Ahavas Sholom – an Historic Landmark and Sacred Space

Newark's Last Remaining Synagogue born of the Great European Migration at the turn of the 20th Century

145 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104
Phone: 973-485-2609 | Email: cahavassholom@optimum.net


Newsletter, November 13, 2020

     Abraham sends his trusted servant (probably Eliezer, but he is not named in this episode) to his relatives in Nahor to find a wife for Isaac.  He finds Rebecca, and with her father’s and her brother’s consent, the servant returns with Rebecca.  An important event in this episode is Rebecca consents:  Bereshit 24:58 says, “And they [Bethuel and Lavan, Rebecca’s father and brother] called Rebecca and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?  And she said, ‘I will.'”

     Around the world, including Orthodox Judaism, marriages are arranged.  (The only instance of an explicitly arranged marriage in Rebecca and Isaac.)  So let’s explore arranged marriages.

     There is a difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages.  Rebecca’s consent to travel with Abraham’s servant places her marriage to Isaac out of the category of forced marriage.  We are going to deal with non-forced, arranged marriages.

     It is estimated that over half of the marriages in the world are arranged.  By “arranged marriage,” we mean that people other than married couple bring them together, by themselves, or by a matchmaker.  Arranged marriages have a famously low divorce rate:  in the United States, the divorce rate is variously 40 to 50 percent, but in India, where 90 percent of marriages are arranged, the divorce is one percent.  There are a lot of reasons for this low divorce rate, but studies have shown arranged-marriages couples show the same satisfaction for their marriage as free-choice couples.  Nevertheless, in certain cultures (among them the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community) divorce brings a stigma.

     In some cultures of the Orthodox community, the parents employ a matchmaker to bring the potential couple together.  They have dates, when they talk to each other or get to know each other.  The man or woman could refuse the potential spouse.

     Robert Epstein, a psychologist, has interviewed many couples in arranged marriages.  He concludes that their love for each other is more intense after 10 years in comparison with the couples who choose their mates.

     A couple of women, Deborah Feldman (who wrote Unorthodox) and Fraidy Reiss (founder of Unchained at Last), criticize the process because, they say, there is big element of coercion.  One British divorce therapist says that Feldman and Reiss are outliers.  When an arranged marriage is done right, there is a lot to be said for it.

     I grew up in a culture that values freedom of choice:  you make your own mistakes.  I can’t criticize or applaud the system of arranged marriages, because it is not my experience.  By the way, the article that quotes Robert Epstein can be found at https://www.algemeiner.com/2012/07/06/study-on-arranged-marriages-reveals-that-orthodox-jews-may-have-it-right/.