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In the context of zivugim, it seems that it's not possible to marry someone who is not your zivug. See this answer for some sources, as well as this gemara in Moed Katan 18b for example.

What I have heard in some shiurim is that, despite that, it is indeed possible to elect to not get married - that is within your free will.

This seems a bit puzzling to me, does that mean the children that were meant to be born aren't born? What about one's other half?

Anyway, does anyone have any sources for: a) it's not possible to avoid getting married b) it's possible

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  • Could you exercise free will to kill someone? What about his life, kids etc?
    – Chatzkel
    Sep 30 at 14:42
  • So the approach I follow is that you can't die before your time. However, to not be born at all seems to be a problem that Hashem prevents happening (same logic), you can find this in the sources about not being able to marry the wrong person, for example.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30 at 14:46
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    The Rambam denies the concept of זיווגים altogether (as a function of free will), so it would follow that he holds that one is capable of choosing not to fulfill the miswah. See שמונה פרקים: פרק שמיני. Sep 30 at 16:35
  • Thank you, @Deuteronomy, something well worth looking in to. It does beg the question, that given we can't know who our zivug is, how is it a free will question?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30 at 17:32
  • @RabbiKaii it is a free will question because with the mere illusion of a choice you are not an actual בוחר. That said, I'm not interested in debating the viability of the doctrine of באשערט/זיווג in the comments section. I merely wanted to alert you to the Rambam's position here. Sep 30 at 18:13

4 Answers 4

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The Rambam in a teshuvah writes as follows:

(לר' עובדיה גר צדק) שאלה על הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים תשובה על מה שאמרת אתה כי כל מעשה [בני] האדם אינם בגזירה מלפני הבורא יתעלה הוא האמת שאין בו דופי ולפיכך נותנים לו שכר אם הלך בדרך טובה ונפרעין ממנו אם הלך בדרך רעה וכל מעשה בני האדם בכלל יראת שמים הם וסוף כל דבר ודבר ממעשה בני האדם בא לידי מצוה או עבירה וזה שאמרו רז"ל הכל בידי שמים במנהגו של עולם ותולדותיו וטבעו כגון מיני אילנות וחיות ונפשות ומדעות וגלגלים ומלאכים הכל בידי שמים, וכבר הרחבנו בפי' מסכת אבות ענין זה והבאנו ראיות. וכן בתחלת החבור הגדול אשר חברנו בכל המצות. וכל המניח דברים שביארנו שהם בנויים על יסודי עולם והולך ומחפש בהגדה מן ההגדות או במדרש מן המדרשים או מדברי אחד הגאונים ז"ל עד שימצא מלה אחת ישיב בה על דברינו שהם דברי דעת ותבונה אינו אלא מאבד עצמו לדעת ודי לו מה שעשה בנפשו. וזה שאמ' לך רבך בת פלוני לפלוני וממון של פלוני לפלוני אם גזרה השוה בכל היא זאת והדברים כפשוטן. למה נאמ' בתורה פן ימות במלחמה ואיש אחר יקחנה ואיש אחר יחללנו. וכי יש בעולם בעל דעה יסתפק לו דבר זה אחר מה שכתוב בתורה. אלא כך ראוי למי שהוא מבין ולבו נכון לטול דרך האמת שישים ענין זה המפורש בתורה עיקר ויסוד שלא יהרוס בנין ויתד התקועה אשר לא תמוט וכשימצא פסוק מדברי הנביאים או דבר מדברי רז"ל חולק על עיקר זה וסותר ענין זה ידרוש ויבקש בעין לבו עד שיבין דברי הנביא או החכם אם יצאו דבריהם מכוונים בענין המפורש בתורה הרי מוטב ואם לאו יאמר דברי הנביא הזה או דברי חכם זה איני יודע אותם. ודברים שבגו הם ואינם על פשוטיהם. וזה שאמ' החכם בתו של פלוני לפלוני דרך שכר או דרך פורענות הוא זה. שאם זה האיש או זאת האשה עשו מצוה שראוי ליתן שכרה בהם זיווג יפה ומשובח הקב"ה מזווגן זה לזה. וכן אם ראוי ליפרע מהם בזיווג שיהיה בו קטטה ומלחמה תמיד מזוגן. וזה כענין שאמרו רז"ל אפילו ממזר אחד בסוף העולם וממזרת אחת בסוף העולם הקב"ה מביאן ומזווגן זה לזה ואין דבר זה השוה לכל אלא לאלו שנתחייבו או שזכו כמו שישר בעיני אלהים יתעלה. וכל אלו הדברים הם בנויים על מה שפירשנו בפירוש משנת אבות כמו שהבנת. וחכם גדול אתה ולב מבין יש לך שהבנת הדברים וידעת דרך הישרה. וכתב משה ב"ר מימון זצ"ל

In other words, according to the Rambam, the Gemara does not mean that there is a decree for every individual about whom he will marry - because this would contradict the principle of free will. Rather, there are some individuals who may have such a decree as a reward or punishment. Regardless, the principle of free will is paramount, and any statement that seems to contradict it should not be accepted at face value.

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  • I'm not 100% sure I follow what exactly he is saying here, pertaining to my question?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 2 at 15:56
  • @RabbiKaii added some clarification at the end
    – wfb
    Oct 3 at 19:12
  • Ok thank you very much. If you or anyone who sees this knows, where is the best place to get a comprehensive picture of the Rambam's statements on free will. I am left with many questions and I don't want to just get stuck in a loop of asking :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 3 at 19:41
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Thanks everyone for the answers. It's possible there are different shittot about free will, and I got the gist from all of the answers offered that people are not holding in the same shita as me, or I was able to still view my shita in questions that told me my shita wasn't correct (or at least, I had unanswered kashes), and I have researched an answer now that fits with my exact question, so I will answer my own question.

