Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Arranged" marriage?

I have received several questions about arranged marriages in Jewish communities, so I decided to address the matter. I think it all begins with what you define as "arranged marriage". If you're thinking in terms of both families that decide everything in advance, and a groom who doesn't see his bride's face before the wedding, you can forget it. Yes, there might be advice, suggestions, even pressure. However, I have never yet heard about a marriage where parents dictated to their children that they will marry someone they don't want to marry. Not even in the strictest Orthodox Jewish communities.

Introductions can certainly be arranged - by the young people's parents, in-laws, friends, the matchmaker (or in our technological era, the virtual matchmaker on websites for religious Jewish singles). But from then on, the decision belongs with the young couple, and with them alone. After an introduction has been made, the man and woman must go on a date, start getting to know each other and see if they are compatible in their initial goals. Here's another confusion: when I mentioned "dates", I was asked if "dating" and not "courtship" is practised. I think we are dealing with a matter of purely linguistic confusion here. Yes, the man and woman certainly go on dates. But it has nothing to do with dating in the usual meaning of the word. The aim is marriage, and the young people attempt to evaluate each other as potential spouses, not partners for an unlimited period of fun and recreational sex. Call it dating for marriage, courtship, or anything you will - the point is that people are expected to remain marriage-minded.

The decision is supposed to be reached in a relatively short period of time. Here it often depends, I think, on the level of religious observance as well. Couples who don't touch each other at all typically decide sooner. Anyhow, I know people who decided to get married after a couple of dates, and others who decided after a couple of months. Still, it usually happens much sooner than with modern couples who take years to decide and then divorce on the grounds of "we didn't really get to know each other well enough" or "I suppose he wasn't the right person after all". Keep in mind: I'm not saying you should use a blindfold when making a decision. You can and should certainly make a thorough background check and pay attention to alarming signs and "red flags". But in my opinion, it's OK to discover things about each other after you are married. It's even OK if you don't like each and every thing you find out. That's precisely when compromise, open-mindedness and flexibility come into the picture.

Do you know each other perfectly well if you decide to get married after three dates? A month? Two months? Of course not. Does it necessarily mean your marriage will fail? Not at all. Life is a constant process of learning, growth and discovery. Why should it be so frightening to think of gradually discovering each other and growing alongside each other? Marriage, as I've heard from more experienced ladies, will be in a large part what we make of it. Even the most perfect match can result in heartbreak and divorce after long years of neglect, insensitivity, and excessive criticism.

"Why are you rushing into marriage?" - one middle-aged man asked me last week, - "My daughter had been together with her ex-husband for nine years before they decided to get married. They have lived together for years. Then after three months they got a divorce. Doesn't it teach you that you should be more careful in your approach?"

I did my best to bite my tongue then, but I thought to myself that it's highly unlikely that the divorce of this man's daughter was caused by not getting to know her husband well enough before marrying him. I might be wrong of course, but my estimation is that this couple's divorce was rooted in the same reasons that prevented them from getting married for nine whole years. The same reasons why so many marriages end in disaster these days: unwillingness to make a commitment, to compromise and give your all to your spouse; lack of willingness to change one's habits and make room for marriage; an unreasonably long list of requirements and seeing marriage as a ready-made, instant gratification product, rather than a lifelong project.

I believe that "arranged marriage" doesn't necessarily have to sound bad. A bit of involvement from more experienced people, when done gently and delicately, can actually work wonders. I think we should be more concerned with how marriages are neglected, often from the beginning. Why is it that young couples invest so much time, money and energy into planning the perfect wedding, but don't devote a moment to the thought that maybe they should study about married life before starting it? There is so much to learn before marriage, and it will be so much more crucial to your happiness in the future than how exactly your guests were seated at the wedding and how many sorts of snacks were served at the reception.


Mrs W said...

I always tell people that I have an arranged marriage...arranged by God! There is NO way my husband or I could have even met without God's intervention. From the time we first knew about each other until our wedding day was seven months. Three months "dating/courtship/whatever" and four months engaged (had to plan an international wedding from another country lol). We believe that dating ought to be to evaluate marriage, and engagement should ONLY be long enough to plan the wedding.

singlemomforgod said...

