Love

Kiddushin 7a ~ Does Marriage Make You Happier?

קידושין ז, א

אמר ריש לקיש: טב למיתב טן דו מלמיתב ארמלו

Resh Lakish said: It is better for a woman to live as tad du than to live alone...

In a 1975 lecture to the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi J.B. ("the Rav") Soloveitchik,  quoted the aphorism of Resh Lakish found in today's page of Talmud.  The Rav went on to explain that it was "based not upon sociological factors...[but] is a metaphysical curse rooted in the feminine personality. This is not a psychological fact; it is an existential fact." Wow.  Is this statement of Resh Lakish really an existential fact? To answer this, we need to first answer another question - what do his words actually mean?

One way to understand the aphorism is as follows:  "A widow would rather live in misery than live alone." But that's not the only translation, which depends on the exact meaning of the Aramaic phrase טן דו (tan du).  There are a number of possibilities.

Rashi

Let's start with Rashi and his explanation to our text:

בגופים שנים בעל ואשתו ואפילו אינו לה אלא לצוות בעלמא

Tan Du: Two bodies. A husband and wife; even if he is nothing more to her than company.

This explanation of Rashi's does not suggest that married misery is preferred over a single life. This is a slightly different explanation that Rashi gave in when we met this phrase in Yevamot.

טן דו - גוף שנים. משל הדיוט הוא, שהנשים אומרות טוב לשבת עם גוף שנים משבת אלמנה

Tan Du: Two bodies. This is a common maxim, for women say that it is better to live as two than to live alone.

So according to Rashi in both Yevamot and here in Kiddushin, Resh Lakish never addresses living in misery. He just made the observation that women prefer marriage over a single life.

JASTROW'S DICTIONARY

Not so Marcus Jastrow, whose dictionary (published 1886-1903) became a classic reference text for students of the Talmud. Jastrow translated טן דו as a load of grief, an unhappy married life. This will become very important later, so make note. 

THE SONCINO TRANSLATION

Moving on, the Soncino translation of Kiddushin (first published in 1966) echoes Jastrow's translation: "It is better to carry on living with trouble than to dwell in widowhood".  This is similar to the Soncino translation of the same phrase when found in Yevamot 118: "It is preferable to live in grief than to dwell in widowhood." However, a footnote to the text in Yevamot notes that "Levy compares it with the Pers., tandu, two persons." (The reference here is to Jacob Levy's  German Dictionary Chaldisches Worterbuch uber die Targumim - Aramic Dictionary of the Targums and a Large Part of Rabbinic Literature.) Why did Isidore Epstein, editor of the Soncino Talmud, choose to use Jastrow's translation over that of Levy - and that of Rashi? Answering that will take us too far off track, so we will leave it for another time... 

MELAMED'S ARAMAIC-HEBREW-ENGLISH DICTIONARY

Melamed's Aramaic-Hebrew-English Dictionary (Feldheim: Jerusalem 2005) follows Rashi : "טן דו = two bodies." 

THE ARTSCROLL TRANSLATION

The ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud basis its translation on Rashi: "It is better to live as two together than to live alone." However a footnote (note 18) brings its meaning closer to that of Jastrow and the Soncino: "I.e it is better to be married  - even to a husband of mediocre stature - than to remain single." 

THE KOREN STEINSALTZ TRANSLATION

In his Hebrew translation of the Aramaic text found in Yevamot 118, Rabbi Steinsaltz follows Rashi, and translates  טן דו as "two bodies." A side note points out that the true origin of the phrase is not known, though it likely comes from Persian.

The newer English Koren Talmud follows the same translation: "It is better to sit as two bodies, ie., to be married, than to sit alone like as a widow. A woman prefers the any type of husband to being alone."  Elsewhere in the Koren series, (Yevamot 118a) there is a note, (written by Dr. Shai Secunda), which is more definitive than the Hebrew note. Tan Du is from middle Persian, meaning together.  It's nothing to do with being miserable.

