough Torah education in excellent religious schools for girls that have inculcated the values of being a wife and mother and it's also something they see and practice in their own homes.

Women from ages 18 to 21 are in their prime as desirable young brides. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:21) states בֶּן שְׁמֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה לַחֻפָּה ― "at the age of eighteen to the marriage canopy" ― with the obligation for a young man to find a wife and marry at eighteen and naturally that would logically be with a correspondingly young bride. Marriage is a serious business and the focus of young teenage girls should be on the duties as wives and mothers that awaits them, not more fun and games with friends.

2. "20 year old boys should be focusing on their learning."

Response: Indeed and so they should be, but it is no contradiction that they should also be focusing on finding a wife as well.

They need to channel their hormones and natural human drives in a healthy way and not waste it by ignoring one of the most primal, as well as Halakhic requirements, and that is to find a suitable spouse and get married and perform the Mitzvah of פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ (be fruitful and multiply) as explicitly commanded by Hashem in the Torah (Genesis 1:28).

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states that as a general rule 20 is the latest a man may delay getting married: "Under no circumstances should a man pass the age of 20 without marrying a wife and if 20 years have passed and he does not want to marry, Bais Din forces him to marry in order to fulfill the commandment of 'be fruitful and multiply'. " (Even HaEzer 1:3).

Halachipedia has a run down of the "Right Age to Marry" according to Torah Judaism and as one can see it allows for a certain degree of age flexibility for young men under certain conditions but within bounds:

"A. Men have an obligation to procreate[1] and an additional obligation to marry even if he has already fulfilled his obligation to procreate[2]. Men may not unnecessarily prolong singlehood[3].

B. Women are exempt from the obligation to procreate[4] and thus may have no obligation to marry[5].

C. Although men become obligated to perform mitzvot upon reaching majority (age 13), learning Torah takes priority over marriage until age 18, and thus men have no obligation to marry beforehand[6].

D. Ideally, a man should marry before age 20 while continuing to learn Torah; however, if one finds it impossible to do both, due to the financial burden of sustaining a family, learning Torah takes precedence and he may delay marriage past age 20.[7] It is unclear how long such delay may extend:[8] some suggest that one may continue learning until he feels satisfied with the amount of Torah he has learned,[9] while others suggest an absolute limit of age 24.[10]

E. If an unmarried man finds it impossible to avoid experiencing hirhurim [sexual fantasies], marriage takes precedence over learning Torah.[11] It is forbidden to fantasize about sinning.[12]

F. If one truly loves learning Torah to the extent that Ben Azai did[13] and is totally devoted to the Torah, he is not prohibited from delaying marriage indefinitely, provided that his sexual desire does not overcome him;[14] nevertheless, one should not do so.[15] Ben Azai’s example is exceptional; such people are extremely rare.[16]

G. One may delay marriage until he can find a suitable or compatible wife.[17]"

3. "More divorces and unhappy marriages."

Response: Divorce is the occupational hazard of getting married!

Divorce-phobia should not paralyze the natural human Jewish desire, need and Mitzvah of getting married!

In every situation and field there are "victims" and casualties and marriage is no exception to that. Over-all, on balance, the Orthodox/haredi/hassidish world is succeeding at happy and productive marriages. Maybe at worst, the glass is 80% (?) full and 20% (?) empty, or perhaps it's better than that? Fact of the matter is that they don't collect statistics and do surveys in the Frum (Jewish religious) world, so we can go by is educated guesswork based on personal experiences, anecdotal evidence and whatever articles are written or opinions expressed by respected and accepted Jewish community leaders and presumed experts such as experienced Shadchanim (matchmakers) and reliable family counselors who express their opinions in articles or speeches and lectures.

Therefore, to delve into this deep mystery, I could not resist Googling the general question "does getting married early lead to divorce" and I found that a lot of secular divorce lawyers advertising their services say that early marriage in American society leads to more divorces. However we are not taking that as an example because the Torah world, not being hermetically sealed from the outside world and therefore suffering from some of the ills of the influence of the world outside, lives by its own Torah and Halakhic ethics, morals, values and rules and as can be seen there is a Frum population explosion that comes from lots of good marriages in Torah society.

Interestingly, for the very first time in my writing career, I decided to consult the Artificial Intelligence ChatGPT and I was fascinated that it totally disagreed with most Google results. I asked ChatGPT "does getting married early lead to divorce" three different times and got similar results each time, so here goes. This is what it came up with, and note it is referring to general non-Jewish society, yet it sounded a lot like what I would have liked to say about Jewish religious society, while the words are not mine:

A. "Getting married early does not necessarily lead to divorce, but it can be a contributing factor in some cases. The success of a marriage depends on various factors, including the compatibility, communication, commitment, and emotional maturity of the individuals involved. Marriage at a young age, often referred to as "early marriage," can present certain challenges that might increase the risk of divorce...

