There seems to be a tension between the Jewish mitzvah (commandment) concerning marriage (and subsequently being fruitful), and the concept of love (specifically romantic love, as defined in terms of western thought and literature). In times and places where arranged marriages are/were the norm, this was not a concern, but in modern day America, it seems to be a live issue. Is it the view of Judaism that it is more important to marry to fulfill the commandment - even if one does not love that mate, or should one not marry without love even though the mitzvah seems clear that it is obligatory? What does Judaism say, not only halachically (in Jewish law), but ethically and in terms of Jewish values?
In the classical listings of the 613 Commandments Given by God to mankind, the positive Divine Directive to “be fruitful and multiply”, based upon Genesis 1:28, usually heads the list. The Commandment is expanded upon in the next biblical chapter (2:24) “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” While the medieval French commentator RaShI interprets the final phrase of this second verse as referring to the birth of a child who will be a combination of the physical and personality attributes of the parents, the Italian commentator Sephorno, advances a different understanding. “They will then intend in all of their activities to achieve the wholeness that was intended by the Creation of man, as if both (husband and wife) are a single entity.” Sephorno suggests that the phrase describes the marriage unit whereby two individuals are not only physically intimate, but they assume a complementary existence, each individual inspiring and broadening the other, banishing the other’s loneliness, offering emotional and material support, inspiring the other to fulfill his/her potential by always being there for him/her, in effect loving the other. Furthermore, the reason why Rabbi Akiva proclaimed that the Song of Songs is the holiest book of the bible (Mishna Yadaim 3:5) was because he understood the text as a prolonged metaphor, with the loving relationship between the two protagonists representing the love that God and Israel have for one another. In effect, the concept of love between God and His People becomes a paradigm for the love that ought to exist between human lovers, and vice versa. In a similar vein, Maimonides uses a specific analogue to describe how far one must go in order to fulfill the Commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul and might (Devarim 6:5):
(Mishneh Tora, Laws of Repentance, 10:3)
…That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick.[A lovesick person's] thoughts are never diverted from the love of that woman. He is always obsessed with her; when he sits down, when he gets up, when he eats and drinks. With an even greater [love], the love for God should be [implanted] in the hearts of those who love Him and are obsessed with Him at all times...
The concept of romantic love in Jewish tradition is therefore not only to be found within the context of human relations, but also between God and man. Yet it cannot be said to be a zero-sum game in the sense that either one loves totally and unconditionally, or one does not and can never love another person and/or God. Love is an emotion that hopefully will grow and evolve, will take on different manifestations, will affect those striving for it and possessing it in different ways at different times over the course of their entire lives. To love another human being and to love God (as opposed to focusing upon love of oneself) is a quality to which one ought to aspire and which may take a lifetime to develop, nurture and appreciate.
In my view, what some consider the apparent disconnect between love as described in Western thought, particularly the media, on the one hand, and Jewish tradition on the other, is due to over-romanticizing and even unrealistically sensationalizing a sensibility that is natural, normal and quite common. I think that it is prejudicial to assume that arranged marriages cannot be loving, and I also believe that those who wish to look for a spouse on their own can successfully find a loving partner, provided they have realistic expectations and are loving individuals themselves, prepared and yearning to love another rather than merely wanting to be loved by someone other than themselves.
Answer: In some ways, your question reminds me of the famous dialogue between Tevya and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. Tevya asks Golde the famous question: Do you love me? She responds:
Do I love you? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town You’re upset, you’re worn out Go inside, go lie down! Maybe it’s indigestion.
Tevya: “Golde, I’m asking you a question…”Do you love me?” Golde finally responds, “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now? . . . Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him Fought him, starved with him. Twenty-five years my bed is his If that’s not love, what is?”
In Mark Twain’s short story, “The Diary of Eve,” the author narrates how Eve grated upon his nerves while they were in Eden. Although they were in Paradise, Paradise was not in them. In the beginning, Adam find’s Eve’s presence and personality obnoxious. After they leave Eden, only then do they come to discover real love for one another. After Adam survives Eve, he writes on her tombstone, “Wherever Eve stood—there was Eden.” Mark Twain captures the essence of the primal couple in a way that is unique and precious.
· PRACTICAL TALMUDIC ADVICE
The Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin says something very important. Although a man may marry a woman through a proxy that he has never seen before, the sage Rav expresses some practical rabbinic wisdom teaches that he must at the very least see her, lest he subsequently discover something repulsive in her that he will find loathsome and violate the biblical commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The principle behind Rav’s practical advice is extremely valuable for all young people contemplating marriage in the Orthodox community in particular. If all you are interested in is fulfilling a mitvah, my advice to you is simple: Don’t get married. Your question reminds me of something I once studied in the Responsa literature decades ago with respect to divorce.
