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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Starter Marriages"

Ariella ponders about the sad and seemingly increasing number of quickly dissolving marriages in the frum community. I personally know a handful of frum people who have been in short marriages (some lasting no more than 3 or 6 months, others lasting in the 3-5 year range) and I have heard of numerous other cases. While all divorce is clouded in mystery, very short marriages, especially of the very young, are even more clouded in mystery.

While the Jewish Observer and other frum publications concern themselves with the "shidduch crisis" where 22 year old girls remain unmarried, I am increasingly concerned about the 22 year old girls who are divorced (sometimes with kids). I have yet to see this addressed in any frum publication, although I only can read a small sliver of what is written so I likely will be proven wrong.

All in all, I think the increasing number of short marriages, kids or no kids, is something that the frum community should be concerned with. But I won't be waiting to see the issue on the front page of any popular frum magazines anytime in the near future.

39 comments:

G said...

(A)While the Jewish Observer and other frum publications concern themselves with the "shidduch crisis" where 22 year old girls remain unmarried, (B)I am increasingly concerned about the 22 year old girls who are divorced (sometimes with kids)
-----------------------

(A)-->(B)

Halfnutcase said...

oi.

Ariella said...

I don't know if statistics show that those who marry younger are more prone to divorce. My brother has a friend who only married at about 40 only to divorce within months. (I don't know the details.) And in the secular world anyone in their twenties is considered on the young side for getting married. Part of the secular "starter marriage" phenomenon is the fact that the people are at an early enough stage in their lives not to be too rooted to their jobs or communities or each other. So (while they are not usually happy about it) the dissolution of the marriage is usually most marked just in changing the status one checks off from "married" to "divorced." But the frum lifestyle would push for greater rootedness in the community and a much greater likelihood of the bonds of children between the young couple. So custody and child-support issues are bound to complicate the settlement and life post-divorce.

While there certainly remains some stigma to divorce (which is why middle aged couples sometimes divorce only after marrying off their children) my impression is, though I may be mistaken, that a woman in her late twenties who is divorced is seen as less unfortunate than her counterpart who has never been married.

SephardiLady said...

Ariella,
I agree, you can't point fingers in any one direction and say this is a problem of young marriage. Nor do I think the problem is one of short dating period and engagements, although these might be contributing factors for certain people.

Recently a much older couple we were friends with parted after only a short marriage. We just removed their benchers from our collection. Their wedding was lovely and by all accounts seemed like they would make a nice couple.

We have others friend who divorced after a short marriages, all lovely people, all between 25 and 30.

Another person who wanted to date me when I was single had been divorced. He had dated his former wife for a significant period of time. I was definitely scared off.

G--If you are trying to make a parallel because of my sentence structure, I will say I find the short marriages amongst 30 years old of concern too. But, divorce at 21/22 is particularly alarming.

Mo'ah Kemo Efro'ah said...

i would blame these divorces on the young age at marriage, the rapid engagement and brief wait for the wedding, and the scripted "courtship". these factors all contribute to couples who don't really know each other that well getting into something they are not prepared for.

i recognize these are my own biases (and that there are many exceptions in both directions, as noted above), but i am curious what would be revealed by real statistical analysis between such marriages and those where the couple is older, date longer and not scripted.

just a note: any retrospective comparisons between divorce trends today and in the past is very misleading. the higher rates today does not necessarily mean that more couple are not happy or are getting married too early/too quickly/too formally. rather, today it is much easier for a frum woman to get divorced (from an economic and social perspective).

G said...

G--If you are trying to make a parallel because of my sentence structure, I will say I find the short marriages amongst 30 years old of concern too. But, divorce at 21/22 is particularly alarming.
----------

Of course there will always be cases across all ages and demographics.
However, there would seem to be an increase in the orthodox world of young couples divorcing. I don't think it is too much of a leap to think that much of this stems from the increasing pressure to be married by one's early 20's.

Anonymous said...

mo'ah: you can sort of test your thesis against the modox population [which presumably does not have these courtship shortcomings, with many of the other factors more or less identical]. are there proportionately fewer young divorces/short marriages there?

Ezzie said...

I agree with G, but it's not just the pressure; I think it's the simple 'metzius' of it. People go through big changes when they start hitting the point where they need money to live, and particularly among couples who haven't really started college yet, this could become an issue. After a few years one side or the other might think "hey, this isn't really what I wanted" after the drastic changes the couple has gone through.

G said...

today it is much easier for a frum woman to get divorced (from an economic and social perspective).
-------

Interesting point.

mlevin said...

g-"Of course there will always be cases across all ages and demographics.
However, there would seem to be an increase in the orthodox world of young couples divorcing. I don't think it is too much of a leap to think that much of this stems from the increasing pressure to be married by one's early 20's."

There was always pressure in Jewish community to marry early. (all communities, not just Jewish)Until recently all (Jews and Goyim) married early because people tried not to have children after 30. (That's another topic, so I won't go into it). There are differences between those couples and todays' couples and why there were more succesful marriages in those days. I am purposely not going to include a stigma of divorce, because Jews were always able to get divorced even in the old days. My grandma lived in a shtetl and divorced from her first husband.