However, it's important to note that every marriage is unique, and there are many couples who marry at a young age and have successful, fulfilling marriages. The success of a marriage depends on the individuals involved, their commitment to each other, their ability to communicate and resolve conflicts, and their willingness to grow together. Factors such as communication skills, emotional intelligence, shared values, mutual respect, and a strong support system can all contribute to a successful marriage, regardless of age. It's essential for couples to approach marriage with open communication, a willingness to work through challenges, and a commitment to mutual growth and happiness."

B. "Getting married early, like any other life decision, can have both positive and negative outcomes, including the potential for divorce. However, the relationship between getting married early and divorce is influenced by a variety of factors, and it's not solely determined by the age at which a couple gets married...

It's important to note that divorce is a complex outcome influenced by a wide range of factors beyond just the age at which individuals marry. People who marry later in life can also face divorce if they encounter similar challenges and factors. Successful marriages are built on strong communication, mutual respect, emotional maturity, shared values, and a commitment to working through challenges together."

C. "Getting married early, like any other decision in life, does not necessarily lead to divorce. Divorce is a complex and multifaceted outcome that can result from a variety of factors, including communication issues, compatibility, financial problems, personal growth and development, external pressures, and more. While marrying at a younger age might introduce certain challenges, it does not guarantee divorce...

On the other hand, marrying later in life does not automatically ensure a successful marriage either. Every relationship is unique, and the success of a marriage depends on the compatibility, commitment, effort, and communication of the individuals involved...In summary, while getting married early might present certain challenges, it is not a direct cause of divorce. The success of a marriage depends on various factors, and couples of all ages can have fulfilling and lasting relationships if they prioritize their bond and work together to overcome obstacles."

D. Then I asked ChatGPT "does getting married early lead to divorce provide surveys" and the answer came back: "While there have been studies and surveys that explore the relationship between the age at which individuals get married and their likelihood of divorce, it's important to note that correlation does not imply causation. Getting married early does not inherently lead to divorce; there are multiple factors that contribute to the success or failure of a marriage.

Research on this topic has shown mixed results, and the findings can vary depending on the cultural, socioeconomic, and individual factors involved. Some studies have suggested that marrying at a very young age (typically before the age of 20) may be associated with a higher risk of divorce.

However, other studies have found that factors such as education level, socioeconomic status, family background, and relationship quality play a significant role in marital outcomes. It's crucial to recognize that individual circumstances and choices differ, and successful marriages can occur at any age. The decision to get married involves many complex factors, and divorce can result from various issues unrelated to the age at which a couple married."

4. "Poverty/lowered income levels as people start families without having built up work experience or degrees."

Response; The main Yeshiva haredi communities, such as in the huge BMG yeshiva in Lakewood do not allow boys to begin or complete college educations and hence they cannot become college educated professionals.

This no-college education policy was instituted by the founder of BMG Rav Aharon Kotler (1892–1962) and is rigorously applied to this day. Instead they are paralleling themselves on the hassidic communities that definitely do not allow their boys and girls to go to college.

It would just be taking another page out of the hassidisha playbook and encourage young men and women to start dating earlier in order to get married earlier just as in the hassidisha communities. Hassidim go to work at a young age in America entering the fields of real estate and construction, the wholesale and retail business, the import and export fields, managing businesses of all types, entering the field of Chinuch (Jewish Torah Education), sales, and even Information Technology and more. The Parnasah (livelihood) of every Jew is determined by God on Rosh Hashanah!

5. "Teenage pregnancy and parenthood before the individuals are ready, mature enough, and have enough stamina, and larger family sizes with younger parents who can’t handle it. And more. Or it will just lead to longer dating periods and ultimately no change."

Response: Totally disagree as that kind of perspective is more reflective of secular gentile society than it is of a robust mature Torah-based society where young men and women are mature beyond their years by virtue of the Torah-based education they receive in their yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs as well as at home.

The very term "teenage pregnancy" is a pejorative in America and runs counter to what Jewish Law and Jewish marriage customs over millennia have taught and practiced.

Thus, in the Frum Torah world when a nineteen year old happily married mother merits to give birth to a healthy baby, the nine months she carries the baby is not scorned or put down as a "teenage pregnancy" but instead is cause for celebration that another new Jew has been brought into this world and will be lovingly cared for by his or her young parents with the support of their families and the communities they live in, and a huge Mazel Tov is in order!

6. "The best way to address the age gap is 1. Daven 2. Have men aim to date women who are closer to their own age."

Response: Totally agree 100% and always remember that in Orthodox, Yeshivish and Hassidish, and haredi communities, marriage is seen as a requirement for everyone. An important unavoidable and obligatory Mitzvah to be fulfilled, as indicated in Jewish Law and desired by Hashem.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]