Should frum men get married at age 18 as per Chazal’s advice (especially since Chazal’s advice was apparently motivated by a desire that men retain their moral purity, which is arguably at greater risk today than it was 2,000 years ago)?
In our era, an 18-year-old is not yet an adult. That is particularly true when the young man is still in yeshiva or college and not working.
If a person gets married before he is fully developed, there is a serious risk that he and his wife will drift apart and have an unhappy marriage, which often leads to divorce. A critical part of marriage is having and bringing up children. That requires economic resources and maturity.
Exposure to immorality is, indeed, a real problem, but if that were the only factor to be considered, 18 in today’s would be too late.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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When pondering this question, I find myself in a quandary. On the one hand, I look at my own children and think an 18-year-old is essentially still a baby. On the other hand, the words of Rav Chisda (Kiddushin 29b) that “marriage at an early age leads to superior spiritual qualities and freedom from sin” ring more true today than ever before.
I would argue that if one is in yeshiva and intends to continue studying in Kollel after marriage, there is no reason to delay marriage and ideally the earlier (18) the better. (Of course, the basic emotional maturity of the individual concerned has to be taken into account as well.)
If, however, one intends to go off to work after marriage, it probably makes sense to remain in learning for a somewhat lengthier period of time – although not delaying marriage much beyond one’s early twenties – so that one can better anchor oneself spiritually (with an obvious commitment to designated Torah study time even after marriage).
People often challenge me about marrying in one’s early twenties (and would go apocalyptic at the suggestion of doing so at age 18). “One needs time to mature more,” they argue. “They’ll grow up with their kids,” I counter. “But they need time to establish themselves financially.” “It is precisely the very challenges of going through the highs and lows of struggle together that will make a couple stronger going forward,” I reply.
Sooner rather than later is definitely the appropriate Jewish way.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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The question assumes that Chazal – implying a broad consensus of generations of sages – advised men to get married at 18. But Chazal did not make this statement! It is attributed to one sage, Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema, about whom we know almost nothing. Aside from his statement in Pirkei Avot [about the stages of man’s life], he is never mentioned in the Mishnah and only several times in the Tosefta.
Warning: whenever something is quoted in the name of “Chazal” or “our Sages,” ask for the actual source. Don’t inflate the importance of a statement beyond its actual author/s.
Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema lived in a radically different time from ours. Men’s life expectancy was much lower than it is today. Men did not have to spend many years in university or other academic/business settings to establish themselves in professions or careers.
If men today were to get married at age 18, they would almost definitely consign themselves and their families to lives of inadequate education, poverty, and/or dependence on charity. Not only would Chazal not want this; I doubt Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema would recommend it were he alive today.
The Rambam offered advice (Hilkhot De’ot 5:11) very different from that of R. Yehuda ben Tema: “The way of intelligent people is first to establish oneself in work that sustains him, and then to purchase a residence, and after that to marry a wife…. But fools begin by marrying a wife, and then purchase a house if they can afford it, and then later in life they seek a trade or live off charity.”
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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As the world we live in has sunken to levels of depravity beyond our wildest imagination, it would seem appropriate to get married as young as possible. However, there is a problem with advocating such a course of action.
If a man got married at 13, it would certainly solve many issues related to temptation, but the odds of such a marriage succeeding are dismally low. In our world, the average 13-year-old is not capable of sustaining a relationship – of giving, caring, and putting his needs second to those of another. So a 13-year-old getting married in our world would be foolish because the marriage is doomed to fail.
The question is: Is an 18-year-old – or even a 20- or 21-year-old – much more likely to succeed?
That being said, the younger a person can get married in today’s times, the better off they are. But the criteria is: Will the marriage succeed? That has to be judged on an individual basis. When a young man reaches the age of 20 or 21, very careful analysis is needed to see if he is mature enough. If he isn’t, the advantage of keeping him away from temptation is far outweighed by the destruction [that will ensue as a result] of being in a failed marriage.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz