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


Simon Says, October 29, 2021

This Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, begins with the death of Sarah and it almost ends with Rebecca’s taking her place.  But how did Isaac get a wife?

Abraham tells Eliezer (? who is not named in the Torah portion) not to get a wife for Isaac among the Canaanites, but to go to the land of Abraham’s birth (moladti) to choose a wife for Isaac.  (The medieval commentators interpret “the land of Abraham’s birth” not to refer to Ur, but Haran, because Abraham had relatives there, including Rebecca, whose existence Rashi infers was known to Abraham.)

Abarbanel (a 15th-century commentator) poses a question:  Why did Abraham not tell Isaac, who was a 40-year-old man,  not to choose a wife among the Canaanites (as later Isaac told Jacob.  Ch.28:1), but instead treat him as a child, by telling Eliezer?  A Canaanite wife was good enough for Abraham after Sarah died (there was a debate among the medieval commentators about the lineage of Keturah; was she a Canaanite or not?), but a Canaanite wife was not good enough for Isaac (and, indeed, Jacob).

Some of the personalities in the Torah reflect ordinary people whom we know.  There are strong men and women, stubborn men and women, gracious men and women, wise men and women, and stupid men and women.  A strong case can be made that Isaac is an example of a slow-witted man, who could not be trusted to choose a wife who would carry on the Abrahamic tradition.  But Rebecca was a strong woman who could carry on the Abrahamic tradition (witness the deception of Isaac, engineered by Rebecca). Isaac’s warning to Jacob, not to marry a Canaanite woman, came after Rebecca complained about Esau’s marrying a Canaanite (a Hittite) woman.  The verses follow one another.

Nowadays, with some exceptions, we in Western countries choose our mates.  In some Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, some Indian communities, some Muslim communities, some Mormon communities, and some Sikh communities, arranged marriages are common.  There is an organization, Unchained at Last, dedicated to the abolishment of arranged marriages. 

Unchained at Last makes a distinction between arranged marriages and forced marriages, but Unchained at Last says that the line between arranged marriages and forced marriages can be blurred.  It is all about consent, and Unchained at Last does not make a distinction between the male and female partners.

Tevye asked Goldie, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Do you love me?”  Goldie answered after a moment’s pause (a lot of moments’ pauses), “I suppose I do.”  Arranged marriages can bring love to the relationship, but arranged marriages can bring heartache to the relationship.