Why do Orthodox Jews tend to marry at a younger age?
We’re going to be able to keep this one short and sweet because it’s pretty straightforward for a change.
The reason Orthodox Jews tend to marry at a younger age is because they’re normal.
Jewish law doesn’t permit premarital sex. Or heavy petting. Or light petting. Or making out. Or holding hands. In short, any form of affectionate contact that might be considered a romantic overture is prohibited by Leviticus 18:6, “A person shall not draw near to any prohibited relationship….” In halachic literature, this is known as kiruv basar (nearness of flesh) but colloquially, people call it negiah (touching).
This prohibition only applies to affectionate contact, which is called derech chibah (in an affectionate manner). An example of permitted, non-affectionate contact is when a dentist or a dental hygienist of the opposite gender sticks their fingers in your mouth. That’s not a particularly intimate moment for most people. Handshakes are often seen as a gray area, which some people consider affectionate and others don’t. (I’d say that most authorities do consider handshakes to include an aspect of affection. See more here.)
So why do Orthodox Jews tend to marry at a younger age? Because, despite what TV shows may try to tell you, Orthodox Jews have normal romantic feelings and sex drives. And, if they’re following the rules, they’re not feeding those urges unless they get married.
That’s not the only reason to get married, of course. The main reason is hopefully to have a family and to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel (a faithful house in Israel) but the sex drive thing certainly contributes.
The mishna in Avos (5:21) says that one should marry at 18 and the Gemara in Kiddushin (29b) says that if one hasn’t married by 20, God “lets his bones rot.” While these ages may be taken more or less literally by some communities – Hasidic communities, for example, tending to marry much younger – most Orthodox communities don’t view these as halachic parameters. So while Orthodox Jews do tend to marry younger, most of them don’t marry quite that young. (A 2013 Pew Research Center study showed that 75% of “Haredi” Jews were married by age 24, as opposed to 48% of modern Orthodox Jews.)
“And that’s all I have to say about that.” – Forrest Gump
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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