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Parshas Toldot (5777)

The 'Right' Age to Marry

By Rabbi David Zauderer

I recently saw the following article online, and it got me thinking about the ideal age that one should get married according to Jewish tradition:

People who get married young are at higher risk of divorce: A Study By Sarolta Saskiw on
LETHBRIDGE – Marriage is a give and take relationship – words Heather and Paul Crápo live by every day. She was just 17 years old and he was 19 when the young lovers first met. “We started out as friends, talking and hanging out. One thing led to another, he asked me out on a date,” Heather said. Two years later they tied the knot. Married for almost a decade with two kids, the Crápos are still head over heels for each other. However, according to a new report, they might be the exception. New research out of the University of Utah suggests the best age to get married is between 28 and 32. Those that marry younger are likely to get divorced, as they aren’t prepared for what comes after “I do.” “When you’re 18 to 20, you’re changing a lot. From year to year, you’re often a different person,” said professor Nicholas Wolfinger. “When you’re a little older, you know who you are, you know where you’re going, you’re more stable.” Registered marriage and family therapist, Steven Thibodeau, notes age is important, but there are other things to consider. “The successful marriage is built on a number of variables and factors,” he explained. “One of the critical factors is the level of maturity and the resources a couple has that they bring into a marriage.” He said couples should also contemplate their readiness, commitment, ability to negotiate and their investment in the relationship – all things he believes will come with age. “A person making a decision about a life at age 20 is less able to do that effectively than a person at age 28, because of their level of maturity,” he said. But the Crápos disagree. “I believe it doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s how much commitment are you willing to put into your marriage,” said Heather. “I think it might actually be an advantage to be a little younger and not have set yourself in life…To actually build it together, because then you’re a little more solid together,” added Paul. They believe that solid relationship and dedication to their family is all that really matters. Wolfinger’s research found those that marry in their late 30s and older are also more likely to get divorced.

When does the Torah say is the ideal age for a man to get married?

In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5 Mishnah 24 we are taught: “An eighteen-year-old goes to the marriage canopy”.

Now I know that to many people reading this it might sound archaic, a quaint anachronism. For today’s eligible young man is expected to have an adequate earning capacity before walking down that aisle, and that means that he likely won’t get married until his late 20’s or early 30’s (if that).

Additionally, as mentioned in the above article, many men and women today are just not mature enough at an early age to settle down and to make the commitment that is required for the marriage to last.

That said, it is important for us to understand the Torah viewpoint on the right age to marry, for this is how things used to be for over 3000 years – and the way things still are in many traditional Jewish communities today.

[It should be noted that even within the Torah tradition there are exceptions to the rule. So, for example, if a man is studying Torah in a yeshiva he may delay getting married for a number of years. And there are other exceptions as well.]

The following story from the Talmud in Yevamos 63a illustrates the primary functions of marriage according to Jewish tradition:

Rav Chiya’s wife nagged and pestered him constantly. Nevertheless, whenever he found a suitable present for her, he would wrap it in a cloth and bring it to her. Said Rav to him, “But look how she is annoying you!” Rav Chiya replied, “It is enough that our wives raise our children, and they save us from sinful [thoughts]”.

We see from this story that one important element in a Jewish marriage is the control of the man’s sexual drive by harnessing all of that energy into a relationship of love with his soulmate, thus saving him from sinful thoughts (or worse).

This being the case, it makes perfect sense for man to get married in his late teens, when his biological drive is at its strongest.

Support for this can be found in the Talmud in Kiddushin 29b, where Rav Chisda declares: “The reason that I am better [more spiritually advanced] than my colleagues is because I got married at the age of sixteen, and if I had married when I was fourteen, I would have been able to tell Satan, ‘An arrow in your eye!’ [meaning, I would have been able to taunt Satan – the evil impulse – and I would have not been afraid that he would make me sin.]”

Now human society may change as much as it likes, but human nature remains essentially the same, and we thwart it at our peril.

Another more fundamental reason why the Sages ordained that one should ideally be married by the age of eighteen is because unlike a job or traveling or other things we need (or want) to do in life, marriage in the Torah view is the state one should be in when experiencing all those other life tasks.

Jewish mysticism teaches that man and his soulmate are two halves of one whole, and until they marry each other they are incomplete and missing a major part of themselves. It should therefore be obvious that the sooner that man and woman can find their other half and get married the better. For this is the way they were meant to experience life -together as one whole soul.

Now you may ask me if eighteen years of age (the latest) was considered by the Torah to be the ideal age for man to get married, then why do we find in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Toldos, that our forefather Isaac was forty years old when he married our matriarch Rebecca (see Genesis 25:20)?

The Netziv in his classic Bible commentary Ha’amek Davar addresses this question and suggests that for this reason the Torah prefaced this verse with the words “Abraham begot Isaac” in the previous verse. This was to teach us that it took so long for Isaac to get married because he was “Abraham’s son”, i.e. there were no girls at that time who were good enough to marry into such an illustrious and holy family – until Rebecca came along, of course.

So even if you, or your child or grandchild, is not likely to walk down the aisle anywhere near 18 years of age – it is still good to know the traditional Torah viewpoint as handed down to us through the centuries and millennia.

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