12. The Responsibilities of Young Adults, Parents, and Society

The mitzva to get married poses a great challenge today for young people, their parents, and society as a whole. Young adults are expected, within a few years, to form a Torah-based worldview, acquire a profession that suits their talents, and start a family. In addition to this, men are expected to complete their army service and study as much Torah as possible.

The primary responsibility for meeting this challenge rests with young adults themselves. They must plan carefully to avoid wasting time during these precious years. Even though we have defined the present day as “pressing circumstances,” when young men may delay marriage until 24, one who wastes time during these years is disregarding a Torah commandment. Therefore, every young man and young woman has an obligation to pave a way to integrate all these values. They must try to marry at a young age while simultaneously acquiring suitable professions, in order to support their family and contribute to the world.

The second responsibility is that of the parents. The Sages teach that it is the parents’ responsibility to marry off their children (Kiddushin 29a-30b), as it says, “Take wives and beget sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters” (Yirmiyahu 29:6). In other words, the mitzva of procreation does not end with the birth of the children, but continues. When children mature and reach marriageable age, the parents must encourage them to get married, and provide them with both advice and financial help. This makes the parents partners in ensuring continuity. The Sages instruct parents to set aside a tenth of their assets for the marriage of each child. It would seem that nowadays, a significant part of the parents’ support should be directed toward helping their children to successfully navigate the challenge of combining marriage, professional training, and in some cases childcare as well.[10]

Society as a whole also has a responsibility to create conditions conducive to young people fulfilling the mitzva of getting married in a timely fashion. To allow for this, it is necessary to make professional training as efficient as possible, to help young people find affordable housing and childcare, and to enable women to begin their studies as early as possible so that they can help support their family in the initial years of the marriage.[11]


[10]. “How much must [parents spend on a daughter’s marriage]? Abaye and Rava both say: Up to a tenth of their assets” (Ketubot 52b). Therefore, if a father passes away without explicitly expressing his wishes about how much to spend on marrying off his daughter, a tenth of his estate should be allocated for that purpose (Ketubot 68a; SA EH 113:1). However, we do not enforce this (Rema, EH 70:1). Maharam Mintz writes that a father may not favor a daughter by giving her more than a son (Responsa Maharam Mintz 1:31). Rabbeinu Ḥananel says that he may not give a daughter more than a tenth of his assets, so as not to discriminate against the sons and deprive them of their inheritance (as cited in Tosafot to Ketubot 50b, s.v. “u-mai”). But the common practice was not to follow this (Rema, EH 113:1; Taz ad loc. 1), because sometimes the reality was that if the parents did not give their daughter more, they would not be able to find her a husband.

The straightforward meaning of the Talmud in Ketubot 52b is that the mitzva for parents to marry off their children is a Torah obligation. However, many believe this law has the status of divrei kabbala (prophetic writings), an intermediate status between a mitzva from the Torah and a rabbinic mitzva (Ran; Me’iri; Ritva). Others say that the mitzva is rabbinic, and the verse is simply used as a support for the rabbinic law (Leḥem Mishneh explaining MT, Laws of Marriage 20:1). Some Rishonim write that the mitzva to marry off a child is the father’s obligation, while the mother is exempt from this just as she is exempt from the obligation to procreate (Ran; Me’iri). Nevertheless, it is obvious that this is a great mitzva, just as her participation in procreation is a great mitzva, as explained above in section 3. I would humbly suggest that paying children’s tuition when they are over eighteen so that they can learn a profession can be considered part of the tenth that parents need to invest in their child’s marriage, for this, too, helps enable the children start and support a family. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to me that the directive to dedicate a tenth of one’s assets for each wedding was made at a time when most people had about five children to marry off. Accordingly, someone who has been privileged to have ten children would need to dedicate only five percent of his assets to each child. That is, unless he manages to save and invest, increasing his net worth, in which case he may be able to dedicate ten percent of the assets he holds at the time of each wedding to the child getting married.

[11]. Not only does modern life present us with some difficulties, it also provides us with solutions. Thus, while it is true that learning a profession takes longer than it once did, at the same time it is a good long-term investment. Therefore, banks are prepared to provide student loans which need to be repaid only after the borrower starts working. There is a similar phenomenon with housing. While homes are certainly larger and more expensive than they once were, there is also a thriving long-term mortgage market which helps people to purchase them.

Beyond the difficulty of juggling all these challenges simultaneously, today’s society of abundance has left many people addicted to luxuries. For many, the addiction is so serious that it prevents them from realizing any of their ideals. Instead, they are constantly preoccupied with making more money to buy a better car, fancier clothing, more expensive furniture, and a bigger house in a wealthier neighborhood. In order to do that, many people postpone marriage and neglect the mitzva of procreation. People need to overcome temptation and prioritize their ideals over fleeting pleasures. They must remember that even someone who nowadays is considered to be making do with the minimum is still living as well as someone wealthy lived 200 years ago. If people in the past could live that way happily, then it should be possible to do that today, too. Everyone can realize their ideals, and thus be privileged to live a truly meaningful life.

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