Based on the Talmud, some prominent poskim write that a man may delay marriage until the age of 24 for the purpose of Torah study or if his financial situation does not allow for earlier marriage (Yam Shel Shlomo; Birkei Yosef). In the past, plain study of Tanakh, ethics, and halakha with its rationales was sufficient for a person to create a Jewish home. It was enough for someone to work a few hours a day with his father when he was young to acquire the skills necessary to earn a living by the age of eighteen. He would likely even be able to put aside some money for wedding expenses and for building a one room house.
In modern times, life has become more complex, and preparation for married life requires more time. To successfully cope with today’s challenges, most young men must study far more Torah than was necessary in the past. To that end, the majority of them need to study in a yeshiva framework for at least a year after the age of eighteen – usually for longer. There is another sacred obligation to which young men must give time, and this is serving in the IDF in order to protect our people and our country. This mitzva, too, causes marriage to be delayed. Similarly, learning a profession suited to one’s talents generally involves academic study, which can take a few years, and begins after army service. Another complicating factor is that today’s homes are more expensive. They are larger and equipped with utilities such as water and electricity. Purchasing such homes requires working for years.
If a man were to delay marriage until after he learned all the Torah fundamentals, finished studying a suitable profession, and bought a house, most young people today would need to marry in their thirties. Such a postponement is impossible according to halakha. After all, while the environment in which we live has become more complex, complicated, and challenging, people’s emotional and physical nature has not changed, and from that standpoint, the appropriate age for marriage is still eighteen.
Thus, in light of today’s more complicated life, marriage may be postponed past the age of twenty, as in extenuating circumstances. Nevertheless, it may not be deferred beyond the age of 24. On one hand, young people need more time to solidify their Torah knowledge, more fully form their worldview, and take their first steps toward acquiring a profession, or at least have a practical plan in place to learn a profession and support a family. On the other hand, they must not wait too long past the ideal emotional and physical age to get married, so as not to lose the enthusiasm and passion of youth necessary for building their relationship in its initial stages. We also find that people who wait until they are older to get married have more trouble finding their life partner, and some remain single for many years. In addition to all of this, the mitzvot of marriage and parenting require a person to express himself most fully and completely. As the Sages say, “any man without a wife is not a man” (Yevamot 63a), and such a person remains without happiness, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, without fortification, and without peace (ibid. 62b). There is a limit to how many years a person can live absent all these. Additionally, we have seen that delaying marriage more than necessary can cause a person’s sexual drive to overwhelm him, so he will be unable to avoid sinful thoughts throughout his life (Kiddushin 29b). Therefore, most people should be instructed not to postpone marriage past the age of 24. People who are able to get married earlier – without seriously compromising their Torah study, army service, or career preparation – are blessed.
Some insist that we should not take into account all the difficulties and challenges with which modern life presents us; instead we must continue to demand that all males get married before the age of twenty. However, their opinion contradicts the Torah’s teaching to act normally (Sota 44a; MT, Laws of Dispositions 5:11). These leaders impose poverty upon the majority of their followers and prevent them from using their God-given talents and abilities to contribute to the world. The same leaders also tend to deny the mitzva of the Torah to serve in the army in order to protect the people and country. (As for the claim that delaying marriage leads to sinful thoughts, see above, ch. 4, n. 12.)
In contrast, others claim that a man should postpone marriage until he completes his academic studies and starts earning a respectable income, even if this will take many years, as is the practice of many young people in economically developed countries. This position is likewise contrary to halakha, which limits the postponement of marriage. Additionally, as we mentioned above, people who postpone marriage often have a difficult time finding the right person at a later point, and end up remaining single for a very long time, for the ideal age to marry from the point of view of emotional well-being is approximately twenty. As more time passes, enthusiasm wanes and it becomes more difficult to make a permanent commitment. This is one of the reasons for the breakdown of the institution of marriage and family in those countries where young people postpone marriage for too long.