One of the many fascinating topics when it comes to the relationship between traditional Judaism and modern culture is the Jewish view on marriage and the mitzvah of “being fruitful and multiplying”. We find clear definitions in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer, 1-2) in regards to one’s obligation to marry and [attempt] to have children. All the obligations of husband to wife and vice versa are also clearly defined in Even Haezer (starting with chapter 69). However there is very little written about the psychological aspect of marriage and in particular attraction and love in it. This article will discuss what seemed to have been the traditional approach to marriage based on the way Chazal and later authorities viewed it.
On the one hand we find clear implications that the keeping of the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiply was always the main purpose of marriage and love and human feelings at times had to be ignored. Some of the examples of this are the following halachot:
- When a man lived with his wife for 10 years and did not have children he needs to divorce her. Traditionally the question of how emotionally hard this may be was not raised. Even though Rema (Even Haezer 1) mentions that in our day we don’t enforce this law, he does not imply that it’s proper to remain married to a woman who does not bring children.
- Under certain conditions a woman who does not want to continue living with her husband is denied a “get”. There is an argument in the Rishonim whether a husband of a woman who claims he is repulsive to her, is forced to give her a “get”, and we pasken that he does not have to. Certainly according to all opinions any claim of a woman that she simply no longer loves him, or loves someone else is not valid reason to enforce a “get”. (After Cherem of Rabeinu Gershom a similar law applies to a man, he can’t divorce his wife simply because he does not love her).
- According to Rema a man is permitted to marry a woman for money. Aruch Hashulchan goes further to state that it’s proper for a Talmid Chacham to marry a woman for money so he can learn Torah without being disturbed (see also Tshuvot Vehanhagot 3:390).
- A man who did not marry until he is 20 was enforced to marry (Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer, 1). It seems that if a person was looking for a long time and could not find a woman he would fall in love with, would have to marry a woman he does not particularly love. It’s not clear how this law was ever enforced and of course in our day we don’t enforce it (Rema).
On the other hand we find two sources in the Talmud that seem to imply that both attraction and love are required in a marriage. However after more careful analysis it seems that both sources are requiring far less than what we would expect from marriage today. The first source is in Kidushin 41a: “A man may not betroth a woman before he sees her, lest he [subsequently] see something repulsive in her, and she becomes loathsome to him, whereas the All-Merciful said, love your fellow as yourself”. In practice Rambam (Isurey Biah 21:3) writes that it’s proper to look at the woman when checking whether one will want to marry her and Raavad argues with this. The Shulchan Aruch (21:3) brings the shita of Rambam but in many communities the dictum of the sages was fulfilled simply by meeting right before the wedding (see also Divrey Yatziv Even Haezer 48, Mishne Halachot 9:261-268). In any event the statement of the Gemorah only requires the minimal attraction lest he finds her repulsive later.
The second statement is in Yevamot 62b that praises the one who loves his wife like himself. The Rambam (Ishut 15:19) brings this statement but the Shulchan Aruch does not. The love that’s implied in the context seems to be general taking care of her and treating her well. It does not imply the romantic love usually associated with marriage in modern culture.
The conclusion seems to be that while some mutual respect and minimal attraction is considered important in proper marriage, technically speaking true love does not play a major role in traditional Jewish thought. One is permitted to marry a woman he does not particularly love, and divorce is not administrated simply because of lack of love. Marriage is viewed like other mitzvot that don’t require any special love in order to fulfil them (and in the vein Tzavat HaRivash compares the wife to tefilin).