Here's a partial list:
1. In those days there was a healthy interaction between boys and girls and mere looking at each other was not considered shameful. So, newly weds were not shocked when they found themselves living with an opposite sex in the same household.
2. Young people were not shut off from the realities of a real life and were not shocked once they are married that they have no basic understanding of how to handle daily responsibilities.
3. Boys did not get married until they were able to support a wife and a household, thus daily expenses were not a stress in a new marriage.

Tamiri said...

I don't think that marrying young is necessarily a contributing factor. I think that the "me" generation and unrealistic financial expectations coupled with the ease of divorcing these days and the relative strength of today's young women are deciding factors. Why is it that most of my friends were married and parents before age 25 (sometimes waaaay before) and there are few divorces that I know of, as in offhand I can think of just one? What has changed besides people's outlook on life?

Anonymous said...

To expand on what mlevin and tamiri said, I think the following factors are playing a large role:

I think our priorities as a community are completely wrong. We force every couple looking to get married to undergo hours upon hours of chattan/kallah classes. An yet, someone wants to get divorced and that same rabbi who said "I won't marry you unless you take these courses" arranges for a get in seconds. Unfortunately, I know of several people married for very short periods of time where either the wife/husband complained bitterly to their rav and the rav strong-armed the spouse and family into agreeing to a divorce.

Why are these rabbeim not insisting on marriage counciling? Why don't they sit the couple down and try to help them work through their issues? Or at the very least refer them to a competent couples' therapist. Why don't these rabbeim offer ba'al/isha classes? The focus in our community is entirely pre-marriage and not on the marriage itself. Or at the very least entirely on the halachic aspects of niddah and consummation and not on being a good spouse and having shalom bayit and a good marriage. Do we for some reason think following hilchot niddah leads to a good marriage?

Other factors:
1) Many couples are completely financially supported by mommy and daddy and these same parents sometimes support divorce to get their children back home. Also their instinct to protect their child kicks in and instead of trying to help the couple through their problems they tell their child they're right and they deserve better. Also, the kids feel it's an easy, safe, and comforting way out - divorce wouldn't be so comfortable if they didn't have momma's chicken soup to go back to (figuratively speaking, of course).

2) Many couples have still not figured out "who they are". I mean this in terms of career, education, but more importantly, personality. They're still immature and don't know what they want or how to get it especially when dealing with another, potentially conflicting person, who is searching for the same

3) Many couples don't focus on important issues before marriage and are thus "not on the same page". As I tell many friends who ask me about issues in their relationships, it doesn't matter what she wants or what he wants (no matter how "odd" or "off" it seems) as long as you want that as well. But also, I think with two religious people there's an assumption that "that's enough" - they already have enough in common, they don't bother to think that they may handle situations differently and have different goals.

Esther said...

I agree with many of the points here, and want to add to Anonymous' last point. I was speaking to a single friend who told me that people constantly tell her that the things she is looking for when dating are wrong, and they also tell her that she needs to be looking for things that she thinks are irrelevant. And when she decides not to continue seeing someone after giving it a few dates, she is harassed by the shadchan to "give it another try."

Another big one - telling young people that attraction/communication/love/(fill in other area that is important in a marriage) isn't important while dating because you'll develop it after you get married. So the two people can't communicate, and the girl wants to break it off. She is told that she shouldn't because "it will happen after you get married." And she is also told that she better get married because she's already 22 and she's being too picky. So they are pressured into getting married and, sure enough, they can't communicate after marriage either. But by then the advice-givers are gone from the scene (or are continuing to pressure regarding whether to get a divorce.)

Halfnutcase said...

I don't know to much about this issue, as I'm not married, and only have the barest of romantic experience, but perhaps the fact that boys and girls don't really know anything about each other, about the fact that most boys and girls communicate differently, many think differently, and that, perhaps, when they are put in to the dating situation they do not have a clue what is going on so they go on the only thing they have any clue about, ie whether they are physicaly attacted to the person.

I think that this is made worse by the fact that boys and girls don't conceive of the opposite sex as an actual person with needs, feelings, wants, interests and desires and everything, and maybe that leads them to make very selfish decisions that them make a couple that might otherwise be quite suitable unable to treat each other properly. Then the lack of ability to communicate with each other in a meaningful way reinforces this assumption, and yet the projected ideal of a happy couple leads them to assume that the person is not right, rather than simply they have a whole host of problems to work out.

I doubt that this is particularly usefull, but here it is anyway, and I already see that some stuff along these lines has been already suggested.

Mo'ah Kemo Efro'ah said...

anon:

"mo'ah: you can sort of test your thesis against the modox population . . . are there proportionately fewer young divorces/short marriages there?"

that is what i was thinking, but i didn't want to be accused of always making a mo-rw issue out of everything :)

but seriously, it would make for an interesting sociology doctorate to see if there really are any differences.

Ezzie said...

Doubt you could really get a good test from that; there are other factors such as stigma that might play a role...

Tamiri said...

I am also going to "blame" today's parents. "al ken yaazov ish et beit aviv uvet imo"... our whole goal in chinuch should be guiding our children towards marriage, building their own homes and leaving the nest. Yet today, there are so many parents (hanging my head, cause I am included) who keep telling their kids to get it together first, there is no rush etc.... essentially not encouraging the kid to GET GOING. How many elderly kinderlach are still eating at their parents' table? How many are still sleeping in their childhood bed? How many 20-somethings have financial "issues" they need to resolve before they can "settle down"? So, they are waiting for the perfect one, who will be approved by good old mom and day. What happens when reality doesn't meet the expectations? Easy dissolution, in many cases.

Selena said...

I know plenty of MO that have gone through this same situation. I don't think there is a big difference, despite different dating patterns.

Ahavah B. said...

It's silly to blame divorce on the age of the couple - for either the last almost 6000 years or the last 100,000 years (pick one) teenagers have been expected to get married, have kids, learn trades, and be productive members of society who understood their civic and religious duties. Even as recently as the turn of the 20th century a girl who wasn't married by the early 20s was considered a spinster. Teenage couples did just fine all though the Roman era, the middle ages, the industrial revolution, the colonial era, the pioneer days, and the wild west - right up to modern times. What has changed is society, not biology.

We are not giving our young people the knowledge and tools they need to function in the modern world, to deal with the stresses of modern living and unrealistic expectations that even frum culture (or especially frum culture) now demands of all married couples, not just young ones.

I may have said this before, but if I did it's worth repeating - the whole idea of "falling in love" being the basis of a marriage is simply incorrect at the get-go. A marriage is a decision, not a feeling. Young women, especially, have an entirely incorrect idea that marriage is supposed to be all about warm fuzzy feelings and euphoria for your spouse - in real life, the guy snores and leaves laundry on the floor and forgets to bring home the milk, but when the money is short and the pressure is long the couple unreasonably thinks they that they should still be feeling warm fuzzies. Real life just doesn't work that way.

miriamp said...

Thanks for reminding me, SephardiLady -- I also have some benschers to "prune." :'-(

These are all good points. Parents aren't preparing their children for adult healthy relationships, etc. (I hope that I am -- it's certainly a priority. For example, there's a certain aspect of my older son's personality I'm trying to change, and I've told him more than once that his future happiness depends on it.)

But a huge part of the problem is general society. Nowadays, there's a feeling of "Well, if it doesn't work out, we can always get divorced." That's just way too blase'!! Of course, there will always be marriages that just aren't meant to last, (abusive situations come to mind) but how many marriages fail because the people involved don't realize that marriage is work? And if you don't put effort into developing and deepening the relationship, then it will fail. You don't buy a spouse, stick him/her in your apartment or house, and wave when you pass by.

Miriam said...

to add an interesting twist to it,

If these marriages are from people who are baalei teshuva and from USA, I suspect that it could be that the problem stems from that culture.

One thing I have found hard in marriage is (for lack of a better word) the submission part of being a spouse. It goes very much against what America promotes and I've had to re-educate myself.

Halfnutcase said...

One thing I have found hard in marriage is (for lack of a better word) the submission part of being a spouse. It goes very much against what America promotes and I've had to re-educate myself.

The only reason a woman might have to submit to her husband is the same reason he to her, ie because of love. Nothing in torah gives a man to dictate life to his wife.

ora said...

halfnutcase--
IMO "submission" doesn't necessarily mean one person is dictating to the other. Everyone will have to give up their own will in order to get along in a household, wife, husband, kids, etc.

OTOH, I do think the husband is supposed to have the final word on some subjects (eg. money), and IMO a wife who is bossy and domineering is generally creating much more of a problem for herself and her marriage than a husband who does the same.

ora said...

It seems like a lot of people here are saying basically the same thing--there's too much focus on getting married, and not enough on being married. I have seen that in my circle of friends for sure (mostly MO/traditional bts).

I just spoke recently with a wonderful couple who are engaged. They've been going nuts planning their wedding. When we were talking marriage came up, and they started asking really basic questions, like "What do you mean men and women tend to deal with emotions differently?" stuff like that. I joked about how women tend to analyze social interaction a lot more and it was like "hey yeah, that's been an issue for us too!" In their case I understand that they haven't really discussed this before, but when parents who expect their children to marry young don't get into this stuff, I think it's somewhat irresponsible.

In a way I think I'm lucky that my own parents are divorced. It made me spend a lot of time thinking about what I would need to do to make a marriage work (not that I can claim the "marital success" award any time soon, we're not exactly about to hit our 50-year anniversary or even 10-year). I think a lot of people just haven't really thought about or talked about the kind of day-to-day issues of building a family.

Anonymous said...

I am the same anonymous above.

I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on what I wrote about chattan/kallah classes and how rabbeim are so insistant that couples take them but don't show the same eagerness in insisting that married couples try to work through their issues or go to therapy.

Some background on me, my wife and I dated for a while (about 3 years before getting engaged) starting in college. We waited "so long" because we wanted to be able to support ourselves and get our lives, careers, etc on track. We only got engaged after we both graduated, I had been working for a while and my wife started graduate school. We're now married about 2 years and very happy.

A few observations based on this:
1) I don't think it was the length of time we dated that was so important as it was the fact that we got to see each other in a wide variety of contexts from seeing each other each and every day in school to having to work on being more thoughtful and communicating in other ways when we couldn't do that over vacations or after graduation. But also, over that length of time you really get to see the person happy, sad, depressed, angry, etc and not just in "date mode" where they're putting on a best face. We also had opportunities to help each other make important life decisions. I think it is the lack of contexts that is most jarring to some - when the person goes from always trying to impress while dating to being themselves while married.

