Marriage in the Religious Zionist Community, Part I: Dating Readiness

Bride Before WeddingThis is the first in a series.  Also see Part II: Meeting the One, Part III: Genetic Testing, Part IV: Dating Venues, Part V: Shidduch Crisis?VI: Internet Dating, VII: Paying the Shadchan, or Not, VIII: Wedding Costs, IX: Planning Tips

My oldest son is nearly twenty. I’m not encouraging him to get married, but it’s not completely in my hands either.  Friends have told me that when it happens, it can happen quickly.

To help prepare readers whose children are entering the world of shidduchim (matchmaking), I’ve prepared a series of posts to discuss current norms and trends. The series will focus on the dati-leumi (religious Zionist, or modern Orthodox) community in Israel. Even with that limitation, there are many subgroups and I’m sure replies will vary widely.

Each post will contain one or two questions about dating, engagements, weddings, and the period after the wedding. They relate to economic, emotional, societal, and relationship issues.

Marriage in the Religious-Zionist Community

Part I: Dating Readiness

Israeli young adults in the dati-leumi world have several issues specific to them:

  • Premarital relations are forbidden by Jewish law.
  • Birth control is discouraged, especially before there are children.
  • Yeshiva, national service for women, and army service for men mean that higher secular education and, by extension, ability to earn a living, may be delayed by several years.
  • No formal system exists to help young people find partners, as there is in the haredi world.

Here is the first question:

How old was your child (or you) when he or she became interested in dating for marriage (or friendship)? Did you and your child (or parents) have conflict over this issue, and how was it resolved?

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  1. this will be fun. my 19yo son has been talking about marriage lately, in general.

  2. Great post! I’m excited to see what kinds of answers you get.

  3. Ulpanistit says

    I must disagree about birth control. It may be true in some Dati Leumi circles but among my own friends & siblings I know more who waited/are waiting before having kids, for one reason or another, than didn’t..

  4. My daughter is 16–still a little early, although maybe not. (She is in 11th grade, a 12th grader just got engaged). Still, I’m looking forward to this series, because this a huge issue in the states. How do these kids meet (if they haven’t found anyone in Bnei Akiva by the time they graduate from high school)? Who supports them if they get married so young, before they can support themselves? How long do they date for, and how does a parent know her child is making a good choice?

    • Baila, I think 16 is too young. The parents support the young ones and they work a little bit, as far as I can see. And as for a good choice, you and your child need to investigate but in the end, it’s a matter of trusting your instincts.

  5. I’d be interested to know what age seems appropriate for parents and teenagers – views may differ on this – for their children to date, get engaged and marry.
    Even if premarital sex is forbidden it seems it is not the only reason these youngsters should get married.

    • I-D,
      I asked on a forum and here is one of the answers, from Tamiri (who also comments here sometimes):
      “For couples who have been going out since their Bnai Akiva days, obviously married would occur as fast as possible, like age 20-21.
      Those getting married at 18 or 19 are usually not quite the usual DL (dati-leumi), but that happens too. Again, usually when they’ve already been going out for a while.
      Regular DL girls seem to meet Hesder guys and marry at around age 22 or 23 while the guy is 23-25. They may date for a few month, max. Marrying at this “old age” ensures the couple a bit of an income as the girl is likely to have finished at least the majority of her BA and can start work.
      You also have starry eyed girls just out of Sheirut Leumi who are introduced to their bashert and are ready to tie the knot pronto.
      Then you have your carrieristiyot who just can’t find a mate and well… you know the scoop.”
      I’ll just add that it is not just carrieeristiyot (career-minded women) who are having trouble.

  6. My brother-in-law is chardal (charedie leumi) although he might describe himself as dati leumi. Anyway, that should give you a good idea of his religious standing. He has 6 married kids. This is how some of them met:

    His duaghter was introduced to her husband by a friend of the family when she was 18. The friend was a counsler in the local youth movement (Ariel) who sometimes ate shabbat meals at their house .
    The next daughter was introduced to her chatan by a girl friend from highschool. The chatan is a brother-in-law to the friend from highschool.
    The oldest son was never officially introduced to his wife on a date. She went to nursing school with his sister and they got to know each other when the sister brought her home to study.
    The last son to be married was set up by his brother-in-law (sister’s husband). The Kallah did her national service (sherut leumi) at the sister’s yishuv. The sister’s husband thought it might work out so he gave him her number.
    I think the common theme here is being set up by friends and relatives.

  7. Great idea for series!

  8. My elder daughter started dating in sherut leumi. She met her husband via an introduction from a friend. The friend didn’t know our son in law directly but had a mutual friend of his.

    Our elder son started dating in yeshiva, probably around age 22. But he met his wife by literally bumping into her in Gush Katif during the disengagement/expulsion. At least something good came out of it.

    Our #2 son has finished the army and is age 23. He started dating also around age 20 or so, but not seriously. (He is more dati-lite than his brother). He has now had a steady girlfriend for over 2 years. I’m wondering when the big day will arrive, though I’m not pushing them. They still have some growing up to do.

    Our youngest daughter, age 17, has just started dating. Gulp! She met her date on Facebook. I nearly hit the roof and gave her the Big Talk about safety on the ‘net etc. Well, it turns out my husband knows the boy’s father. But I think this is just an experimental stage, nothing serious.