TESHUVOT HAGE'ONIM

I've left perhaps the strongest textual witness for last: how the words Tan Du were understood during the period of the Geonim (c. 589-1038). In 1887 Avraham Harkavy published a collection of responsa from this period that he found in manuscripts held in the great library of St. Petersburg. In this collection is a reference to our mysterious words:

  טן דו בלשון פרסי שני בני אדם. ארמלו יחידות 

טן דו in Persian means two people. ארמלו means alone.

Chronologically, this is our earliest source, and, therefore, perhaps our most compelling. Case closed.

VARIATIONS OF THE RESH LAKISH RULE

So far we have the following four versions of what we will now call the Resh Lakish Rule:

It's better for a woman to be...

  • ....married and unhappy than single  (Jastrow)
  • ...in a less desirable or mediocre marriage than no marriage at all (ArtScroll footnote).
  • ...miserable and married than to be a widow (Soncino).
  • ...with a husband than to be alone (ArtScroll, Koren, Melamed, Rashi, Teshuvot Hage'onim)

WHAT IF TAN DU MEANS MISERABLE?

It seems that the translation of  טן דו as miserable originated with Jastrow, and that those who translate Resh Lakish as saying "misery is better than being single" are following in the Jastrow tradition. If we were to evaluate the Resh Lakish Rule per Jastrow (and Soncino and an ArtScroll footnote), the question is, what, precisely, constitutes  a "miserable marriage"? One in which the woman feels physically safe but emotionally alone? One in which her husband loves her dearly but is  unable to provide for her financially? Or one in which she has all the money she needs but her husband is an alcoholic? Tolstoy has taught us that each unhappy family (and presumably each miserable marriage) is unhappy in its own unique way. The point here is not to rank which is worse. 

[In the 1950s, a] bad marriage was usually a better option for a woman, especially if she had a child, than no marriage at all.
— Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, A History.Viking 2005. p288

Today it would be utterly silly (and incredibly rude and insulting) to suggest that a woman is better off miserable than single.  But after our review, that does not appear to be what Resh Lakish ever said.  What he really said was this: a woman would be better off (טב) married than living alone (as a widow). Resh Lakish didn't explain what he meant by better off, so we will have to assume that what he meant was a measure of overall well-being, or what we call... happiness. What we want to know, is how this understanding of Resh Lakish stands up today. Was the Rav correct when he called this "an existential fact"?

MEASURING HAPPINESS & HAPPINESS INEQUALITY

Happiness inequality exists and has been well documented. University of Pennsylvania economists Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, (who live together, but not within the bonds of marriage), note that

“...the rich are typically happier than the poor; the educated are happier than those with less education; whites are happier than blacks; those who are married are happier than those who are not; and women—at least historically—have been happier than men.”

But why is this so? Don't we all oscillate around a set point of happiness, regardless of what life may throw at us? Some psychologists think so.

LOTTERY WINNERS & ACCIDENT VICTIMS: THE SET POINT THEORY OF HAPPINESS

According to the set point theory of happiness, we all revolve around our own, innate happiness point. When we are faced with adversity, we do, to be sure, become sadder. But we eventually bounce back to where we were before, back at our set point. Similarly, when met with some good mazal, we are, for a period, more happy. But then we return to our innate set point for happiness, wherever that was prior to the good fortune. The evidence for this comes from a classic study which found that "lottery winners were not much happier than controls" and that accident victims who were paralyzed "did not appear nearly as unhappy as might have been expected." (The problem is that this study used a tiny sample - there were only 22 lottery winners and 29 paralyzed accident victims - so we need to be very cautious in generalizing from it.) 

Married people are – on average – happier than those who are single, but perhaps this fact does not suggest causation. Some would argue that it's just a correlation. A grumpy person, unable to hold down a job and miserable to be around, is not likely to find another individual willing to marry him. So it’s not that marriage makes you happier –it’s that happier people are more likely to find a partner and get married. According to this set point theory of happiness, the Resh Lakish Rule would not be supported, since the act of marrying would have no overall long-term effect on happiness.