2) I think a HUGE issue (which people don't talk about much)explaining why couples rush to get married so soon and don't date for a while is shomer negiah. I have had many people tell me in private that they got engaged so quickly because they "couldn't wait" any longer. Not to morallize, but to my mind if someone is that desperate they should just get it out of their system (so to speak) than risk the terrible consquences that can stem from their rushed, and perhaps not-so-well-thought out decision. Also, why is observance of negiah leading to the antithetical result of people wanting nothing more than to touch (and more).

3) Lastly, a major thing putting pressure on so many young married couples (as if they needed any more) is babies - as in, "nu, are you pregnant yet?". And I don't just mean from parents or grandparents. We get far more pressure from people in shul, especially those our own age ironically. But even beyond that, the entire idea of needing a heter (which needs to be continually renewed to explain why you STILL don't want to have a kid) from a rabbi to use birth control sends a very wrong message to young couples, many of whom are not ready emotionally or financially to handle pregnancy and child-rearing. Again, I see this as it being better to be commiting the "sin" of not having a child yet than being forced to have a child a couple may not really be ready for.

Anonymous said...

Seems like many young men and women are raised now so as to reach adulthood with no understanding at all of the opposite sex. This is not what modesty, a primary Jewish value of course, is meant to lead to.

ora said...

anonymous 8:46

I haven't seen the problem you describe of rabbeim failing to discourage divorce. I do not know a single rabbi, rebbitzin, or teacher who would not do everything in their power to prevent a divorce.

As for your 3 points:

1) Yes, seeing each other in a variety of situations is good. In the frum world this is generally replaced by conducting background checks, which are supposed to reveal any serious issues (anger management, etc). IMO both background checks and simple getting to know each other are necessary.

I don't think dating for a long time necessarily helps. People change. IMO there's no such thing as getting to know the person you're with so well that there will be no surprises, if only because no matter how well you know them, they aren't going to stay exactly the same.

2) Nobody should get married because of shomer negiah. It is an absolutely horrible idea. Personally, I only know one or two couples who married for that reason, both American BT couples (I'm not sure what the connection is, but it seems to be more of an American and BT issue). Most couples I know who married quickly did so simply because they were ready to, and B"H it's worked out for them.

There is no such thing as "getting it out of your system" when it comes to negiah (or if there is, it could take several years). IMO it's better for couples to switch to meeting in busy public area than to chas v'chalilah decide to go against Torah (which commands us to avoid pre-marital relationships for our own good). Even the most lovesick young people can keep negiah when surrounded by neighbors or family members. Certainly we shouldn't present the choice as "forget negiah or get married now" as you seem to do, because that will lead young couples to believe those are their only two options (sin or marry, that is).

I don't think the desire to touch is "antithetical" to negiah. I've never heard the idea that negiah laws were meant to remove our basic human desires.

3) As far as I know, the idea of needing a heter for birth control comes from the Torah. That's not one of the things we have the power to change (nor should we want to change it, as the Torah brings us only good). I think the heter sends the right message: children are a wonderful blessing and procreation is a Torah command, however, some people need to wait and if you are among them that is OK.

I don't understand how you realize that a heter is available, yet describe the choice as "sin" vs. "baby." If a couple needs a heter, there is no sin in postponing pregnancy.

IMO, men and women in their early 20s (assuming that's roughly when they're getting married) should be emotionally ready for children (or at least, as ready as possible while still childless). They aren't that young. If they aren't ready, our question should be "why is a 22-year-old not ready to be a parent" and not "why do we have to ask to use birth control."

Financially, almost no one can be ready to pay 10K per year per child for school, but that's a different (and uniquely American) issue. IMO if a couple can pay for a crib, diapers, and food for their baby, they are ready enough. What I'm trying to say is, if they aren't ready they should get a heter, but we should also remember that "ready" should be defined by normal, Torah standards and not by modern American ideas.

Halfnutcase said...

ora, there is no halacha that a woman may not use the pill once she has two children, one of each sex. anyone who tell you otherwise is lying to you. There is no halacha that states that one must have as many children as one can, it sets a measure for the fulfilment of halacha, and after that one may refrain from having anymore children through either contraception (ie the pill, all others do require a hetter) or by marrying a wife who is not fertile.

anyone who tells you anything else is distorting halacha and lying to you. There are even oppinions that clearly state that one may use the pill before properly fulfilling the mitzvah, as long as one plans to alot enough reasonable time for having those two children.

ora said...

halfnutcase--

In my experience, most newlywed religious couples don't already have one child of each sex. Also, look at the post I was replying to--he was talking about childless couples.

I think you are vastly oversimplifying the issue of family size. The mitzvah of "pru u'rvu" is not the only issue. There is also "al tanach yadecha" and then there is the general spirit of the mitzva. I don't know why you assumed that I was ignorant of the basic halacha, but trust me, I'm not. If you've never heard an opinion other than the one you wrote here, you haven't spoken to many rabbis.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Same anonymous as 8:46 and 4:51.

Ora, to address some of your points:

As I said, I don't think it is the length of time that is important, simply seeing someone in different situations. Personally, I think this needs to be done first hand, I don't think a "background check" can ever be as effective. I see dating as a job interview of sorts and people always try to put on their best face. I have interviewed many people and looked into their background only to be surprised when, after being hired, you find out all sorts of bad things about them - they're lazy, they don't react well to criticism, they give attitude when told to something. In that case as in marriage the result is the same unfortunately - firing someone, getting a divorce.

