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.


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.


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. 


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 (Feldheim: Jerusalem 2005) follows Rashi : "טן דו = two bodies." 


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." 


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.


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.


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)
  • 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)


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"?


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.


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.


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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Gittin 49b ~ Who Wants to Marry More?

גיטין מט, ב

יותר ממה שהאיש רוצה לישא אשה רוצה להנשא

More than a man desires to wed, a woman desires to be wed.(Gittin 49b).

When a couple marries under traditional Jewish law, the husband undertakes several financial obligations which are outlined in the ketuvah. Among these, he agrees to provide money for his wife in the event that the couple divorce or that he dies.  In today's daf, the Talmud discuss what kind of land the husband may provide for this payment to his wife. Rabbi Yehuda opined that the land may be of inferior (rather than average or superior) quality.  The reason is that a women is so eager to marry, that she will do so even if her right to collect her ketuvah payment was limited to inferior land.  Or as the Talmud puts it, יותר ממה שהאיש רוצה לישא אשה רוצה להנשא: "More than a man desires to wed, a woman desires to be wed" (Gittin 49b).  Since she will agree to marry even if she will only receive inferior quality land in the event of divorce or her becoming a widow, there was simply no need to demand the husband provide any better land.  

We have come across a similar concept when we studied Ketuvot (86b). There the Talmud asks: what would happen if a man owes money to both a debtor and to his ex-wife to pay for her ketuvah? The answer given is that if this unlucky person can only repay one of the debts, he should repay the creditor and not his ex-wife. Although this ruling might discourage women from getting married in the first place, the Talmud was not be concerned, because "more than a man desires to wed, a woman desires to be wed."  

We've had other occasions to look at sweeping statements made by the rabbis of the Talmud about ways women view marriage. Resh Lakish famously stated (יבמות 118) that "it was better for a women to live with a husband than to live alone" (though you may recall that there were at least four ways to understand this statement of Resh Lakish). We also noted that the late Rabbi J.B. ("the Rav") Soloveitchik believed that this statement reflected "an existential fact." (It also turned out that he was wrong.) While the Talmud does not seem to suggest that its psychological insight is an "existential fact," does it have any validity to it in today's society? Do women really want to be married more than men?


In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was guaranteed by the Constitution. The lesson here is that societal norms of about all aspects of marriage are changing very quickly. It may indeed have been true in talmudic times that women wanted to marry more than did men, but our society is vastly different. And with that note of caution, we may proceed.

The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.
Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.
— US Supreme Court Opinion 14-556 decided June 25, 2015.


In 2011 the anthropologist Helen Fisher and two colleagues released the "largest and most comprehensive nationally-representative study of single men and women ever done." They surveyed 5,200 single people in the US aged 21 to over 65, and found "a new picture of single Americans emerges that is radically different than it was 50 years ago..." And what of the talmudic claim that women are more eager to marry?

This national survey clearly shows that men are just as eager to marry as women are; 33% of both sexes want to say “I do. (Helen Fisher 2011. The Forgotten Sex: Men.)

So today in the US (at least according to Fisher's survey,) it is not correct to say that women want to be married more than men. Some of Fisher's other findings about the attitudes of single men might surprise you too:

Men in every age group are more eager than women to have children.  Even young men. Among those between ages 21 and 34, 51% of men want kids, while 46% of women yearn for young.  Men are less picky too.  Fewer men say it is important to find a partner of their own ethnic background (20% of men vs 29%  of women said this is a “must have” or “very important”); and fewer say they want someone of their own religion (17% of men vs 28% of women said this is a “must have” or “very important”).   Men are also more likely to have experienced love at first sight...

Let's give the last word to Dr Fisher, (who serves as an advisor to, and remember the danger of assuming that human nature does not change.  

My colleagues and I have put over 60 men and women ages 18-57 into a brain scanner to study the brain circuitry of romantic passion.  We found no gender differences. supports what I have long suspected: that men are just as eager to find a partner, fall in love, commit long term and raise a family.
It’s an illuminating, indeed myth-shattering, new set of scientific data.  And the sooner we embrace these findings, and fling off our outmoded and unproductive beliefs about both sexes, the faster we will find—and keep–the love we want.

[Repost from Yevamot 118.]

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Gittin ~ On Divorce, Then and Now



Today, those learning in the one-page-of-talmud-a-day daf yomi cycle begin a new tractate, called Gittin. As its title suggests, it is focussed on the laws of divorce. So let's look at divorce in the western world.    

Divorce in the Western WOrld

As you can see in the chart below, the current average rate of divorce in the countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is about two per thousand people; in the US the figure is almost three per thousand, while in Israel the figure is just below the OECD average. As you can see, in many countries the rate is lower than it was in 1995, but in nearly all it is much higher than it was way back in 1970.

Crude divorce rate, 1970, 1995 and 2012. From  OECD Family Database.   