The scholar observed that although there is a precept in the Torah pertaining to divorce, it is not necessarily a precept that one should run in order to fulfill such a “mitzvah.” The “mitzvah” of divorce only applies when the relationship cannot be salvaged for a variety of tragic reasons, e.g., spousal abuse—only then, is it a mitzvah to be considered and fulfilled when therapy and nothing else seems to work. I would therefore have to say that the same principle works in reverse with respect to marriage. It is only when you are really attracted to a person on many emotional and spiritual levels—only then is it a “mitzvah” to get married. Otherwise, you are not being honest to yourself—and especially to another human being you are supposed to love. This is the wisdom of Rav’s statement in the Talmud that you must seriously consider.
Many years ago, a congregant once received an unexpected visitation from a Chabad rabbi in the hospital where he was recovering from an operation. After he arrived, the rabbi enthusiastically said, “Shalom Mr. So-and-so, I’m here to do the mitzvah of visiting the sick!” The man gently said to him, “If you are here to visit me because you are concerned about my well-being, then fine–stay. If you are here merely to fulfill your desire to do a mitzvah, then please leave. I want only someone who is truly concerned about my welfare to see me. I do not wish to see someone who is trying to score points with God.” This anecdote ought to apply to anyone who is contemplating marriage.
You seem to think that romantic love is not only the product of Western literature, e.g., the love story of Tristan and Isolde or, Romeo and Juliette. There are numerous passages in the Tanakh that stress the importance of desire and attraction which ought to be part of any budding relationship that could lead to marriage.
Rebekah, too, was looking about, and when she saw him, she alighted from her camel. And she asked the servant, “Who is the man out there, walking through the fields toward us?” “That is my master,” replied the servant. Then she covered herself with her veil. The servant recounted to Isaac all the things he had done. Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent; he married her, and thus she became his wife. In his love for her Isaac found solace after the death of his mother Sarah” (Gen. 24:64-67).
It appears that each of them felt a great attraction and chemistry for one another. Remember, there is a good reason why the Genesis stories stress the importance of love at first sight. It is obvious that the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs were not merely interested in fulfilling a mitzvah when they met one another. Sexual attraction is necessary; without it, the world would be bereft of children. However, spiritual values are no less important because they enable two young or older people to endure the various trials and tribulations that marriage inevitably brings.
Take the case of Jacob and Rachel for example:
Then Jacob kissed Rachel and burst into tears.He told her that he was her father’s relative, Rebekah’s son, and she ran to tell her father (Gen. 29:11).
Later on in the same chapter we read,
“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Gen 29:11).
On the other hand, if you are willing to make the necessary symbolic sacrifices to give of yourself to another human being, then you will discover that marriage can be an enjoyable experience life has to offer.
Attraction is not always based upon physical chemistry; there ought to be other qualities as well. Marital love is extremely important and it needs to have attraction, values, respect and other qualities to survive. Without these qualities, a marital relationship is apt to becomemartial relationship that is full of strife and disharmony.
Two souls with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one.
—MARIA LOVEL, Ingomar the Barbarian, II
 BT Kiddushin 41a.
 By the same token, there is no precept to brings an atonement sacrifice for sin; it is only a precept if the person sins. However, if he never sinned, there would be no requirement to bring a sacrifice. Sometimes there are implicit principles that govern the corpus of many biblical laws, e.g., the precepts regarding marriage and divorce.
As a Reform Rabbi, I believe it is important to know the mitzvot (commandments) and then make an educated choice as to which mitzvot one chooses to observe/follow. Be fruitful and multiply, the first commandment is extended by the halacha to only be fulfilled if one has a boy and a girl. Binging children into a loveless marriage is not good for anyone.
Middot (Jewish Values) are also important to know and understand. Shalom Bayit meaning peace in the home would apply to marriage. Kavod (Dignity and Respect), another middot, is also important to the success of a marriage. Without these two values, no matter how obligatory, it would not be healthy to marry and have children. True, people may grow to love one another, and for some, arranged marriage is still the norm, but, what happens if the relationship does not evolve into love or there is not mutual respect? It is difficult on a relationship if one marries for materialistic items or reasons; ideally a successful marriage is based on the partners having similar values, beliefs, and unconditional love.
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