In terms of people chaning, of course that is true over a lifetime, but people shouldn't be so fickle as to change day to day or month to month. And seeing how someone reacts under pressure or in a situation that would make them angry, how they deal with friends, family, their job, is very important. Will you know everything? Of course not, but there will be less surprises, you'll know better what you're dealing with.

I would really like someone to explain to me why in the frum world it's unacceptable, frowned upon, and some even consider unhalachic to date. Which brings me to my next point...

Shomer Negiah. In my mind the only reason people are encouraged to not date extensively (I mean the same person extensively, not dating left and right necessarily) is because there is a deep worry that kids have hormones and chas v'chalilah shomer negiah will be violated. I honestly can think of no other reason.

You can disagree with me, but I view halacha and observance of mitzvot on a scale. I know we don't know the reward/punishment for every mitzvah/aveira. But to me that simply means we need to use our common sense. This may sound like kefirah to some, but I think it is better to date longer and violate shomer negiah (I am not advocating having sex, although I am unsure where this is prohibited in the Torah) than to rush into marriage because of hormones. I think the irreperable damage that can be done in an unhappy marriage is worse than a violation of shomer negiah. This is true when people are divorced (it is very hard, especially for women, to get remarried in these situations). But it is even more true of people who stick it out and subject their future children to their unhappy marriage.

In terms of never having heard of people rushing in for shomer negiah reasons other than BT couples, I'll give you a recent story. My sister-in-law went out on a date with a guy and it went very well she was very excited to get to know the person better but wasn't ready to get married yet. On the next date the guy expressed he felt the same way that they had a real connection and he could see this going somewhere. At that point he said he would want to get engaged within a month, 2 at most, because he has serious taiyvos (desires, sorry, but the guy was ashkenaz and that's how he spoke). He said he needs someone who would be willing to marry quickly because of these desires. But to top it all off, the guy said this was what his rebbe advised him to do! In other words the guy went to his rebbe said he had all these taiyvos and his rebbe said he should find someone to marry as quickly as possible. Needless to say that was their last date.

In my mind there is something seriously wrong with yidishkeit if this is where shomer mitzvot leads. As I said before, better for someone like this to "relieve themselves", get their head on straight and pursue the mitzvot the way God intended. This person is trading a mitzvah now for many aveirot later (not to mention unhappiness and discord).

In terms of the heter for birth control, if this truly is a torah issue as you claim then no heter would ever suffice. A heter from a rav cannot allow one to be oveir a torah commandment. I can't get a heter to violate shabbat or eat non-kosher. Instead, it is a purely rabbinical idea put out there by some rabbis that the torah command of "pru u'revu" means IMMEDIATELY. To me this is silly. Personally, I think this is a very right-wing ideology that one cannot make decisions in their life without first consulting a rav. To me, if you're mature enough to have a child, you're mature enough to decide not to have one (or how long to delay in having one). You don't need a rav for this and it just puts constant pressure on people to have a child when they're not prepared.

In terms of using "american ideas" and standards instead of torah standards, I have to disagree. Unfortunately, I know a few young couples with children who simply should not have had children. They don't realize this of course, they think they fulfilled a mitzvah. To share a few horror stories: they went to a party with their kid got drunk passed out and left the kid in a carriage in a corner, the child has a medical condition they won't get proper care for the child because they don't want to pay for it because they believe the state's welfare medical coverage (don't know the exact name) and have been arguing for months with the state, another couple thought it was funny to give their kid alcohol, another left their 1.5 year old wandering the hallways of our apartment building because neither spouse wanted to deal with the child, I could go on.

I think frum people overlook this stuff because the couples are frum just like them. If these same people saw this behavior in other people (different race, religion, ethnicity, etc) they would be in arms about how "those people" treat their children. Similarly, if these same people saw a couple with 8 kids where the youngest was 1 and the oldest was 10 and they had to get clothing from charities, relied on government aid, got money from relatives, etc they would think "look at THOSE people" but for some reason it's fine when this same behavior is in our own communities. Not only is it fine, but they're fulfilling God's commands - baruch hashem!

For me, I don't care why they aren't ready, some people just mature later than others and some never mature at all. It's not a function of age. But if they aren't ready for whatever reason they shouldn't have kids and shouldn't be encouraged to do so by religious pressure (in the form of having to get a heter, or in being told it's a huge mitzvah). Finances are one factor, but not the determining one. If a couple is mature and ready but doesn't have the money, part of being mature is figuring out how to handle that whether it's money from relatives, getting a second job, both spouses worked, etc.

SephardiLady said...

Anon (could you please choose a "stage name," I'm enjoying your comments).

I agree completely that "taivos" should not be a reason to get married quick, quick, quick and marriage comes with its own set of problems even if it solves that particular issue. Before a couple gets married, they should build a foundation that isn't just based upon mutual physical attraction.

One idea behind shomer negiah in dating is to be able to make a good decision while the physical does not cloud our thought. If the physical clouds the dating process in a rush to the chuppah, I'm not sure it has achieved one of its purposes.

ora said...

Anonymous--
I actually agreed with you that a seeing a potential spouse in a variety of situations is important, so no need for clarification there.

When I said date "for a long time," I meant the kind of time you said you dated, ie, years. I know some couples are stuck in the dating phase for years because of their situation (army, college, etc), but I don't think most people need that kind of time. That doesn't mean I think 2 weeks is enough, or even 12 weeks.

As for marrying quickly b/c of desires, I don't feel that you addressed my points:
1) It is not possible to "get it out of the way." Some physical contact will not make the average person think less about sex, it will make them think about it more. Even if they have sex before marriage, that doesn't mean they will stop wanting/thinking about sex.

(Also, before deciding that violating Torah law is for the best in some situations, it might be a good idea to check out the effects violation of that law has had in other communities. In this case, we look at communities that allow premarital sex. Are their divorce rates lower? No, their divorce rates are much higher. So I think premarital sex would not help young people avoid aveirot at all.)

2) "Marry quickly so you won't sin" and "go ahead and violate negiah if you have to" are NOT the only two options. It is entirely possible to date for several months or longer while keeping negiah, you just have to be careful where you go together.

As for a heter for birth control, your analogies are bad. For one thing, Shabbat and Kashrut are "lo taaseh." Rabbis can tell you not to do/to postpone a positive mitzvah (ex. pru u'rvu, shofar on rosh hashanah on shabbat) more easily than they can tell you to violate a "thou shalt not."

For another thing, there is such thing as a heter to violate shabbat or kashrut. Doctors, soldiers, nurses, paramedics, etc, drive on shabbat every week.

Of course you can make decisions in your life without consulting a rav. But if it's a decision involving Torah law, and IMO having children is very clearly portrayed as an important part of marriage in the Torah and Tanach, then you risk messing up your life by getting it wrong. We're not talking about asking your Rav what to eat for dinner--this is something very important involving a very important mitzvah. Believe it or not, rabbis do understand the problems you've mentioned, and if there's need for a couple to use birth control, they will approve it.

As for immature couples with children, I don't know what that has to do with birth control. Again, look at secular society, where birth control is allowed and even encouraged. Do immature people avoid having children? No, they are often the first to have children. Immature people don't know that they're immature, that's part of the problem.

IMO the reason immature couples have children is not religious pressure (if they don't care about the mitzvah of looking after a child enough to actually watch the child (while sober), they probably don't care much about the mitvah of pru u'rvu either), it's social pressure, caused by the fact that everyone else their age has children. And you can't prevent everyone from having children until the immature minority grows up.

Let's take one last look at secular society. No pressure to have kids before the age of 35 in many communities. In my experience, family life is not any better at all in those places. It's not something the Jewish community should be striving for.

ora said...

One more thing about asking a rabbi, because i don't think I put it very clearly:
You don't ask a rabbi what to do because you can't think for yourself and want the rabbi to tell you how to live your life. You ask a rabbi what to do because you want to live according to Torah and need a professional's opinion as to the best way to do that. This applies to birth control questions and everything else.

TwinsMommy said...

Interesting seque to the next set of topics on this blog. Debt. Having too many kids too early, whether pressured to or not, can very easily lead to debt.

We were married many years before having our twins (a boy and a girl-- we're back on the pill now, ha!). I was telling one of my neighbors that I'm (sadly) letting go of outgrown baby clothing and gyminis and swings and infant bucket seats --- if we ever have more children, it's going to be quite a while--- and she was horrified "aren't you going to be pregnant again soon?".

Um, sure, if you want to go through the pregnancy FOR me, AND buy us a bigger car or 2, and give us the money for that third tuition....

PS, this post and its comments make me sooooo thankful that my husband and I never dated as Orthodox Jews. In some respects being BT is difficult and odd, but in the dating realm, BARUCH HASHEM that my husband and I truly got to know each other before marriage and became frum together. I truly can't imagine dating as an Orthodox Jew---- I just simply don't understand so much of it.

JS said...

Sephardilady, your wish is my command. I'm the anonymous from the above postings. As an aside, I truly love your blog and am very grateful for having found it. I care deeply about the issues you write about and wish our communities would discuss them in a more frank and forthcoming way. It seems debt and tuition in particular are left for complaints during a shabbos meal with guests instead of dealt with on a communal level. Also, once I graduated college one of the first things I did was read several personal finance books to ensure I wouldn't get trapped by debt (or I should say further trapped since I finished college with nearly $100K in student loans since my parents weren't able to help me out much). Your advice is always dead on and I wish more singles/couples would see it and heed it before it becomes too late.

Your point about how keeping shomer negiah is supposed to make us focus on someone's personality traits and the spiritual is exactly my point that I made earlier that, unfortunately, it seems that for some people keeping shomer negiah just makes them focus on the physical even more. This is antithetical to the mitzvah. While on the outside the person keeps the mitzvah internally he only has physical desires on his mind which in some cases can lead to bad decision making - such as marrying without giving it adequate thought.

Ora, I didn't mean to imply one could "get it out of their systems" since I think this is unrealistic. However, I do think life is more complicated than "never commit an aveira" and there is such a thing as committing an aveirah now which leads to mitzvot and happiness later. I don't think it's as simple as "aveirah goreret aveirah" that a sin always leads to more sin. I also think that the guilt of a sin sometimes can have more disasterous affects than the sin itself.

Since I seem to be telling stories, here's one to illustrate my point. A couple I know was dating for a while (I knew the girl) and she confided in me that her and her boyfriend had broken shomer negiah by kissing the other night. She was horrified by what they had done and wanted to break off the relationship. She said if this was how the relationship started (they were only dating a short while at this point) it could only lead to more aveirot and they would never have the kind of marriage and family she wanted. I told her life isn't so simple, it's not black and white and she should weigh how well they get along and love each other against this and that even if they did slip up again what is better? To give up something with great potential or to be human, sin again, and always strive to do better next time? Thankfully, in my opinion, she listened and wound up marrying him and they're very happy.

