I left off previously by presenting and sarcastically mocking the plan for life development and marriage stages that seems both an ideal and simply inapplicable nowadays...
So then, what was the idea behind "Shmoneh Estreh L'chupah"? How did
it work way back when? What does it mean today?
The most common answer I find
is the cultural one. It states that back in their day and age education
ended at the age of twelve or so, and while children began to learn a
trade be beginning an apprenticeship at that age, they also continued
learning Judaic texts. By the age of seventeen the man had learned a
trade, probably acquired some sort of dwelling and/or shop and thus (as
per the Rambam) was ready to seek a marriage partner. Nowadays, we just
can't do that because of the culture and our maturity level.
that's all nice and dandy, there's one piece that is abundantly clear
to me, but I see is missing in the explanation.
But before I get started on that... Seriously, Chazal didn't recognize that the world changes? Do we give "the cultural answer" for other Halachot, saying they're outdated? I mean, really?!?! I give Chazal more credit than to simply state that in this day and age it's impractical.
The age guidelines
didn't just account for maturity in terms of intellect, emotions and
adulthood. It accounted very strongly for sexual maturity. Thus the
harsh language in the Talmud and the developmental timelines indicate
something very clear to me -that we have a very real and very important
desire to consider as well.
Think about it -marriage
comes last in the stages of life development laid out. So then why put a
number on it? Why set these limits with harsh language, making
reference to violating the commandments, living in sin,
There is a recognition that
marriage is important, and perhaps that there are reasonable limits to
how long humans can handle not being married -and for the purposes of
this post, I'm considering the aspects of touch, desire and
procreation within marriage (though there's a whole lot more to talk
about). There are consequences and repercussions for not having those
desires, including physical intimacy and marriage established by a certain age.
Serious enough to merit very abrasive language.
the sources map out an ideal situation which now clashes with our
reality. The Rav writes that Halachah is an ideal world, which our
reality does not conform to. At its best, Halachah tells us how to
respond to the world we live in. I think this conundrum presents a
frustratingly clear example of that stark contrast. Which leads to the
core question how do we respond to the realities, given Halachic imperatives?
the question is the recognition of how jarring the reality is. The
fields of medicine/biology, psychology and law all recognize that there
are serious limits and consequences in attempting to squelch or delay
physical intimacy beyond the late teens (~18). Concerns for having
children before being able to support them (both in the secular world
and within the sources quoted above) convolute the issue as well.
that sense, so many of us are stuck in "no man's land" while every
available source indicates we're not in the ideal situation. And that's
putting it mildly. Trying so hard to consolidate what everyone knows and agrees on without
knowing when -or even if -there will be a reprieve. Trying to uphold the
values while enduring the struggle and frustration, often without even
having a place to voice our pain, a forum to discuss the consequences
and/or a way to negotiate how we can best handle where we are in life.
It is, by so many accounts, the challenge and test of our time. (Just as a quick note, there are some communities that take these Halachot as a guide and marry at a younger age, perhaps because of these concerns.)
society chose to address the individual's concerns, pain and well being
based on the available information, eschewing all other concerns for
their fundamental precept: preserving an individual's right to pursue
their happiness as they see fit. Halachah and the Orthodox community
places the values of family, marriage and preserving the family unit
above all else by creating safeguards for upholding the sanctity of
marriage -literally Taharat Hamishpachah -through laws built to
create and maintain a unique, reserved and holy connection forged
through physical intimacy exclusively within the context of marriage.
A large part of me sees significant agreement among Jewish sources
and the fields of science and law regarding our human needs and limits. The fact that circumstances have
changed so that when we do reach and pass the red-line we cannot
follow the guidelines, warnings and advice of all these source means
that we're the ones left alone to deal with it.
As for my own thoughts and conclusions, I see and
experience the pain and I admire the values on both sides. I
recognize that my struggle and the challenge(s) I experience puts me in a place
of partial blindness. I cannot always see clearly through the pain to
the Halachic values that I hold dear. But I am resolved and decide every
day that I am determined to maintain those values.
to walk a Halachic path in life blinded by pain with my hands tied
behind my back means that I may very well stumble, fall and get hurt. I
may perhaps even take a step off the road. But those are not intentional
steps off the path, nor do I say to myself it is okay to walk away. My
resolve and determination are the hardest but most important virtues to uphold -they are the compass that keep me pointed in the right direction.