Rav Avigdor Miller on Pushing Off Marriage

If the Gemara says that a boy should get married at eighteen why is that the rabbis today allow bochurim to push off marriage until they’re twenty-three?
The chachomim say בן שמונה עשרה לחופה – An eighteen year old should be brought to the chuppah (Avos 5:21). Eighteen years is perfect.

However, there’s an amendment. And I’ll tell you what my rebbe zichrono livracha said. He said, the gemara states – you know in the olden times, some fathers used to marry off their daughters when they were ketanos, when they were very little. So the gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says it’s not right. אסור לאדם שיקדש את בתו עד שתגדיל ותאמר בפלוני אני רוצה – a man shouldn’t marry off his daughter until she grows up and she’s able to say that she’s willing to marry this-and-this man.

But Rabbeinu Tam said that nowadays we cannot avoid it. He was in medieval Europe and he said that nowadays we can’t wait. We’re in exile and no man knows today where he’ll be tomorrow. So we have to marry off our daughters and find security for them as soon as possible.

So my rebbe said, “We see from this,” he said, “We see from this that even though there are rules about marrying, but there are other considerations sometimes that supersede these rules. If the times require that for the sake of your daughter’s security you should marry her off quickly because tomorrow there might be an expulsion and what will you do? So you marry her off now as soon as possible.”

So therefore, even though בן שמונה עשרה לחופה, that was in the good old days when after you married you became a blacksmith or a farmer or a tailor. You worked only a few hours a day. You know, the Rambam gives an example how a man should divide his time for learning. So the Rambam says, “For instance,” he says, “If a man works three hours, so…” That’s how they used to divide up their time, three hours of work and then you go to the beis medrash.

Even the Chayei Adam who lived not so long ago, in the preface to his sefer he says that he wrote the Chayei Adam for busy people, working people, who only have three hours a day for learning. You hear that? The Chayei Adam says, “Working people who only have three hours a day for learning, they can’t know halachos in depth.” That’s why he made his sefer.

So in the olden days, you didn’t work too much. Even when I was in Europe, most of the people were unemployed. The Lithuanian government once made a census to see how many unemployed Lithuanians there were. In all of Lithuania, they found three unemployed. Because all the people were chronically unemployed; just that there were three people who had real jobs but they had recently lost their jobs, so they were called unemployed. Everyone else was just not working. Nobody was employed in those countries. They worked a little bit. The farmers have seasons.

Now, in the olden days when most of your day was spent in learning Torah anyhow, so if you married at the age of eighteen the only difference was that now you had a wife; but you continued like before. You kept on going to the beis hamedrash. There were no yeshivas. They went to the beis hamedrash in an unorganized way before they were married. And after they were married, they continued going to the beis medrash. After the seven days of the chuppah were over, they went back to the beis hamedrash. And therefore, marriage didn’t interfere with your learning.

But my rebbe said, “But nowadays that Torah is not the national pastime and once you’re married it becomes a problem of making parnasa, so therefore you’re permitted to wait a little bit.”

Of course if a smart girl comes along and she’s able to finance a young man, then eighteen is the ideal age. Of course there has to be enough money to make up for those years from eighteen to twenty-three. If she has enough to support you, so she gets a share, she’s a full partner in your Torah learning, and you’re married and you’re learning. Of course, that’s the best solution.

TAPE # 52 (March 1975)

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  1. In 1975, it was still possible to support a family, pay full tuition, buy a home, and marry off your children on the salary of a husband.

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