My point is people screw up and sometimes screwing up (even intentionally) can lead to more good down the line.

In terms of consulting a rav, if I have a question of how to properly use a blech or how to kasher a pot I completely agree - a rav is an expert in halacha and can properly direct me. But, a rav is not an expert necessarily in medicine, in psychology, in finance, etc. I think some rabbeim don't realize this unfortunately and think studying gemarah makes them an expert in all fields. And this is on top of the fact that most rabbeim don't know the people asking the questions well enough - just go to any wedding and see the bride's rav talk about the chatan's family he just met.

I just read an article in the Jewish Week where a woman around 25 wrote in saying she has 5 kids spaced a year apart and she is going completely crazy. She is at her wit's end and said she was at the point of suicide and thinks she really would do it if she got pregnant again. She spoke to her rav who told her she can't use birth control. Now you might say "this is a rav?!" and I say in return "yes!" because this is what goes on in many communities, maybe not to such an extreme but I hear all the time pregnant women telling my wife their rav told them to fast on tisha b'av and yom kippur even though they're several months pregnant. Is the rav a doctor all of a sudden? The rav gives his answer and it's on the couple to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Is the rav gonna take care of that woman's 6th child? Is the rav going to be there in the hospital (or God forbid funeral) if something goes wrong with a pregnancy because the woman fasted on his advice?

At an auction in our shul on simchat torah a young couple who just graduated and started working who don't have any money, the husband bid about $2000 for some honors. And who encouraged him and told him he was doing a huge mitzvah? Our shul's rabbi. Is he going to pay their debt off when the credit card statement comes in?

To bring it back to the immature couples and a heter for birth control, my point is that we should be looking out for our young and realize some are immature. We shoudn't put it on them to get a heter (which I still maintain puts the issue as why aren't you having children yet, what's your excuse?). If anything we should be saying you need a heter TO have children - at the very least for the first year of marriage. I don't know about others on this forum but the first year of marriage for us had a lot of adjustment (even though we dated 3 years and were engaged about 10 months) and I can't imagine what it would have been like if we're still trying to adjust and get to know each other better on this new level and we're pregnant and have a kid on the way.

And I think people can be very "frum" in one aspect and be completely "off" and even irreligious in other aspects. How often do you see people that are so careful to always go to minyan but then talk the whole time? Or are so careful about tziniut and then have inappropriate conversations. Frumkeit in one area doesn't translate into frumkeit in another area unfortunately.

SephardiLady said...

JS-Thank you for picking a name. You are very prolific and I appreciate your comments and look forward to more comments in the future.

In the meantime, do you mind getting me a link to the article you referred to? If there is no link, me email is on the top of the page and I would love a scan. It would make a great post for this blog.

Thanks!

ora said...

twinsmommy--
I think you're confusing "orthodox dating" with "hareidi-orthodox dating in certain circles." My husband and I dated while religious, and we dated for almost a year before marrying. We were the ones dating, not our parents or rabbis, although we did ask their advice and respect their opinions (which were overwhelmingly postive). We are not an anomoly in our group, and a lot of our friends also dated (or knew each other through youth groups) for at least a year before marrying.

JS--I completely agree that breaking negiah once or twice doesn't have to mean the end of a relationship, and that an obsession with sex is possible and harmful even when negiah is kept. I just can't imagine a situation where getting physical before marriage would help. I wouldn't tell a friend to break up because she kissed a guy, but I also wouldn't tell her to go ahead and kiss him. What is the chain of events you see happening after the kiss that would lead to more good than not kissing would have? Please be specific as I honestly don't understand.

Five kids in five years is insane. I assume the mother was not nursing (although my grandmother had four in four years while nursing, so it might not be a safe assumption). Part of the problem is that many hareidi women (not to single them out, but it seems to be more a problem in that community) are artificially making themselves more fertile by using formula to feed their young babies. Then they need to worry about artificial birth control.

In all areas of life where its necessary to consult an expert, the person turning to the expert needs to take responsibility for picking the right person to ask. If I need a doctor to diagnose a skin condition, I won't go to an optomitrist. If I need a rabbi to help me with issues involving pregnancy or health, I will go to a rabbi who 1) knows me well, 2) is known to understand these issues, and 3) either has medical knowledge or respects doctors' opinions. I agree that the rabbi should know better than to give medical advice to a desperate young mother if he's not qualified to do so. In my experience, most rabbis are not like that.

My doctor said I could fast on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur while several months pregnant as long as I didn't feel too bad. So that's not necessarily an extreme or irresponsible response for a rabbi to give. All of the doctors I've asked (which isn't so many, but still) have said a single day of fasting won't hurt a healthy pregnancy as long as the mother stays in tune with her body and drinks/eats if necessary.

As for the Simchat Torah auction, "dan l'kaf zchut" applies to rabbis as well. Is it possible that your rabbi didn't know the couple's financial situation? Or assumed when they donated that if they're giving that much, their situation must have improved? Or knew that the $2,000 or part of it came from an outside source? Or knew that part or all of it was actually ma'aser? Or that he did ask them if the donation was prudent given their situation, but privately and tactfully, when you couldn't hear him?
Personally I don't want my shul rabbi asking me where I got my money or how to spend it. IMO, if someone donates, you say "Kol HaKavod." If he knows them very well he could ask a tactful question about their finances, but if not, I think his response was the right one.

