Jewish tradition varies widely in practice and purpose of courtship. In some communities it is common to marry quite young. However, many in the Jewish community are partnering and having children later life for a variety of reasons, and may take longer to date and find a partner. In Jewish tradition, I think of Rivkah and Yitzhak as the best example of love. Rivkah sees Yitzhak and literally falls off her camel in love with him.
Interestingly, the varieties of paths to partnership are as varied as the communities that Jews live in. Our community has always been influenced by the cycles of the other communities around us and the timelines for marriage have reflected that. There is no one right path or a right amount of time to date. In the end, Judaism recognizes that if two people are to truly become one, then it may take some time.
The lists for a partner’s attributes are easily just as varied. Values vary from person to person. Some want children – others do not. Some want stability of location – others would like to travel the world. Some want wealth – that is less important to others. There is no right or wrong answer. However, since Valentine’s Day is coming up, in the spirit of living in multiple civilizations I am happy to tell you what made my list and the Jewish values behind them:
A sweet soul – a yiddishe neshamah
Jewish - MOT
Wanted children – be fruitful and multiply
Caring - hesed
Wanted pets – taking care of the world around us
Attractive – heyn be’eneyha
Happy - simhah
Compassionate – rahamim
Ethical – mishpat
I am fortunate to say that I have been partnered for almost 7 years now. What I learned while dating Jen was that what mattered most was what my heart wanted. I was reminded of a teaching from the Talmud that reminds us: Lo ish belo ishah ve lo sheneyhem belo shehinah. Translated this verse means: No one person should be without a partner – and neither of them without God’s presence. In the end, we are not alone in our journey. Something is always left to the magic of the world around us.
However you get there, I wish you luck and joy in your journey. And may you find happiness under the huppah and a life of satisfaction with the person you partner with.
When it comes to how long one should date before marriage (and perhaps, engagement), the quantity of time together is important, but the quality of time together may even be more important. Therefore, rather than discussing prescriptions for the length of time of dating, the tradition offers wisdom about the quality of that time together
The key Jewish concept to dating comes from the Talmud (Kiddushin 41a), when it advises that there should be consent before marriage. We must therefore ask: to what and to whom are we consenting?
The What: We are consenting to marriage itself. For Judaism, marriage is the foundational building block of family and society. Marriage perpetuates the family and humanity. In this way, marriage is the fulfillment of the first commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
But marriage is so much more than that, isn’t it? Marriage is companionship and partnership. Our spouse is our loving friend – re’im ahuvim – with whom we share the most intimate parts of our life – our secrets, our flaws, our humor, our dreams, our sufferings, and the genuine gift of our personal truth. Life undoubtedly deals both the heights of joy and ecstasy as well as the pits of pain and loss. The Torah teaches, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), because the Torah understands that when we share these experiences and moments with a loving friend – someone who reflects you back to yourself – we are both able to grow more and cope better with anything we might encounter.
Our spouse is supposed to be an ezer k’negdo, a help that faces us and make us better and whole.
The Whom: The qualities you should look for are those of someone with whom you can consent to this partnership – someone who is a loving friend. A loving friend is someone whose personality and traits compliment yours. That is to say, he or she should affirm the best things about you and also help you to remember and strive to be the best version of yourself that you are.
Such a person must be 1) someone you trust; 2) someone who you respect and respects you; 3) someone you feel safe with; and 4) someone who values your spirit, spirituality, and your Judaism.
Judaism’s approach to marriage is one of fidelity, trust, and friendship. And for Judaism, love in marriage is something that grows and grows. In dating and marriage, we accept that we are incomplete, our souls are meant to cling to the soul of another in order to learn together, to confront life together, and to share in the holy task of making ourselves and the world a little better than how we found it.
Dating is a delicate and mysterious dance, wherein we must take enough time to be true to what it is we are seeing in ourselves and the other, and not waiting so long so that we don’t begin the most holy endeavor of the human experience.