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The Gemara describes many Halachos that apply when someone gets married at very young ages, many under 12, and even a few for the age of 3. There are stories of people who did get married at such ages (Rivkah, ATSO1). I've heard that during the times of the "Cantonists" some parents had their children married at extremely young ages so that they wouldn't be drafted.

Was it ever common for people to get married at very young ages? If so, was it the norm? When?

(Assume here that "young" is 13 and under, although if it was common to get married at, say 15, I'd like to hear that too.)

I have intentionally made no distinction between boys and girls. Include them both.

Related: Apologetics for marriage at 3 years old

1According To Some Opinions.

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In Europe even as late as before the war, many married youngish, though I think more like 15. The Netziv married his first wife (R' Yitzchok Volozhiner's daughter) when he was 13, though that may have been the exception. – YDK Jun 10 '12 at 22:41
@ShmuelBrin, can you elaborate? I'm not familiar with who he is or at what age he got married. – YDK Jun 10 '12 at 23:16
@YDK he was known as "the Chol Hamoed Jew" as he started wearing his Tallis at an earlier age than his Tefillin – Shmuel Brin Jun 11 '12 at 0:37
@HodofHod: possibly. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 69b) offers that as one reconstruction of the events, with the other being that she was a year older. (In Yusteni's case, though, she actually bemoans the fact that she could have been married three years earlier!) – Alex Jun 11 '12 at 1:28

The Ben Ich H'ay (paracha chofetim paragraph 1) states that 13 is too young to get married but 14 is good. My grandmother get married at 14. It was common in Tunisia at that time (1930's).

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And in many sephardic communities it was common. – Adam Mosheh Jun 11 '12 at 15:11
My Iraqi ex-roommate's grandmother was 12.5, if I recall correctly. And my ex-chavrusa's grandmother (Ashkenazi) was 14. – yitznewton Jun 11 '12 at 19:26

Chayei Moharan perek 105 states that Rebbe Nachman of Breslev zy'a married shortly after his bar mitzva. I recall learning specifically that this was common practice at the time, but I cannot find this statement sourced in any of the commentaries. I may have heard it in a shiur covering the sefer.

In looking for it I saw a note saying that Yemei Moharnat (the autobiography of Reb Noson of Breslev zy'a) states that Reb Noson was engaged at 12 and married following his bar mitzva, and that his parents had him when they were 14.

This supports the notion that marriage was routinely performed at this age both in Chasidic communities like the household of the Baal Shem Tov where Rebbe Nachman grew up as well as otherwise, as Reb Noson was born in a family of staunch misnagdim.

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In central and eastern Europe in the early modern period (even into the 19th century in Russia and Congress Poland) it was common for Jewish marriages to take place very young. This is especially true under Nicholas I, whose conscription policies (beginning 1827) specifically did not include married men. The tradition of "kest" (when a young bride and bridegroom would live in the bride's parents' house for a certain number of years as a condition of betrothal) was one of the ways in which people were able to study for a certain number of years. What is tricky, though, is that child marriage was an important polemic of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) against religious Judaism. They claimed that early marriage was a sign of degeneracy; in actuality early marriage was only a reality for a small elite (just as was the ideal of full time study), especially in the case of the alliance between wealth and the rabbinic class. Most people did not marry young. But it did happen. See for example the memoirs of Moshe Leib Lilienblum, Sins of my Youth (Hataot Neurai), for a Haskala critique of early marriage.

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Jason, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this detailed and very on-point information! I hope you stick around the site and enjoy it. – Isaac Moses Jul 30 '12 at 4:47

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