    On the one hand I think she’s too young (12th grade) but then again I was dating at that age too.

    I think as long as the parents know what is going on, and honesty,openness and good communications are CRUCIAL, then one can give the kids some freedom.

  9. Thanks, Annie, for sharing your experience. Looks like you may have them all married off in no time!

  10. I am a BT, my husband FFB (dati leumi i guess). we did things the semi secular way, we meet at university when I was 20, he was 26. We dated long distance for a year and a half (israel to the US) before we could figure things out and got married at 22 and 28 respectively. he had been in the “dating pool” before we met, but “dropped out” because he decided he just wanted to finish university… i had never even got in (in any religious group at least). my husbands mother was convinced he would never get married (late 20s being SOOOO old), and my parents were unhappy that I got married so young (not religious, and that had dated 7 years before getting married, we got engaged after a year)

    my torah study partner (charedi) started dating at 18, was introduced to her husband through a matchmaker at 22. they dated, broke up, dated again after she turned 23 and got married two months later. he is 22 i believe.

    sometimes i think its half just luck. being in the right place at the right time and having someone (friend/relative/matchmaker) pay attention.

  11. re your fourm,
    It seems that girls in settlements tend to get married (if they meet the right person), nearer 20,.
    the deeper into the territories , the younger the age (check out ulpenato maaley levona where girls come to the matriculation exams with scarves on their heads)

    re age of marriage, interesting attitudes of Hesder Teshiva Rabbis, Rabbi Levanon of elon More does not permit students to marry before their 4th year (appros age 22!)
    While Rabbi Shapira of Ramat Gan yeshiv encourages boys to marry at a younger age!

    (article about this in kommemiut supplement of Besheva newspaper this weekend!) check it out

  12. My girls are both under five so we have a long time. I got married when I was 24, but I started getting interested in dating for marriage when I was in undergrad, in a college with a very strong orthodox population. For many of us yeshiva kids it was our first experience in a mixed environment 24/7 and the sexual tension was significant. That meant that lots of people got married shortly after softmore year. It also meant a lot of confusion, broken hearts, and people who never really actually went out, but just spent a lot of time in eachothers dorm rooms. Now living in Israel I see that there isn’t any kind of equivalent situation here since the ‘college life’ here is vastly different. In a college in America there are plenty of Hillel events for just meeting people normally beyond just the day to day life of minyan (several women including myself were zocheh to daven 3x a day), kosher dining, classes, the beit midrash in Hillel etc. Although in many ways it wasn’t ideal (the tension) on the other hand it let you be exposed to people in real life (not the artificial world of dating). It was very common for dating couples in college to plan shabbat meals together. They would also often date for a long time which was very difficult in terms of shomer negia.

    Anyways I didn’t meet my beshert in college (although my heart was broken and I’m afraid I broke a few) but it left me with the feeling that ALL of my friends were married by the time I was 22 and I was OLD and single. Partly due to that feeling in college I entered the shidduch scene while there via a cousin in YU and dated a few YU guys. Then I made aliya feeling morose. I lived in Katamon for a year in an apartment with two women (one a year older and one two years older) in a building with several women in their late twenties. I didn’t notice their ages and I still felt old. I was 23 when I made aliya.

  13. How old? I think it has a lot to do with army and study. A daughter who didn’t want to marry someone before or during (his) army period ended up marrying ‘late'(26). Men who study in a kollel (even in Hesder there is such a thing) get a stipend and if they can live frugally it can keep a couple going (depending where they live and what the wife does). Two of my sons studied several years while married and they and their wives worked and studied. I am proud to say that they managed very well with little or no help from us. I know it wasn’t easy but if everyone understands what they are getting into it can be done. I think it has a lot to do with expectations.

    Another aspect is how much we, as parents, were involved with these decisions. Minimally would best describe it. At first I really didn’t like it. I thought I should at least get to say hello to the person before being told that they were engaged to my child. With my first couple it didn’t happen that way. This was partly because of circumstances but also because of advice from that these things should be kept quiet. I said it would be nice to speak to this potential spouse of yours over a cup of coffee sometime before the day of the announcement. The reply was ‘and what if it doesn’t work out’. My protests that I have had coffee with innumerable people who did not marry any of my children and both no one was harmed was met with a dismissive ‘oh eema’.
    My younger children took this message to heart and I did meet the rest of my children-in-law at least once before the day I met their parents. Whew, some battles are hard won.

    • Risa, it’s encouraging that some of these couples who marry young manage with little help. I wonder,though, how it affects things in the long run. At least they will be experienced in managing without. I like how you handled the situation with your younger children. My friend was telling me that she encourages her children to meet the family before getting engaged, to gauge the family dynamics. You are marrying into a family, not just to one person, especially here in Israel.

  14. Sorry, i’m late to this thread, but i had to chime in about meeting the parents before getting engaged. I actually would not get “officially” engaged before my parents met my future husband. We met here through a shadchan and we officially got engaged the night my parents flew in to meet him. But it was very important to me not to take this big step before my parents at least met him.

    • Abbi, I certainly expect my kids to do the same. My friend told me that she encourages her kids to spend time with the boy/girlfriend’s family before getting too serious.