One of the most important decisions in your life is whom to marry. That person will become enmeshed in your life and can either boost you or, in the worst case scenario, hinder your growth and happiness.
Orthodox Jews know the importance of marriage. The process and rules for these unions are even laid out in the Torah. The Torah explains how to marry, the laws of modesty in a marriage, how a man should treat his wife, and even, in the event the marriage does not work out, the rules and mechanisms for divorce.
Those who help bring together a man and a woman for the purpose of marriage are considered as doing a good deed. Contributing to the cost of the marriage of someone who can’t afford a proper celebration is considered positive charity.
It is with great deliberation and care that the parents of an Orthodox Jewish young woman or young man check the background of a potential mate. Orthodox Jews realize that though opposites may attract in the greater world, having their children marry someone from a similar background and with similar goals and ideals makes for a smoother marriage.
Though divorce is allowed for in Judaism, the rate for divorce among the ultra Orthodox is minimal and in the general Orthodox world is a much smaller percentage than in the non-Orthodox Jewish world and the general non-Jewish world as well.
Generally, Orthodox Jews try to see to it that their children marry at younger ages than non-Orthodox and non-Jewish young people. Orthodox parents start to begin the search through what are known as shadchanim or official matchmakers. Anyone who has seen the movie Fiddler on the Roof has heard the famous “Matchmaker matchmaker make me a match” song, catchy and true.
The ultra-Orthodox start their search when their children are still in their teens. It isn’t unusual for a bride to be seventeen or a bridegroom nineteen. Though many in the non-Orthodox world may think that marrying at these ages may be too early and the bride and briedgroom too immature to have such a marriage last, the majority of these marriages last for entire lifetimes.
These marriages last because of the intensive research done by the parents for weeks and even months before the couple even meets.
Another important reason is that the couple’s entire education from young ages onward is geared to preparing them for marriage and its sanctity. To these prospective brides and bridegrooms, the inner qualities of the potential spouses are more important than special looks. They are not looking for hot chicks or hunks, or for a doctor or a lawyer. They also know that marriage and family is the bedrock of the Jewish religion and they approach the first meeting with a potential mate and the prospect of their marriage with the utmost seriousness.
Next Page: So how long does it take?
Generally it does not take many meetings that the parents have arranged through the matchmaker before each decides if this is the person for him or her. I’ve even heard of one couple who met for the first time in the morning and announced their engagement at the Vort (meaning “the word,” the official engagement party) that very evening.
However, generally there are often several meetings before the decision to marry is made.
Among other Orthodox young people, suitors will get a resume of several potential mates, including height and family background, as the families of each are extremely important to the future of the marriage. After each young person chooses whom they would like to meet, their parents make the first several dates through the matchmaker.
The first date is generally held in the lobby of a hotel,or a kosher coffee shop, where they meet and try to get to know each other. Among most Orthodox young women it is very important that the young man they will decide to marry spend some of his time engaged in “learning” or studying the Torah. Some girls even have a set period they would like the boy to study for.
Though among the general Orthodox young people the age to begin the formal dating process may not be as early as the teens, there’s a general concensus that they should definitely be married by their mid-twenties. Eyebrows may be raised if a girl isn’t married by age 26, or even a young man by the same age.
There’s a very cute YouTube film series made by a young Orthodox woman about this mating phenomenon among the more modern Orthodox called “Soon By You.”
The protocol for the dating process made through the matchmaker involves checking with each participant for a yes or no for each date, until after the sixth date. After that date, the young man can ask the young lady directly for a date.
The lucky young people are those who find their basherte or basherter (meaning, respectively, destined mate, girl or boy), after meeting just a few potential mates. Some are very lucky, meeting each other right away, but some take longer.
So important is the marriage of its young people to the Orthodox world in general that the largest Orthodox organization in the United Sates, Agudath Israel of America (AIA), sponsers a program called the Invei Hagefen (Grapes of the Vine), to help young Orthodox people find mates. They have become, in a sense, the nation’s matchmaker. Their focus is in helping older Orthodox singles find mates. They have in general been successful, and hopefully will continue to be so.
Whether the couple has decided to marry on the first date or after many, the wedding celebrations are all joyful and full of dancing and singing (though not mixed dancing). They also feature ecstatic joy as all the guests are celebrating the wonders of this new Jewish marriage and the inauguaration of a new family ‘in Israel’, a new bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael, (a faithful house in Israel, derived from a verse found in the Book of Kings.)