Sounds so refreshing to hear parallells to the foundation of biblical courtship that I hold firm and embrace......

Sammybunny said...

Very interesting post,Anna!

AnneK said...

I am not sure how many Amens you would get for this, but from me you get a whole hearted Amen. I am from a similar culture, so I totally understand. I didn't have an "arranged" marriage myslef, but I have to say there is nothing wrong with it. All my cousins and most of my friends had arranged marriages and all of them are happy.

It was an excellent post!

Anonymous said...

I agree very much with you! My meeting with my husband was arranged by my family - he was chosen, and I was sent to meet him (with a family member). That meeting resulted in a wedding, 10 months after the date we first met each other. We have been married three years now, and I have never in any other time in my life been so happy. We are thrilled with each other, even though everything is not always perfect.

Bbowzwife said...

All I can say is YAY!!!! You are so right! I have been married to my wonderful husband for 21 years and I knew I would marry him after 4 dates (over almost 3 months). There have been times when I woke up and thought "I'm only with you because I promised God that I would stay forever" but those times were few and they passed. Committment isn't about being IN love every second of every day. It's about being committed TO love every second of every day. You dig your heels in and work it out when it's bad and then you praise God for His faithfulness when 21 years have passed and you can not imagine your life as anyone other than your husbands wife!

Terry said...

You are absolutely right, Anna. It is extremely important that couples enter marriage with the understanding that marriage, like any relationship, requires work, compromise and a good amount of selflessness.

My husband and I married after knowing each other only one year and under far less than ideal circumstances (you've read the story). The one thing that made the difference is that we were determined to stay together. When both parties are resolute in their determination for the marriage to last, it forces you to compromise, grow and learn how to love unselfishly unless you intend to spend the next 50 years in a miserable union.

So I agree with you that couples should use discretion and wisdom, they must also be aware that there is no way you will ever know every single thing about a potential mate before marriage. And isn't that part of what marriage is about anyway? Learning each other and growing together in the relationship?

Alexandra said...

It's a lifetime commitment...arranged marriages take marriage seriously. I think it's an awesome idea. Otherwise finding the right husband or wife is hit or miss.

A huge help for us is a commitment to flexibility, humility, and kindness in the form of compassion. Marriage is a very humbing experience, and also a growth process. It helps you mature and learn diligence, perserverance, and fortitude. I'm a much better person for it.

I'd steer clear of anyone who doesn't have at least have the character traits of kindness and need a lot of this through the years.

I think a match makers have a gift for sniffing out good marraige material. We all should be blessed with such a resource!

Green Eyes said...


All in all, we were quite relaxed about our wedding, which shocked more people than I care to remember. "But it's your special day!! But it's your wedding!! Etc."

Of course it was, special and dear. But they just couldn't grasp that, from the beginning, the *marriage* was of far more importance to us than the *wedding.* So many women (and men, too, it seems) don't think one minute past the honeymoon.

This is exactly what happened with my cousin and his wife. They dated for over a year, and lived together for a while -- although it was just LIVING together, nothing else. They liked each other, sure, but her fantasies were all about the white dress, the table settings, the cake and rings. My cousin was more focused on the honeymoon part, specifically. Less than 2 years later they are going through a divorce, and why? Because they never thought about MARRIAGE, or prepared for it or nurtured it.

Andrea said...


thank you for another interesting and informative post! I agree, "arranged" seems to have taken on the connotation of "micro-managed" -- even in Western culture, much to my dismay, some families still mistakenly believe that young people should have no choice at all in the selection fo a future spouse, and should accept the chosen candidate with smiles and excitement! In that respect I am wholly against arranged marriages, since it speaks not only to the immaturity of the couple (if you are mature enough to be getting married you had better be mature enough to make the choice of the person you will be marrying!) but also to the lack of confidence on the part of the parents in their own parenting skills-- really, if you can't trust your twenty-something son or daughter to make good life choices without your absolute control over the situation, then something, somewhere, has gone wrong!

