Dating to Marriage
Perspective by Rivka
• Jewish Dating in the Bible
• Soul Mate - Your Bashert
• Historic Overspending
• When the Time is Right
• Jewish Dating Wisdom
Who will it be? Who will you spend your life with? Are you looking for someone whose sense of adventure is full throttle? Or does a sense of calm mean more to you?
Personality priorities, check one: introverted, talkative, sentimental, questioning, happy-go-lucky. Or are you looking for all of the above?
It depends on who you are. Whether you’re a fresh-faced college grad; a been there, done that, seen that dating-scene graduate; or a parent plunged back into the harrowing and even (sometimes) fun dating life, dating is the territory you explore before finding a soul mate.
Dating also a recent social invention. In the scope of history, the whole concept of actively participating in finding a one’s own life partner is in its infancy. Times gone by found elders of many cultures and countries choosing mates for their whippersnappers. Love by matchmaker was a universal, and not solely, Jewish custom.
Jewish Dating in the Bible
Biblical Judaism stood at the cutting edge of a woman’s right to choose, a mate that is, when the rest of civilization entirely cut women out of the matchmaking process. Back in Genesis, Rebecca was first asked if she wanted to marry Isaac before she mounted a camel and rode off to meet her betrothed. Sure, she hadn’t gotten to know him first, but at least her opinion was heard. Since her father was Abraham’s nephew, Rebecca at least knew the family. Later based upon biblical precedent, the Talmudic sages insisted on a woman’s consent before marriage (Kiddushin 41a). This is not to say parental and societal pressure did not transform a woman’s assent into a rubberstamping of her father’s choice.
Even with a dad or matchmaker making the decision, finding the right person wasn’t easy. The Talmud likens the feat to splitting the Red Sea. (Sotah 2a) Pressure mounts because Judaism prizes family life, and so much of Jewish life revolves around the family unit.
“At the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, there was great opposition in heaven to the performance of this miracle. Perhaps, the angels argued, the Jews were unworthy of such an event. Similarly now when a person seeks his match, he must overcome great opposition.”
(No Longer Alone, Breslov)
Soul Mate – Your Bashert
Depending on your perspective, the soul mate concept espoused by the Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism, either comforts or ups the ante on finding true love. In the spiritual realm, a soul exists as a conglomerate of male and female attributes. Half is placed in a male child, the other half in a female child.
When G-d creates the human soul He creates the male and female as one but as it descends into this world it becomes divided into a male and female. The complete soul is the combination of male and female. This is why the male and female are so attracted to each other. G-d Himself unites the two halves together again and does not hand that responsibility over to others for it is only He that can match up these two halves to make them whole once again. (Zohar Lech Lecha 204)
The Talmud completes this concept and tells of a proclamation resounding in Heaven’s maternity ward forty days before each baby’s birth. “This soul, son of such and such, is destined to marry that soul, daughter of so and so.” And the reverse for girl babies.
No heavenly light signals “Soulmate here!” so how do you know? And what about a first marriage, does that mean your second spouse isn’t your soul mate? Soul mates are what you make of them.
It’s a Miracle
Every marriage is a miracle. Think about it. Say a woman meets a man through a mutual friend. If the guys knew each other from college, then both of them had earn the grades that got them to that school. This means each test they studied for in high school, which lead them to college, played a role in making the match. Or if the woman knew the mutual friend from work, then both of them had to have the qualifications their boss was looking for to be hired in the first place. Each of them had full lives of experiences, likes and dislikes that brought them to their occupation, to a particular city, to read one specific classified ad. A near-infinite number of constellations: schools, friends, parents, personalities, hobbies, interests have to align for just one couple to meet. The miracle boggles the mind.
Take one couple’s example:
R.C. chose her college courses with care. Then the 1994 California earthquake struck. Amid the hubbub and rubble, she forgot to send in the tuition check. She had to re-register and selected a 6:00 p.m. art course, because no day classes were open.
N.Y. attended yeshiva in the morning and only attended college at night. His twin brother happened to register for the night art course, and since it was a requirement, N.Y. signed up as well.
The first night of class, R.C. was running late, as usual, and had to grab a seat in the back of the lecture hall. N.Y., an extremely punctual person, was delayed and also had to find a seat in the last row. Of course, being a religious guy, N.Y. did not sit close to R.C., but plopped down one seat away. Just then, N.Y. buddy from camp ambled in and had N.Y. move over. Right next to R.C.
And three children later, the couple is still astounded by the divinely inspired coincidences that brought them together.
When the Time is Right
There is a time for every season under heaven, and the sages of the
Mishna did not shy away from setting out a timeline for marriage. Eighteen is for the marriage canopy (Pirkei Avot 5:22). As the years passed, late adolescence was seen as too advanced an age so some marriages began as early as thirteen. Later, when czarist decrees put unmarried boys at risk of being drafted to the brutal army (a move whose overt goal was to divorce young boys from their Jewish heritage) there are some accounts of very young children being paired off, but the marriage was only consummated years and years later.
Jewish Dating Wisdom
Amid the volumes of legal discussions recorded in the Talmud are wondrous legends, glimpses of history, source for Jewish customs, and proverbs of advice. As far as finding a mate, the Talmud says:
• Hasten to buy land, but be deliberate in selecting a mate
• Betroth not a woman you have not seen
• Couples of similar age complement each other (Berachot 45b)
• Do not marry for money or beauty, for these vanish and you will have unworthy children. (Kiddushin 70a)
• A home and wealth are inheritance from one's family; but a wise wife comes from God (Moed Katan 18b).
Though not forbidden, there was a Talmudic hesitation to arrange matches between a man and a woman who had the same name as her potential mother-in-law or between a woman and a man who had the same names as his potential father-in-law. Freudian implications aside, the Talmud was concerned “when he calls his wife by name, his mother may answer” and vice versa. It is disrespectful to be on a first name basis with a parent.