THE MORE IS BETTER THEORY OF HAPPINESS

However, evidence from a 15 year longitudinal study of 24,000 people suggests that "marital transitions can be associated with long-lasting changes in satisfaction."  This would support the claim that marriage is causally related to happiness. It's not that you went from being a happy person who was once single to being a similarly happy person who is now married. What actually happened was that the marriage had an effect on just how happy you became.  And data from other large cohort studies show that happiness increases when people marry. Just look at the happiness of women by marital status in the figure below. Was Resh Lakish onto something?

Mean happiness of women by marital status, birth cohort of 1953-1972, from ages 18-19 and 28-29. From Easterlin, RA.  Explaining Happiness .   Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences   2003. 100 (19): 11176-11183.

Mean happiness of women by marital status, birth cohort of 1953-1972, from ages 18-19 and 28-29. From Easterlin, RA. Explaining HappinessProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2003. 100 (19): 11176-11183.

All this supports the Resh Lakish Rule that people are happier when they are married. (I say people because all the evidence applies equally to men too.) But we can get even more specific, because Resh Lakish used the word ארמלא, which most likely means widowed (and hence has a secondary meaning of being alone). There is actually data that applies to this more specific Resh Lakish claim about widows, and it comes from The Roper Center at the University of Connecticut. 

From    Economics and Happiness   , ed Bruni L. Oxford University Press 2005.

From Economics and Happiness, ed Bruni L. Oxford University Press 2005.

As shown in the table, 62% of women who are widowed want to be happily married.  (Of course this also means that about 40% of widowed women would rather not be married -  even happily. That’s a huge proportion. Still, the overall finding still supports the Resh Lakish Rule.) The women's perspective is the most important perspective in this conversation, and when women (widows) were asked, most wanted to be married again. Widows indeed wish to live as two rather than live alone. I don't think this amounts to anything like an existential fact, as claimed by the Rav. But the evidence from the social sciences would certainly support the Resh Lakish Rule.

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The Changing Institution of Marriage

Today the Daf Yomi cycle embarks on a study of the laws of marriage, as it begins the first page of Kiddushin.  As we have noted before, marriage in talmudic times had very little to do with love. And by very little I mean nothing. Within the tractate of Kiddushin, love, (or one of its conjugates) appears twenty-four times. Yet in only one instance is it in the context of spousal love - (and that is a quote from משלי 9:9). This was not a result of talmudic law, but rather a reflection of the institution of marriage across all cultures for about five thousand years.

A (REALLY BRIEF) HISTORY OF THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE

The historian Stephanie Coontz noted that for most of history, marriage was not primarily about individual needs. Instead it was about "getting good in-laws and increasing ones's family labor force."  In ancient Roman society "something akin to marriage was essential for the survival of any commoner who was not a slave...A woman needed a man to do the plowing.  A man needed a woman to spin wool or flax, preserve food, weave blankets and grind grain, a hugely labor-intensive task." Marriage was essential to survive. So it comes as no surprise that historically, love in marriage was seen as a bonus, not as a necessity. In many societies (including that described in the Talmud), a woman's body was the property first of their fathers, and then of their husbands. A woman had to follow, as Confucious put it, the rule of three obediences: "while at home she obeys her father, after marriage she obeys her husband, after he dies she obeys her son." 

This pattern existed for centuries. Here's a rather graphic, but certainly not isolated example.  In the 1440s in England, Elizabeth Paston, the twenty-year old daughter of minor gentry, was told by her parents that she was to marry a man thirty years her senior. Oh, and he was disfigured by smallpox.  When she refused, she was beaten "once in the week, or twice and her head broken in two or three places." This persuasive technique worked, and reflected a theme in Great Britain, where Lord Chief Baron Matthew Hale declared in 1662 that "by the law of God, of nature or of reason and by the Common Law, the will of the wife is subject to the will of the husband." Things weren't any better in the New Colonies, as Ann Little points out (in a gloriously titled article "Shee would Bump his Mouldy Britch; Authority, Masculinity and the Harried Husbands of New Haven Colony 1638-1670.) The governor of the New Haven Colony was  found guilty of "not pressing ye rule upon his wife." 