Crude divorce rate, 1970, 1995 and 2012. From OECD Family Database.  


 In the 1970s there was a surge in the divorce rates in the US (and throughout the industrialized world), and in 1977 the sociologist Amir Etzioni issued a dire prediction. If the rates of divorce continued to rise as they had done over the preceding years, "not one American family" would be left intact by the 1990s. But by 1981 the divorce rates levelled off (and more couples were choosing to live together without getting married). By 1998 the divorce rate was 26% lower than it had been in 1979. (This data is found in Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz.)

No party can oblige continuance in contradiction to its end and design.
— Thomas Jefferson, in Norma Basch, Framing American Divorce. University Of California Press 2001.

In the US, statistics on rates of marriage and divorce are published by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is a branch of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.  The latest data for the US were published in 2010. These point out that the probability of divorce depends on the length of the marriage. Sadly the probability of divorce increases as the duration of the marriage increases.  The probability of a marriage of five years or less ending in divorce is about 20%; the probability of a marriage of twenty years ending in divorce is a massive 48%.  And second marriages fare a little worse: by ten years of marriage 32% of those married for the first time will have divorced in the US, compared to 46% of those in their second marriage.

Divorce rates in the US. Source:   The New York Times  .

Divorce rates in the US. Source: The New York Times.

Divorce in Christianity, The UK and the Colonial US

The Church essentially forbade divorce for most of its history, basing itself mostly on Mark 10:9: "what therefore God has joined, let no man put asunder." This left its mark on attitudes towards divorce. (We came across one example of the difficulty in obtaining a divorce when we examined King Henry VIII and his plight to get one of his marriages annulled.)  In the United Kingdom of 400 years ago, a divorce required a special Act of its Parliament; this, and its cost made it available only to those with money and privilege. It was only in 1857 that a new law was passed that removed divorce from the control of the Church and made it a civil affair. But husbands and wives were treated very differently by this new law. A husband could obtain a divorce on the grounds of his wife's adultery. But for a wife to obtain a divorce, she had to prove both adultery and an additional "matrimonial offense". The early colonists in the US had similar laws; divorce was allowed only in cases of adultery, habitual drunkenness, desertion, cruelty, or impotence. What we call today "no-fault" divorces have only been around since the 1970s.


It is challenging to get a good count of the rates of divorce in the Jewish communities around the world.  One of the rare examples of such data can be found in Jeremy Pfeffer's book From One End of the Earth to the Other, which examines the London Bet Din in the first half of the nineteenth century, and its relationship to the Jewish convicts deported to Australia. (We will return to this fascinating book in our next post.) Pfeffer examined in great detail the marriage and divorce records of the London Bet Din, and discovered that between 1805 and 1855 there were 347 divorces. This turns out to be about one divorce per thousand married Jews, and he notes that the current rate of divorce is "an order of magnitude greater." In fact the current divorce rates in England and Wales are about twelve per thousand married persons, "and there is no reason to suppose that it is significantly lower amongst present day English Jews." 

The indissolubility of marriage is a main principle of English law, asserted without any exception or reserve in the formularies of the Church, in which the parties pledge themselves, either to other, that they will live together so long as they both shall live, and until death shall part them.
— Hector Davies Morgan (of Trinity College Oxford). The Doctrine and Law of Marriage, Adultery and Divorce. 1826. p214

Divorce Rates and Religious Committment

Another study published over 30 years ago reviewed the relationship between rates of divorce and levels of religious commitment. It was based on the 1981 Greater New York Population study which sampled over 4,000 Jewish households, and it made the following observation:

As one might expect, we see the lowest rate of divorce among the Orthodox. In comparison, we see a slight rise among the Conservative, a doubling among the Reform, and a quadrupling for those who do not identify themselves as members of the major denominations. It is the Orthodox community that is most frequently held up as the most effective transmitter of traditional Jewish family values, and these results are consistent with our thesis of a relationship between Jewish commitment and divorce. 

Further support for these findings can be found in more recent work from Focus on the Family ("a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive"). They report the following relationships between faith affiliation and divorce rates:

Of course we have no idea about whether the lower rate of divorce among active Protestants, Catholics and Jews is because religious practice increases marital harmony or, as a cynic might claim, peer pressure makes those who are more actively religious are reluctant to divorce. Still, a 97% reduction in the divorce rate in those who are "actively Jewish" is pretty impressive.

As we have noted, it took many centuries for secular societies (even in countries that are deeply Catholic) and the church to allow for more equitable divorce laws. For most of that time, Jewish divorce law was in some aspects the most enlightened of any society.  It allowed for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, but at the same time allowed only the husband to control the process. If he did not wish to divorce, no divorce could take place.   But the last great change to Jewish divorce law was over 900 years ago, when Rabbenu Gershom forbade a man from divorcing his wife against her will. It is probably time for orthodox Judaism to take another look at the issue

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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


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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