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Peninei Halakha > Simḥat Ha-bayit U-virkhato > 05 – Procreation > 09. The Age of Marriage for Men (In Practice)

09. The Age of Marriage for Men (In Practice)

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.[8]

[8]. The possibility of delaying marriage, be-di’avad, until the age of 24 is mentioned in the Talmud, which advises, “While your hand is still upon your son’s neck, marry him off” (Kiddushin 30a). Rashi explains: “While you still have authority over him, before he grows up and refuses your admonitions, marry him off.” The Talmud continues to explain that this time period is “from sixteen to 22, and some say from eighteen to 24.” That is, according to the second view, the Sages instruct parents to guide their sons to marry between the ages of eighteen and 24. Not before eighteen, because they are not mature and responsible enough to raise a family, and not after 24, because then it will be difficult to push them to get married. Additionally, as people get older they tend to become less flexible and open, so it becomes more difficult for them to get married, as we see with our very own eyes. The Sages assess that it is relatively easy to get married before the age of 24, and even easier before the age of 22. Based on this statement in the Talmud, Maharshal rules that for someone who wants to defer marriage in order to study Torah longer, “the latest possible age, following those who are lenient, is no later than 24” (Yam Shel Shlomo, Kiddushin 1:57). If this is the deadline for Torah study, it is certainly not later than that for mundane concerns. Thus, Ḥida writes, “It seems that one should not postpone marriage past the age of 24 for any non-physical reason” (Birkei Yosef, EH 1:9; also cited in Pitḥei Teshuva ad loc. 5). This is also the position of R. Moshe Azulai (grandson of Ḥida), Zikhron Moshe, EH 1:3; R. Yitzḥak Isaac Shor, Toldot Adam, EH 1:3; and R. Yosef Ḥayim of Baghdad, Rav Pe’alim YD 2:30. Similarly, Rosh implies that there is a limit to how long marriage can be postponed even to allow for Torah study (Kiddushin 1:42). Some write that marriage may be postponed until the age of 25 (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot Ha-Katzar, Aseh 43; Shemesh U-magen, EH 2:23). For their position to be compatible with the Talmud in Kiddushin, it would seem that they must mean that marriage can be delayed up to but not including 25. Beit Shmuel 1:5 states that although according to Rosh there is a limit to how long marriage can be delayed even to allow for Torah study, according to Rambam it would seem marriage can be put off indefinitely to allow for Torah study on the condition that his sexual drive does not overpower him. Stretching this point, a similar allowance might be made for a man who is learning a profession. If he is doing so for the sake of heaven, in order to benefit the world, and if his inclination is not overpowering him, when truly necessary he may rely on Rambam’s position and postpone marriage even beyond the age of 24. (See above, ch. 4, n. 12.)

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.

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