What is the Jewish view on large age gaps in relationships? I am a widow, and it has been five years since my husband passed away. I am in my late 30s and have no children. I have recently started dating a man who is 25 years my senior. Most of my family thinks I am completely crazy for being interested in someone so much older than me. How does Judaism look at such relationships?
Abraham, our people's great great grandfather was 137 at the time of Sarah's death. He remarried shortly afterwards a woman who was of child bearing age, according to our Torah. Isaac, who was thirty seven, according to our Rabbis married Rebecca who was three, but did not consumate the marriage for another ten years until she was of child bearing age. Mordechai, according to our Rabbis married his much younger niece, Esther, so he could raise her as a child in his home after the death of her parents, and not violate the prohibition of a man being alone with a woman who is not his wife in a secluded situation.
Though the above traditions may be historicaly questionable and somewhat bizarre to our modern ears, they clearly answer your question about vast age differences between a man and a woman in marriage. Our tradition is very positive about people living as a couple, whatever their individual ages, and sees marriage as an overwhelmingly positive institution.
However, as a pastoral counselor and mental health professional I do have to mention the following. It is likely that as time passes your gentleman friend will not have the physical stamina to do the things you like to do, as he will become elderly much earlier in the marriage than you. Your family may be concerned that you will have to become this gentleman's nurse while you are still vital. This of course is conjecture, though understandable conjecture, and if you are prepared to accept this possibility you will be going into this relationship with both eyes opened. I mention this possibility out of concern for your happiness, for I believe my rabbinic obligation is not simply to guard and teach our traditions, but is more importantly to guard and nurture the well being of those turning to me for suggested directions. May you have many simchas. Rabbi Dr. Stuart Grant
Judaism has a lot to say about love. In the earliest sections of the Torah, God reflects about Adam, “lo tov heyot ha-Adam l’vado – it is not good for people to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) While our modern sensibilities may question this assumption (because being single may be right for some), the conclusion of that sentence in the Torah gives us an early model for what a “good couple” may be for one another: God decides to make Adam an “ezer k’negdo” – someone who is, in the most mutual way, supportive, compatible, and loving. Ask yourself: Is your partner these things? Is he an ezer k’negdo?
Love in Judaism, “ahavah” has many different translations; indeed, there are many words to describe the relationship that in English we call “love.” The word “ahavah” originates from treaty language – a sense of fidelity, tangible support, and actions of loyalty. Other words imply companionship, deep friendship, romantic love, and the like. Does your partner provide you with these different aspects of love?
And finally, part of being that ezer k’negdo is an ability to journey through life together. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps your family is worried about this part. Will you share goals and desires together? Is your path parallel and mutually-supportive? Nothing in life is assured, but his more advanced age may ask you to think about life, leisure, children, family, and loss in a different way. Are you ready to have those conversations, to see if you can be each other’s ezer k’negdo?
Judaism has many examples of couples and companions with widely divergent ages, at different stages in life. There is nothing inherently “wrong” with such a relationship. But there may be other questions to ask to make sure that you are ready and able to be each other’s ezer k’negdo in a way that is supportive and fulfilling of each of your life’s hopes and dreams, and comforting if those dreams are not fully realized. I have provided some of the clarifying questions and Jewish basis for working through what, despite and with family, are highly personal questions.
Before I comment, I want to acknowledge and celebrate your newly-found (I hope) happiness. To lose your spouse is truly to walk through the valley of deepest darkness, and I'm sure there were many moments over the past five years where the thought of being interested in someone else at all, never mind to have this question with your family, was unthinkable. While no one can take the place of your husband, Jewish tradition understands that "It is not good for a person to be alone" (Genesis 2:18) and to find companionship is a mitzvah and blessing of the highest order. (Should you and your gentleman caller progress in your relationship, you might want to read this beautiful essay by Emily Yoffe about her navigating remembering her husband's first wife.)
Recently I buried a longtime congregant, a man who had lived a full life well into his 80s, a brilliant man and a devoted father. He was nearly 20 years older than his wife when they first met. A woman in her late sixties, they loved each other fiercely and profoundly. He was her biggest support, encouraging her to be the person she is today, and was supportive in their family life. In his last year, as he deteriorated, we spent a great deal of time talking, and once she looked at me and said, "when I married him, I knew this was the deal." Her family had similar anxieties about her marrying a man well her senior, a man of a different generation, and this was one of the many concerns raised. Without a doubt, it was painful--it still is for her as she comes every Friday to say Kaddish. But I have no doubt that theirs was a powerful and meaningful relationship, one that produced two lovely children, a passel of grandchildren, and many memories of love and devotion.
There are many relationships the Torah prohibits (marriages between blood relatives, for example) and plenty Jewish tradition takes a dim view of (while polygamy is technically legal halakhically, it has been prohibited for a thousand years as the practice was found odious). And while the marriage of an adult to a minor is strictly prohibited (Kiddushin 50b), what you are describing is the relationship between two full-grown adults, where at least one has been married before and knows and understands what it means to be in a committed relationship, has had challenges and navigated them into adulthood.
You are not a breathless teenager. You are an adult woman who is cultivating a relationship with a man who brings you joy after a period of darkness, and yes, who is older than you. While American cultural norms may look askance, and your family clutches their collective throat in concern for you, Judaism has no meaningful concern about the age difference. That he cares for you, has your best interests at heart, is loving and compassionate, is kind and supportive and gentle, is not abusive or violent--these are the qualities Judaism advocates (see: Iggeret HaKodesh). May that be so.
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