This weekend saw an interesting short documentary by NBC on Chasidim who left their community. There is a lot that the documentary brought up that is worthy of commentary. However, there was one statement by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz which jumped out at me. He was talking about the quasi-arranged marriages that take place in the Chassidic community when he said, “We don’t marry the one we love; we love the one we marry.” Rabbi Berkowitz admitted that he only knew his wife for a week before he got engaged to her.
As one who went through what may have been a similar shidduch style process when I met my wife, I can say that I knew my wife for about six weeks before I proposed to her. Which, I may add, is considered to be a long time in terms of the Chassidic world in which I inhabited. But I wanted to ensure that I was marrying the one I loved, to use Rabbi Berkowitz’s term, rather than simply hoping that I would end up loving the one I married.
Now of course it is impossible to compare the depth of love I feel after more than a decade of marriage to the love I felt when I first proposed to my wife. However, at the time I was certain that what I was feeling for the wonderful person I was proposing to was love.
It is clear to me that the philosophy of marriage that Rabbi Berkowitz represents is not only wrong, it is unrealistic. It is based on the idea that shared values are more important than love and that as long as you share the same values – commitment to a Chassidic way of life etc – and are somewhat attracted to each other, love will come later after marriage.
But what happens when the values change? What happens when one spouse decides that the Chassidic or ultra-Orthodox way of life is no longer something they want to pursue? Anecdotal evidence, including from close family members of mine, point to the fact that there are very few marriages from the ultra-Orthodox community that survive such a change. This documentary also shows that for those who were married when they decided to leave the community their marriage could not withstand that change and it ended in divorce.
Ultimately, in a marriage real love is more powerful than shared communal values. Love that is based on those shared values will often fade when the values fade. And of course values and life philosophies are subject to change over the course of a long life as one gains knowledge and wisdom. When love is real, however, it is much less likely to change. Thus, marriage must first and foremost be based on mutual love and common decency – common communal values are secondary to those vital aspects within a relationship.
Amongst other things, this documentary shows that the attitude of “We don’t marry the one we love; we love the one we marry,” is simply wrong and can do much more harm than good.