‘In our community, love is only for the Creator’
The haredi approach to the idea of love is completely different from the secular world’s. If people in the Western world aspire, in the best Hollywood fashion, to find the love of their life, and to faint from happiness every time they look into their love’s shining eyes, the haredi community prefers to speak in other terms.
“In our community there is no concept of love; for us, there’s love for the Creator,” says haredi journalist Yisrael Gliss. “The relationship between husband and wife constitutes a partnership with the Creator of the world. If the couple’s relationship is good, then their faith and connection to the Holy One, Blessed be He, are also stronger.”
There is strict separation between the sexes in haredi society, so the meeting between the two members of the couple is usually done through family channels. With 34 matches to his credit, Gliss says that “the recipe for success is in matching family affiliation. “Once you have common roots there is also a better connection between the couple,” he says. And what about love? “Love comes later. You fall in love because you marry. The couple meets to check if they have something in common, they’re looking for some kind of ‘click,’ suitability, and whether they can build a home together.”
Prime quality, second rateIn order for it to succeed (and as Gliss says, “we don’t waste time”), inquiries are made before the couple meets. Each family checks issue after issue to see if the other side meets their requirements.
An excellent young man from a good family who is also a prodigy in yeshiva is considered prime quality in the matchmaking market. A man who is not studying in yeshiva, for example, but decides to work instead, could be considered a good guy but not the best, and he’ll be seen as second rate. If you are a good girl but your parents are divorced, Heaven forbid, you start with a low ranking, and you’ll stay low. You’re considered third rate, and most likely you’ll get third-rate offers, and not too many of them at that.
In the haredi system, every issue has an influence and sets the tone. If you’ve broken off a match, if you’re an orphan, if there are cases of insanity or any other serious genetic diseases in your family, if one of your brothers is no longer religious, or if you are Sephardic, the odds are that you won’t marry a good Ashkenazi boy. In the haredi marriage market everything has an influence. With every passing moment your stock will only drop, and time, and of course the exchange rate, are important factors.
Twenty-four? You’re oldAs we said, money is a very important issue. As early as the inquiry stage the two sides may reach the conclusion that there is no match. In most cases if it turns out that the other side is not prepared to put up the same amount of money or cannot do so, this is a sufficiently good reason not to have the couple meet.
Another important criterion is age. Usually haredim aspire to marry between the ages of 18-21. If you get left behind, this can be a problem. At 24, Shmuel from Bnei Brak (not his real name) is already considered relatively old in the marriage market. Being unmarried bothers him most in synagogue on the Sabbath. “All my friends who are my age have already gotten married, and I’m the only one in the synagogue who is still not wearing a talit.”
Break the plate after 20 minutesSo how exactly do they meet? In many haredi families the custom is to use a matchmaker who makes contact with the girl’s family and informs her that he has a match to offer them.
From that moment on the bride’s family begins to ask their neighbors and acquaintances about the potential match, and they also speak to his teachers in the yeshiva. If the match looks appropriate the first contact is made with the young man’s family, and then he meets the girl’s parents.
In the meeting with the potential in-laws the young man is generally asked, among other things, questions that show his expertise in Talmud and Jewish law. This is done in order to examine, to the extent possible, how serious he is in his studies and his piety. If he passes this stage successfully the process continues, and the potential bride meets his parents. Generally in this meeting only the young man’s mother, sometimes accompanied by an older sister, speaks to the girl. In most cases the mother will want to know what the girl aspires to in life, what kind of home she would like, and also what she looks like.
If this stage passes successfully the couple meets alone, generally in one room of the home of someone they know, such as one of their uncles. Someone else must be present in order that the young couple not be alone. Generally the parents sit in the living room and talk among themselves. It’s important to note that this is just a general outline, and that there are people who are stricter or more lenient in these matters.
After all the background work the expectation is that the two will find themselves in each other’s arms after relatively few meetings. Among the Hassidim, for example, who are more closed and conservative, five meetings is considered more than enough, and ten is a huge number. Among the families of important Hassidic rabbis the preference is to make all possible inquiries even before the meeting and to close the deal, so they can break a plate after 20 minutes, the sign that the engagement has been agreed upon. Until the wedding, by the way, the happy couple does not meet at all.