It is with this historical perspective that the attitudes of the rabbis in Kiddushin (and in the Talmud in general) should be judged.  Marriage was an economic arrangement, and so it required economic regulation.  Here's just one example we have previously noted (and there are dozens): the Mishnah in Ketubot  ruled that a widow may sell her late husband's property in order to collect the money owed to her in the ketubah without obtaining the permission of the court.  This leniency was enacted, (according to Ulla) "משום חינה" - so that women will view men more favorably when they understand that the ketubah payment does not require the trouble of going to court. Consequently (and as Rashi explains) women will be more inclined to marry. Which leaves the reader to wonder just for whom this law was really enacted. 

...the older system of marrying for political and economic advantage remained the norm until the eigthteenth century, five thousand years after we first encountered it in the early kingdoms and empires of the Middle East.
— Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, a History. New York, Viking 2005. 123.

The Changing Face of Marriage

According to the US Census Bureau, married couples made up 70% of all households in the US in 1970. In 2012 they accounted for less than 50%. As the prevalence of married couple declined, that of cohabiting (ie. non-married couples) has increased. A CDC survey found that 48% of women interviewed in 2006-2010 cohabited as a first union, compared in only 34% in 1995. Of those who cohabit, about half of the unions result in marriage, and a third dissolve within five years.  

Current marital and cohabiting status among women under 44 years of age, United States: 1982, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010. From Copen C. et al.  First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.  National Health Statistics  Report 49. March 2012.

Current marital and cohabiting status among women under 44 years of age, United States: 1982, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010. From Copen C. et al.  First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Report 49. March 2012.

Not surprisingly, cohabiting partners are also increasing likely to be the site for childrearing.  In 2002 about 15% of children were born to cohabiting parents; by 2011 this had risen to over 25%. In January, a review in The Economist noted that the rate of children born to unmarried parents ("out of wedlock") averages 39% in western countries - a five-fold increase since 1970. 

Policymakers wish they could change the trend. Unmarried parents are more likely to split up. Their children learn less in school and are more likely to be unhealthy or behave badly. It is hard to say how much of this difference is due to marriage itself, however, because unmarried parents differ a great deal from married ones. They are poorer, less well-educated and more likely to be teenagers, for example. (The Economist, Love and Marriage, Jan 14, 2016)
From The Ecomonist, based on OECD data.

From The Ecomonist, based on OECD data.

The discussion of marriage in the Talmud revolves around its contractual arrangements. But for most Jews today, the concept of marriage revolves around love. Economics have nothing to do with it. Western society has changed its beliefs about the nature of marriage, and so have we.  Still not convinced? Then answer this. Did your parents marry for love or money? If you are married - did you marry for love or for economic advancement (and how did that work out)? If you are not married, but want to be, what is driving you? The search for the love of your life, or the search for physical security? And if you have children - or grandchildren, would you want them to marry because they loved their significant other, or because it would be a good way to unite two families and insure financial stability? If your answers were like mine, they were closer to contemporary secular values about marriage than they were to the models of marriages described in the Talmud. And that's probably a very good thing.

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What's Love Got To Do With It?

On Monday, coinciding with the celebration of Shavuot (outside of Israel), we will end our study of Ketuvot. This tractate addresses, in the words of the Koren Talmud, "matters that constitute the relationship between husband and wife: Conjugal relations, mutual obligations, and monetary arrangements between them. In a general sense it addresses the entirety of marital life."   Except it doesn't. There's one rather important part of marital life that is not addressed at all. Love.  So as we turn the last pages of Ketuvot, now is a good time to ask: what happened to that crazy little thing called love

Love in Ketuvot

How often does the word "love" appear in Ketuvot, a tractate about the obligations of a husband towards his wife (and some of her obligations too)?  For those who've learned it as part of Daf Yomi, how often did you come across the word? For those who have not learned it, how often would you guess it appears in a talmudic volume of 112 pages? And you can't count the name of רב אדא בר אהבה - (though his name appears thirteen times).