That said, I think that even as something as innocent as a friend saying "I know somebody I think you'd really hit it off with" that leads to wedding bells could be construed as an arranged marriage, since somebody either than the couple themselves had a hand in things. In that respect I think arranged marriages can be a delight, because mutual friends can often know a couple even better than their parents, and may have insights to certain personality traits to which parents aren't privy. In a similar vein, family members who have known you since birth or even matchmakers (electronic or otherwise!) whose job is the matching of like minds that will work well together . . . all of those can be vehicles for introducing couples suited to one another, while still leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of the people who will be the most permanently affected by it.

In those respects, I agree, an arranged marriage can be and most often is a beautiful thing :)

Karen said...

Well I didn't worry really AT ALL about my wedding lol. We eloped and there were only 5 of us total in the whole wedding party so we went out to eat afterwards. It wasn't my dream wedding but that's how it worked out in real life, and in the end I suppose all that really matters is that we have a loving and committed marriage.

I think your culture's way of doing things sounds like a good idea. Finding the right person or even meeting eligible people is hard and often frustrating. A little nudge from friends and family sound perfectly fine and I'm sure most marriage minded singles would welcome the help!

Apple Cider Mama said...


I agree with so much of what you've said here. Just because I and other contemporary Westerners are not familiar with arranged marriages does not mean that they are "bad" or "foolish" or doomed to failure.

I like what you said here: "But in my opinion, it's OK to discover things about each other after you are married. It's even OK if you don't like each and every thing you find out." This is a key ingredient that I think a lot of people who marry after dating--and even after living together--forget but is very much in the foreground for those in a courtship or arranged marriage situation. EVERY married couple will grow together, change, and find out that there are things they don't like. Maybe your spouse will grow out of things that you originally fell in love with. But, you married them for better or for worse, so it's best to find ways to love the new aspects of them!

One quote that I've always valued about growing together in marriage is: "Perhaps God did not ordain marriage merely to make us happy but rather to make us holy."


Mrs. G said...

I'm not Jewish, so I can't approach it from that perspective, but I do have what would basically be called an arranged marriage today. By that I mean that my mother found a man she thought was suitable for me and arranged our introduction, with the obvious intent of seeing if we were compatible for marriage. We were. :)

I was oblivious to what she was doing until the introductions were already made. By that time, I knew I was interested and I didn't care how it came about. (What can I say; she did a good job!) We were engaged within 3 months. We've been married 6 years, and now have a little daughter.

We both knew our intentions at the start; to see if we were compatible and interested in marriage. Lest anyone doubt, we were also very attracted to each other! :) My mom had tried to arrange similar introdutions with other men and I simply wasn't interested in them. I told her so and it was dropped.

Our "courtship" might have been out of the normal, Western dating style, but we're very happy together.

Anonymous said...

Whether a marriage is arranged or not is irrelevant,I think. The level of commitment of the couple, especially to jointly held religious beliefs, is far more important. Too many brides spend all their time (and money) on a one-day event (their wedding) and no time at all on the marriage and their husband. When the flowers have faded, there is still that lifetime vow of for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Even while our "warm fuzzies" come and go,the promise still stands.
Mrs. McG

Ewokgirl said...

I was always part of the dating culture, and I don't necessarily think it's wrong. There are actions that can make it wrong, but dating in and of itself is not a bad thing, IMO. But, I can honestly say that part of what worked well for me was that I always introduced a guy to my family and friends quickly. Not to freak a guy out or anything, but because I valued the opinions of my family and friends too highly not to have them meet the guy I was seeing.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I were having dinner with several other couples with whom we're close. Somehow the topic came around to marrying someone your parents don't like or approve of. I said something (I don't remember what), and one guy said, "But if your parents didn't like Steven, you'd still have married him, right?" Steven and I looked at each other, and we both said, "Probably not."

Our friends were all floored by that. It was my husband who said, "Her family is really important to her, and I don't think she could be with someone her parents didn't like." I was nodding through the whole thing.

That's an attitude that too many people find shocking today. I can't begin to tell you how many people I know who don't bother introducing their boyfriend or girlfriend to their parents until months into the relationship. The common reason that most have given for that is they don't want people's opinions. While the decision of whom to end up with is ultimately up to the couple in question, I find it foolish not to listen to the thoughts and opinions of those who love and know them best.

Now, if a family is in some way abusive or has some sort of agenda (I have one friend whose mom has never approved of anyone as good enough for her sons, and she has a very strained relationship with her DILs as a result), then their opinions might not be as valuable. But in a healthy family relationship, I can't understand why a couple wouldn't want their families to know the people they're dating.

My husband and I work with the youth at our church, and we're constantly stressing to them to listen to their friends and families when it comes to their boyfriends or girlfriends.

Kelly said...

I have nothing to add. You said ita all and well Anna.

Anonymous said...

Good post Anna. I met my husband when we were young-age 14! We dated through high school, college and then grad school! I was nervous to get married because I have never seen a happy marriage except for my husbands parents. I mean it-everyone in my entire family is divorced. So we finally got married-after knowing each other 10 years. And let me tell you- 7 years later I learn something new about him all the time. People are constantly growing and changing and revealing themselves. When you come from the same background and have the same culture and valued-you already know so much about them that the rest is just a bonus!

I'm so excited for you and I'm hoping to see more pictures and here more wedding details soon!


Anonymous said...

very interesting thoughts on courtship and marriage...

was your marriage arranged by your two families... and if so how long did you date (court)...

you are absolutely right in that many young people go into marriage with the thought that if everything doesn't "feel good the way I like it.. I can always get a divorce".

after you are married and have to wear a head covering... can you change them out as often as you like or do you always have to wear the same type... and can part of your hair show... the samples on your side bar show some ladies with part of their hair showing...
I would like to see pictures of some of the dances that are danced at your wedding...
are you allowed to cut your hair after you are married... or must it always stay long?
you have some very interesting cultural practices...
thank you for answering my questions,

neuropoet3 said...

I think marriages that are "arranged" in this way probably have a lot of good things going for them. I know it "worked" in my life. My husband and I met when he was on a youth mission trip in my area, and it was suggested (without me knowing) that he keep in touch with me (I believe the exact words we something along the line of "you're the one" - and this from my mother and oldest sister!) It's a good thing I didn't know or I would have been mortified - but if they hadn't said anything he probably wouldn't have had the guts to write me after he returned to his side of the country. We kept in touch for a year, saw each other in person probably a total of 4 weeks that year, and then were married a year to the day we met - and now we're coming up on our 12 year anniversary in June. :) I always thought it would be wise to take my mother's advice into account when considering a life long mate - after all she'd known me longer than anyone else, and of all people I knew she wanted me to be happy! :)

neuropoet3 said...

I think marriages that are "arranged" in this way probably have a lot of good things going for them. I know it "worked" in my life. My husband and I met when he was on a youth mission trip in my area, and it was suggested (without me knowing) that he keep in touch with me (I believe the exact words we something along the line of "you're the one" - and this from my mother and oldest sister!) It's a good thing I didn't know or I would have been mortified - but if they hadn't said anything he probably wouldn't have had the guts to write me after he returned to his side of the country. We kept in touch for a year, saw each other in person probably a total of 4 weeks that year, and then were married a year to the day we met - and now we're coming up on our 12 year anniversary in June. :) I always thought it would be wise to take my mother's advice into account when considering a life long mate - after all she'd known me longer than anyone else, and of all people I knew she wanted me to be happy! :)

Mrs. Opper said...

Bravo, Anna. You have captured my thoughts perfectly. In fact, I plan to bookmark this blog entry, and save it for future reference. This is exactly what my husband and I are striving to do for our 3 children, when the time comes for them to marry.

Denise Opper

Coffee Catholic said...