We should look out for our teenagers, not tell young couples in their 20s how to live their lives. Failure to let them take responsibility for themselves and make their own mistakes is probably the reason some of them are immature. Adding to that by saying the community should decide for them whether or not to have children is just ridiculous. That's how we'll end up with couples in their 30s who are still immature.

I think we're talking about two different issues with birth control. I don't think young couples need to ask "Rabbi, can I please use the pill" the way a 3rd-grader says "Teacher, can I please use the bathroom." I do think it's a very important and complicated decision, and one that many couples want to make according to Torah law, with guidance from a rabbi. Some communities/couples keep to a strict anti-birth control standard that can hurt their family life. Others use birth control too easily and often, and chas v'chalilah can end up with fertility issues with age and not have the family they had hoped for, or can have other issues due to a relatively small family. As always, we should strive for the golden mean.

And now, to add my own personal story: my husband and I dated for 9.5 months, were engaged for 2.5 months, and our daughter was born 10 months after the wedding. IMO having a child in the first year of marriage is wonderful and fun, and has only strengthened our relationship. So while some couples aren't ready for kids right away, telling all couples that they need a heter to have babies just because of a few "bad apples" is, IMO, absurd.

JS said...

Sephardilady, I'll try my best to find it. It was shown to me as a clipping from my wife's grandmother. I'm not exactly sure what paper it was from (I think it was the Jewish Week since another clipping she showed me was from there - in typical Jewish fashion this latter one was on calling your grandparents more often) or when it was published.

Ora, to better clarify my position on negiah, if the story was slightly different and my friend had come to me and said they really love each other they have so much in common including a similar mindset on keeping torah and mitzvot there's just one problem - they're not ready to get married yet and they're going out of their minds with hormones. Of course I would first say try to control yourselves, only meet in public, etc etc, but when you're dating in college that's not always easy or practical advice. If the choice became breaking up to just remove the temptation entirely or breaking negiah, I would advise to break negiah. I know you probably don't agree with that but I don't look at it as just a decision in the here and now. I see it as yes, they'll violate negiah but they'll also keep a wonderful and beautiful relationship together and hopefully, they'll learn and grow from this. To me it would be such a terrible waste to lose the relationship over something like this. I weigh negiah on the one hand against the loss of so much good on the other.

I see Judaism in general in this light, say a woman has a true issue with covering her hair, she simply doesn't want to do it, but in every respect is a truly kind and generous person. If I had a very frum friend who was going to break up with this girl after she informed him she wouldn't cover her hair after marriage, I would tell him he's crazy. That not covering one's hair doesn't outweigh a lifetime of kindness and generosity and better to have a wife (and future children) with these beautiful traits than someone who merely covers her hair. Because who knows if he breaks up with her if he'll ever be able to find both?

In terms of so many kids, I think you're right about artificially increasing fertility by not nursing. I think also women are far healthier nowadays which leads to starting puberty earlier and menopause starting much later as well. Women have far more opportunities to get pregnant nowadays than ever before (not to mention increases in fertility science). Also, infancy death rates have fallen remarkably in the past 50 or so years. Many people had so many children "back then" because it was almost unheard of to have a family where a few small children didn't survive. To bring things back into debt and finances, the community helped support families more back then as well - especially in terms of education. Perhaps all of this should be taken into consideration in our communities today.

In terms of the rabbi and the auction, I think this just proves my point that rabbis who don't know the details of a couple's situation are giving poor advice. The rabbi shouldn't delve into their personal life (unless they bring it up to him) and similarly shouldn't encourage and advise when he doesn't know the situation or isn't qualified to answer. I think where there's even the smallest doubt the rabbi has a responsibility to err on the side of caution, especially in terms of my example of fasting while pregnant. And in this case the couple is about 22-23, married 1 year, the husband just started working 1 month ago (were supported by family before this) and are then bidding top dollar for an honor (in our shul the top honors went for between $1500-$2000) - I think a prudent rabbi would realize this couple aren't the Rockefellers and not try to encourage. I don't know about your shuls but my experience has always been it's the well-established "machers", the doctors, lawyers, finance gurus with the huge houses bidding top dollar for honors, not some young pisher who just got a job a month ago - to me that would raise a red flag.

Sephardilady, I think a post on ma'aser would be very interesting in terms of what a person/couple should do if they have debt or are just starting out. Assuming this husband just got a job paying $30,000 after tax, is being supported by family, and has debt - is $2000 too low for this couple to be giving should they be giving $3000 (I assume post-tax, but maybe this too is wrong)? I don't know the halacha but from a personal finance perspective I've always thought you need to get your own house in order before giving away that much money.

Lastly, I didn't mean to suggest we should actually force a heter to have a child, but what I am saying is we need to help couples gauge whether or not they are truly ready. If one believes that a rav should be consulted on all issues then perhaps that rav should be asking pointed questions about maturity, finances, if family can help with childcare, will the wife work, etc. Now the way things work is you have to make excuses for being docheh a mitzvah, for pushing off a mitzvah. I think that sets the wrong tone. And again, where will the rabbi be when there are problems?

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