Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 16 June 2007 / 30 Sivan 5767

Arranged Marriages

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: David in Calgary
Dear Rabbi,

I don’t understand the Jewish way of setting up marriages. Why in today’s day and age should two adults submit themselves to being set up in an arranged marriage? How could they possibly rely on the judgment of a stranger rather than on their own feelings regarding something as important as choosing a life partner?

Dear David,

If your facts were right, you’d actually be asking a great question! However, your understanding of the Jewish way of finding a marriage partner is inaccurate. Allow me to set the record straight.

According to Judaism, people cannot be married against their will. There is no such thing as arranged marriages. Rather, the way “getting set up” works is that people who are interested and ready to get married approach experienced match-makers who, after interviewing candidates about their interests, goals, intended lifestyle and preferences regarding a prospective spouse, suggest what they consider to be compatible people.

If, after hearing about the other person, both people are interested, a meeting is arranged between the two to give them an opportunity to see if they like each other. When the date is over, each contact the matchmaker about whether they want to continue or not. If one or both does not want to continue, it’s over between them and a new suggestion will be offered to each. If they’re both interested in continuing, they do so only as long as they’re both still interested, or until it results in marriage.

Considering the divorce rate of 50-60 percent among the secular population in the U.S., it’s worth examining some of the many advantages of the Jewish approach to finding a life partner.

Trying to find Mr. or Mrs. Right in a bar, a club, a concert a museum or any other event, makes the odds very slim: you might not meet anyone at all; and even if you do, you might not be interested in her; and even if you are, she might not be interested in you; and even if she is, she might not be interested in marriage; and even if she is, she might not be Jewish.

According to the Jewish approach, however, two people who are both interested in marriage and deemed compatible from the outset meet in a quiet, relaxing setting with no distractions and with no head-games for the explicit purpose of determining whether they are compatible as life-partners. These conditions greatly ease the process and increase the odds of finding “the right one”.

Also, the nearly endless search for that needle in a haystack is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. This has several drawbacks: the over-exertion expended in finding a mate necessarily distracts one from learning, growing and following self-enriching pursuits; it also causes desperation which may result in settling for unhealthy, incompatible relationships for lack of other options or loneliness, and may even result in giving up on finding “the right one” altogether. Marriages that result from such relationships are virtually doomed to failure.

The Jewish approach, however, liberates one from the laborious and fatiguing process of unsuccessfully sifting the social haystack. This thereby enables prospective candidates for marriage to continue to develop their interests, abilities, characters and maturity level, which only further prepares them for marriage when they are introduced to the right one. In the meantime, they are spared the pain, frustration and disillusionment that results from the trial and error of meaningless relationships based on convenience, loneliness and despair.

Since the matchmakers are by and large sensitive, insightful people who are usually experienced in their trade, they can generally be relied upon to sift through all the available and interested people they know to make fairly accurate suggestions about compatibility in looks, tastes, interests, lifestyles and life-goals. But these are only suggestions. The individuals themselves decide from the outset whether they want to meet or not, and it’s totally up to them whether to continue or not, and whether to get married.

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