That's exactly how Erlend and I "courted" each other ~ we were 100% marriage minded, discussed our goals for marriage etc. and knew within weeks that we would marry one another! The only reason it took a year to get married was because my mother became terminally ill with cancer plus we had to work out all the paperwork for me to marry and move to Scotland. It has worked out wonderfully and we are very happy!

Mrs. Brigham said...

Well said my friend! In the midst of my dumbest younger days, I told several friends that I would never pursue a relationship with somebody that my parents thought to be of poor character or just plain did not like. This raised a lot of eyebrows and received may protests, but my parents were/are wonderful people, and I knew they were people that I could trust wholeheartedly to be looking out for my wellbeing, and seeing things that I might be missing. Sure, my friends may have been able to notice certain flaws in somebody as well, but it would never be done in the same way or for the same reason as my parents or other older family members.

Anonymous said...

Love the post, Anna!

I think I've said before, my husband knew on "date" number one but he wisely didn't tell me for a while that he was going to marry me. The only reason I 'went out' with him was to figure out if he was husband material. At the end of 3 months he asked to marry me! And my dad said yes!!

What can I say? My dad liked him and thought he was a good match for me. :) My mom did get coldish feet near the wedding - she thought I might be missing out on something by not living by myself for a while. *confused*

In 3 months we will have been married 4 years, and I'm still learning new things. :) I'm a very blessed young woman!


Stephanie said...

Like the first commenter, I also tell people that our marriage was arranged by God... We did not know each other at all, then we had one "date", in which he informed me that he would like to marry me. I prayed about it, and the next day, I said "yes". Then, we were engaged for a month and a half before we married. We are happily married, with 2 kids (aged 5 and 6), and are united in our faith, worldview, and goals. I have said a few times, "Honey, I sure am glad that you are the kind of man God said you were!", since we did not know each other at ALL!

I should add that I am not necessarily endorsing this kind of engagement. You better be sure you are hearing clearly! Because my hubby is a different race (but same faith), I had people ask me at the beginning of our marriage if he had just married me to get his "green card"! I am so glad that he is who I believed he was!

Anonymous said...

I loved your post, as always! Just wondering, how long was it before your husband-to-be asked you to marry him?


Anna S said...

... It was decided in a matter of weeks. :)

Persuaded said...

Being the mama of girls who are at (or are rapidly approaching) marriageable age, arranged marriage sounds very very good these days! I suppose that's not surprising, but what's funny is that my daughter has told me that she secretly wishes arranged marriages were the norm. She has seen firsthand how easily marriages can break up, and how easily a young person can be swept up by emotion into making an unwise choice. I'm so glad she is a sensible girl... I pray she can hang onto her sensible-ness until God brings the right fella into her life:-)

I am so thrilled for you Anna... it is so very heartwarming to see such a sweet girl entering marriage so thoughtfully and prayerfully. Your future is full of promise!!

Rebekah S. said...

Amen, Amen, Amen! I couldn't agree more with this outstanding post, dear Anna!

Keep up the great work!

May the Lord bless you with a peaceful and calming week,

Rebekah S. said...

Well, there's an arranged marriage in the Bible that turned out perfectly! Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24.

I've heard of a study that was taken a few years back that arranged marriages have lower divorce rates than those that were not arranged.

In all actuality, ALL marrages are arranged-by God! :)

My father believes that engagements should be short-just long enough to plan the wedding; long engagements can really pose problems!

Gigi said...

My daughter was betrothed. Many family members were certain that the marriage was arranged, but the decision was theirs and theirs alone. They have a happy marriage, two children, and one due very soon. They did not touch until the wedding, and were always chaperoned.

Will there be a separation of men and women at the marriage ceremony? Is it too personal to ask if your husband to be wears a distinctive outfit? Please forgive my boldness if it is.

When you are married, are you planning on continuing your blog? Besides covering your hair, are there other things that you will discontinue doing? I think it will be very exciting for all of your "firsts" when you are married. I know it was for me.

I think your scarf selections are very nice and flattering.