Tuesday, June 01, 2004

DIY on the Hill

The Torah gives a father the right to marry off his daughter to whomever he wishes. Draconian as that sounds, relevant it is not, because that right is valid up until she becomes 12 years old. After that he can not ‘give her away’ a term that in this case is used literally, without her consent and in fact it is his consent that is neither asked for nor needed. The only limit that Halacha places on the choosing of a spouse is that a man may not marry a woman without seeing her (I suppose that works both ways but I have not seen it written).

I am all for arranged matches for those that want them. They do not seem to work any less well than the western, freestyle matches and many claim that they work better. I have to add that my wife was introduced to me a day before we got engaged. We met for an hour or so at the home of one of my now mother-in-law’s friends. Sitting in two overstuffed armchairs we talked about everything you can possibly talk about to a nervous looking girl of 18 who is biting her nails and blushing every time you recross your legs. Outside the door stood my parents and hers, mine feeling slightly guilty for allowing modernism to creep into our holy family in the form of a meeting lasting longer than 10 minutes. Hers were on best behaviour for fear of ruining their daughter’s chances by disappointing their potential mechutanim (in-laws). The tension could have been cut with butter knife. When, after the hour was up, the parents walked in on us I realised I had not yet heard a single intelligent word from the girl opposite and saw no reason at all to make her my beloved.

My parents were horrified. “You just sat with a girl for an hour and now you say you do not see any reason to marry her? You should marry her unless you see a good reason not to!” “Ok,” I said “If I can sit with a girl for an hour and leave with no wish to marry her, then for that reason I don’t like her.”

The compromise was that we would meet again the next day. I like to say it was my natural charm and winning ways that caused her to open up. She claims she would have said anything just to get the meeting over and herself a gracious exit to the ladies room before that become unnecessary. Be that as it may, I do not regret the accident of fate that got me married to my wife.

God works in mysterious ways. I do not believe there is any justification or logic in denying a couple the right to marry if they wish to and there is no legal or Halachic reason why they should not, even if their meeting did not occur in our time honoured traditional way. There might be a myriad of reasons for creating an environment where there is no likelihood of that happening but if and when it does despite all that, it can be no less His work than any other.

It is true that in our culture there is little respect for that ‘crazy little thing called love’. To be honest there is rarely any mention of it. Yet those who have proudly gotten through life without it are hardly qualified to advise those who are smitten on how unimportant it is. In any event it is certainly counter-productive, for anyone who has made its acquaintance, to hear it described as if it were some vile disease.

It seems to me that those who are most sanctimonious in their condemnation of the chinuch, family, and kehille of those who do decide to tie the love knot are the same ones you can see in every huddle in shul, maliciously salivating over every minute detail of the salacious gossip. It seems almost as if they think that, by ensuring that the blame is laid squarely somewhere, they and theirs will be guaranteed the same will not befall them.

It is also worth remembering that the gentleman Kalba Savua was probably justifiably angry when his beautiful daughter informed him she was in love with a shepherd. Neither of them could have known then he would turn out to become Rabbi Akiva

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