I counted (sort of) and the answer is....six. Just six. (And don't look to מסכת קידושין for help. Love, or one of its conjugates appears there twenty-four times. Only one was in the context of spousal love - and that was a quote from משלי 9:9.) Here then, are the appearances of "love" in מסכת כתובות:

1-2.  Two of them are a quote from the ברכות  recited at the wedding.

(שמח תשמח ריעים האהובים and דיצה חדוה אהבה ואחוה)

3. One is used in conjunction with the choice of the method of judicial execution 

(דף מ: ואהבת לרעך כמוך ברור לו מיתה יפה)

4. One is used to claim that women prefer jewelry to wine 

דף סח: אלכה אחרי מאהבי נותני לחמי ומימי צמרי ופשתי שמני ושקויי! דברים שהאשה משתוקקת עליהן, ומאי נינהו? תכשיטין

5.  One is a quote from  משלי א, to claim that the study of Torah protects the scholar against a weird parasitic disease. 

(דף עז: "אילת אהבים ויעלת חן" - אם חן מעלה על לומדיה, אגוני לא מגנא)

6. The final mention of love is a quote from the Torah (דברים ל)  to prove that marrying your daughter to a תלמיד חכם (or going into business with such a person) is a sign of loving God.

דף קיא: לאהבה את ה' אלהיך ולדבקה בו ... כל המשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם, והעושה פרקמטיא לתלמידי חכמים, והמהנה תלמידי חכמים מנכסיו, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו מדבק בשכינה

So all in all, love is kinda absent. But should we be surprised by this?

A (Really Brief) History of the Institution of Marriage

As the historian Stephanie Coontz points out in her fascinating book, for most of history, marriage was not primarily about individual needs. Instead it was about "getting good in-laws and increasing ones's family labor force."  In ancient Roman society "something akin to marriage was essential for the survival of any commoner who was not a slave...A woman needed a man to do the plowing.  A man needed a woman to spin wool or flax, preserve food, weave blankets and grind grain, a hugely labor-intensive task." Marriage was essential to survive. So it comes as no surprise that historically, love in marriage was seen as a bonus, not as a necessity. In many societies (including that described in the Talmud), a woman's body was the property first of their fathers, and then of their husbands. A woman had to follow, as Confucious put it, the rule of three obediences: "while at home she obeys her father, after marriage she obeys her husband, after he dies she obeys her son."  

This pattern existed for centuries. Here's a rather graphic, but certainly not isolated example.  In the 1440s in England, Elizabeth Paston, the twenty-year old daughter of minor gentry, was told by her parents that she was to marry a man thirty years her senior. Oh, and he was disfigured by smallpox.  When she refused, she was beaten "once in the week, or twice and her head broken in two or three places." This persuasive technique worked, and reflected a theme in Great Britain, where Lord Chief Baron Matthew Hale  declared in 1662 that "by the law of God, of nature or of reason and by the Common Law, the will of the wife is subject to the will of the husband." Things weren't any better in the New Colonies, as Ann Little points out (in a gloriously titled article "Shee would Bump his Mouldy Britch; Authority, Masculinity and the Harried Husbands of New Haven Colony 1638-1670.) The governor of the New Haven Colony was  found guilty of "not pressing ye rule upon his wife." 

Marriage was not fundamentally about love. It was too vital an economic and political institution to be entered into solely on the basis of something as irrational as love.
— Stephanie Coontz 2005. Marriage, a History, p7.

Coontz concludes that marriage for political and economic advantage was the norm for some five thousand years, and only started to change in the eighteenth century. And throughout, the husband was the owner of his wife. Love had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative.
— Alain de Botton. Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. The New York Times, May 29, 2015.

