The concept of Jewish marriage in today’s society is not what it once was.
The reality of life in contemporary society is that when a man and woman enter into a marriage, in certain segments of society it is more likely to end in divorce than for the couple to stay married until their deaths.
That stark reality makes many couples understandably fearful about choosing to marry according to halacha. This is of course all the more true for non-observant couples. Certainly, many of them understand the importance of tradition and know that marrying according to Jewish law is the proper thing to do. But recognizing that in certain ways marriage is a gamble and the statistical odds are stacked in favor of failure, can we blame these couples for thinking that maybe it’s not the best idea? They appreciate that they love one another today and maybe even in a year or 10 years, but how can one be sure that the same emotions will hold true in 20, 30, or 50 years down the road?
For those who are proponents of halachic Judaism, as I am, we make a major mistake if we just dismiss those concerns as being without merit. Separation and divorce are as much a part of our lives as are love and marriage. Unsuccessful marriages are not exclusive to any one segment of the population and indeed there are many factors that cause marriages to break up. And the truth is that separating under the umbrella of normative halacha is not an easy thing to do.
With this understanding in mind, my goal as a rabbi cannot be to dismiss the sanctity of marriage or diminish those concerns; rather, it is to create a framework to address them while still adhering to halacha.
One response, which has been developed and implemented by Tzohar and others, is to create a legal and halachic structure, a prenuptial agreement, that allows couples to have the assurance that marriage not be viewed as a prison. Every bride and groom deserves to know that even if the love they feel for one another under the chuppah is completely extinguished down the road, they will have a recourse that is not contingent upon the will of their spouse.
In the Jewish world today, we are constantly faced with the need to find ways to meld ancient traditions with the ways of a modern society. There are those who simply throw up their hands and say it is impossible and cast off religious observance altogether or, on the other end of the spectrum, reject many aspects of modernity.
But we are doing ourselves and our children a huge disservice if we don’t find a way to respond to these challenges.
I firmly believe that protecting the institution of Jewish marriage is one of the most important objectives of our generation and this demands that we find the proper and just ways to do so.
On this day of Tu B’Av (Friday), the day on the Jewish calendar when we salute and celebrate love, we are forced to acknowledge that true love is really about being honest about the realities of what may occur. And that honesty forces us to find a way to make marriage not about entrapping one another but about creating a home built on trust and mutual respect.