Social pressures hinder free and full consent

A strictly-Orthodox wedding (Jewish News)
A strictly-Orthodox wedding (Jewish News)

I recently watched Pixar’s Brave. Merida, the heroine, is being pressurised by her mother, to get married. It struck me that Merida was subject to a forced marriage, as UK law sets out:

You have the right to choose who you marry, when you marry or if you marry at all.

Forced marriage is when you face physical pressure to marry … or emotional and psychological pressure…

Merida explains to her mother that she isn’t ready to get married. Her mother insists she will bring shame on her family by not following their cultural heritage. Merida can’t dictate the timing, or whom she will marry, or whether to marry at all. Worse still, her mother exerts emotional pressure.

Despite Brave being set in medieval Scotland, Merida is a 21st century feminist, who can loudly articulate her opinion. And luckily for Merida, it’s Pixar, so she can turn her mother into a bear! Whilst Merida’s mother is a bear, she reconsiders, so Merida can marry who she wants, and new traditions can be made.

As a teenager, in Glasgow, I knew some Charedi girls, the daughters of the kollel Rabbis. Although these girls had their own school, and minimal engagement with the wider Jewish community, I attended a weekly chumash shuir with them. I remember when the first one of these girls got engaged to the first boy she met, after one short meeting. I struggled to understand why she would agree to marry someone she’d met once, but concluded it was because she knew no different and no other options were presented to her. And as far as I know she is still happily married.

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We have been writing a position paper on forced marriage, which has resulted in us reflecting on what would make an arranged marriage a forced marriage. I have met Chassidic Jews who have told me they married someone they met just once, briefly, and only in hindsight, do they realise they were subject to a forced marriage, due to the emotional pressure.

I have come to realise that it is the socialisation and social pressure in some Charedi communities that results in a lack of autonomy for young people to give a full and free consent to a marriage. We aren’t saying all Charedi marriages are forced. Rather, we are saying that there are some aspects of shidduch arrangements in some Charedi communities that would fall within the UK government’s defintion of a forced marriage. But we have faced resistance from the Jewish community to talking about forced marriage at all.

For example; “Can’t you just say its an arranged marriage” or

I see what you are saying, but can’t you say coerced marriage instead”.

This is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it won’t be easier at any other time. It affects too many people, in too severe a way. It is time we grasped the nettle and reflected on these issues, so that no one has to choose between being safe, and remaining part of the Charedi community.

About the Author
Eve Sacks is a co-founder of Nahamu, a think-tank lobbying on harms in the Charedi community, and a trustee of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK.
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