It is with this historical perspective that the attitudes of the rabbis in Ketuvot (and in the Talmud in general) should be judged.  Marriage was an economic arrangement, and so it required economic regulation.  For example (and there are dozens,) the Mishnah ruled that a widow may sell her late husband's property in order to collect the money owed to her in the ketuvah without obtaining the permission of the court.  This leniency was enacted, (according to Ulla) "משום חינה" - so that women will view men more favorably when they understand that the ketuvah payment does not require the trouble of going to court. Consequently (and as Rashi explains) women will be more inclined to marry. Which leaves the reader to wonder just for whom this law was really enacted. 

Jews and Asians in their home cultures used arranged marriages, in which overt economic bargaining and kinship networks beyond the marrying pair played acknowledged parts....Chinese and Japanese parents regularly took the decisive part in arranging marriages for their children...often well in advance of the marriage date. These traditions did not ignore considerations of affection and sexual satisfaction, but considered them alongside economic and family stability.
— Nancy Cott. Public Vows. A History of Marriage and the Nation. Harvard University Press 2008. 149-150.
אבל אם נושא אשה כשירה לשם ממון שאלמלא ממונה היה נושא אחרת אין בזה עון ואדרבא ראוי לעשות כן אם הוא ת”ח דעי”ז לא יצטרך להיות טרוד הרבה בענייני העולם וכן נוהגין אנשים ישרים ליקח ת”ח לבתו וליתן לה ממון הרבה ולהחזיקו על שולחנו כמה שנים שישב וילמוד ואין לך מצוה רבה מזה ובשכר זה מצליחים בעסקיהם
— ערוך השולחן אבן העזר סימן ב

LOVE, ACTUALLY

It is also with this historical background that the exceptions should be noted. Like the earliest record of love as a reason to marry, found in Bereshit 29:18. "ויאהב יעקב את רחל" - "Jacob loved Rachel" and for this reason he agreed to work in Laban's house for seven years, which "seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her."  

And then there's this odd exception, found where you'd least expect it - in Rashi's discussion on Ketuvot 86b. There, the Talmud is discussing when a husband can make his wife - who is acting as his business manager  - swear that she has not taken anything of his.  The Talmud puts limits on a husband's suspisions that his wife is embezzling him, and she may claim: כיון דקדייקת בתראי כולי האי, לא מצינא דאדור בהדך – "since you are checking up on me to this degree, I can no longer live with you." This seems to be a fair: when one business partner has an unreasonable degree of suspicion about another, the partnership should be ended. But Rashi's explanation of this phrase adds in the aspect of love - or rather, a lack of it:

וקא דייקת בתראי - אינך אוהב ומאמין אותי ולא מצינא דאידור בהדך

Since you are checking up on me: [She claims that] you don't love or believe me - so I can no longer live with you. 

Rashi's explanation suggests (at least as far as he understood marriage), love was, if not essential, then certainly highly desirable.  Without a wife feeling loved and trusted, the marriage is in deep trouble.  

Today of course, most of us believe that love is the only reason to marry. Economics should have nothing to do with it. And although this is a thoroughly modern (and western) idea, if you look carefully, soft echoes of it can be heard in our tradition. Although love has almost nothing to do with marriage in Ketuvot, it is in fact mentioned near the start of the tractate. There, we learn that seven blessings - שבע ברכות – are said for a week after the wedding. And in the text of the sixth of these blessings, the bride and groom are called "beloved companions" -ריעים האהובים -  or as Rashi explains it, "companions who love each other." 

We should not judge the Talmud's business-like approach to the institution of marriage, because for thousands of years, and for the vast majority of those who entered into it, that's all it was. Business.  But western society has changed its beliefs about the nature of marriage, and so have we.  Still not convinced? Then answer this. Did your parents marry for love or money? If you are married - did you marry for love or for economic advancement (and how did that work out)? If you are not married, but want to be, what is driving you? The search for the love of your life, or the search for physical security? And if you have children - or grandchildren, would you want them to marry because they loved their significant other, or because it would be a good way to unite two families and insure financial stability? If your answers were like mine, they were closer to contemporary secular values about marriage than they were to the models of marriages described in Ketuvot. And that's probably a very good thing.

 

Next time on Talmudology: Heliotherapy.

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