Firstly, the Rambam is very strong with free will, and there's no need to make an argument against this in light of the question. As Deuteronomy shared here: שמונה פרקים: פרק שמיני and wbf's answer, the Rambam is very clear that we shouldn't assume that there's no free will even when it comes to pre-destined marriages. See also Hilchot Teshuva 5:1-4

So really, this calls into question how we resolve the idea of "pre-destined" and free will. The Rambam says in Hilchot Teshuva 5:5:

God certainly knows all that will transpire...but this is known without doubt: that the deeds of man are in the hands of man, and God does not induce or coerce a person to do anything.

Raavad's gloss on this:

Rather, it is like the knowledge of a fortune-teller, who knows, by some other means, what a particular person's parth will be... The Creator knows the strength of the influence of the constellations at any given moment, and if the person will muster the strength to overcome this influence or not. This knowledge does not coerce the person's choice...

Also see Avot 3:15

Everything is foreseen, and free choice is granted

And Tosfot Yom Tov's commentary on the above:

There is no contradiction in the first place. God's knowledge of the future is the result of His observing the deed that the person is doing... One cannot argue that because God knows the future actions of man He therefore compels them, because for God there is no "before" and "after"...So just like our knowledge of the present has no compelling effect, so, too, God's knowledge is always in the present and this is non-compelling.

So, what we conclude from all this is that you can have "meant to be", meaning, Hashem decided since before Bereshit who you will marry (and it will really be your actual other half of your soul), or if you will even have a zivug. The way He works this out, is by "looking" into "the future" to see what your choices are, and takes all of that into account in His Eternal Plan. This is what it means for us to be partner's in creation, and why this is all so infinitely serious. Hashem has, so to speak, put His Plan into our hands. When we keep mitzvot, then that's great, but when we sin, we are, so to speak, messing things up.

If someone chooses to not get married (or to have mamzerim, or to marry someone forbidden to them), this is, simultaneously his own choice and responsibility, and meant-to-be. Hashem's whole Plan took this into account since before creation, but was, so to speak, based around this bad choice (and therefore - before Rav Dessler's 'levels of free will' and Berdichever 'Hashem don's lechaf zechus' ideas is entirely our fault, not His i.e. we cannot say He pre-destined a sin). Hashem only knows what lengths He goes to, to "clean up" after us. Surely, it is considered difficult like קריעת ים סוף (see Sota 2a, thanks conceptualinertia for your answer).

Of course, there are still seeming paradoxes here, and things we can't possibly grasp. As the Rambam says:

Know that the answer to this question, "longer than the land is its measure, and broader than the sea"... "My thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor are your ways as My ways"... (Yishayahu 55:8) therefore we lack the capacity to know the nature of God's knowledge of all creations and all actions.

This answer is a very unified answer. It holds by zivug, it holds by hard free will, it respects the point that it's impossible to truly grasp Hashem and His ways, it fits well in all my Torah knowledge and I am happy with this answer. Feel free to comment your thoughts and kashes!

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I think that logically, there are 3 possible solutions: -

  1. Hashem knows what we will all choose, so if you make that choice, no zivug/children are allocated to you (or if you prefer to look at it a different way, Hashem exists outside time, so He does it retrospectively after you make the decision).
  2. The zivug & children are reallocated to someone else, maybe who wouldn't have gotten married otherwise.
  3. The concept of a zivug isn't to be interpreted in that way and whoever you choose to marry you make your zivug.
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  • Can the same children be born to different parents?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30 at 15:37
  • If you are talking about DNA then it seems unlikely, but we all change anyway. Are you even the same person you were a year ago? Sep 30 at 15:39
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I think that the premise of this question is mistaken. A person can marry someone who is not their zivug. The Gemara in Moed Katan (18b) that was cited in the question states in the name of Shmuel:

מוּתָּר לְאָרֵס אִשָּׁה בְּחוּלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד, שֶׁמָּא יִקְדְּמֶנּוּ אַחֵר It is permitted to betroth a woman on chol hamoed because maybe someone else will come first (and marry her).

The Gemara later clarifies that this "someone else" can have the ability to do this--even if the woman was not his initial zivug (although a subsequent Gemara appears to contradict this, the Ritva makes clear that the simple psak of Shmuel carries the day). And this is how the Shulchan Aruch paskens.

Similarly, the Gemara on the first amud of Sota (2a) says that a person can have multiple zivugim and that although a person's initial zivug is announced before birth, through is actions (i.e. mitzvos or aveiros) he can earn a different zivug. Because this requires a reworking of all of the other zivugim in the world, it is considered difficult like קריעת ים סוף.

Another source is the Gemara, Yevamos 63b, that says that the Tanna Ben Azzai never married--despite teaching that those that do not have children it is as if they shed blood--because he said "my soul is in love with Torah, the world can be sustained through others."

He chose not to get married (he was engaged to Rabbi Akiva's daughter) and believed that any children not born as a result of that choice would be born from other people.

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  • Re your first point, that's not how I understood the clarification of the gemara. The prayer for mercy doesn't prove that the mercy could lead to a bad shidduch, just that it can lead to some form of hatred as Rava's incident proves, and could be the basis of the Shulchan Aruch's psak? What do the mefarshim say? Your second source seems to prove that you can only marry a zivug! Your third source is great, although I'm not sure it is proof? Maybe he didn't have a zivug?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 30 at 17:30
  • @RabbiKaii The Taz and other meforshim on Shulchan Aruch explain that it is because of שמא יקדמנו אחר. The poshut pshat in Rava is that his tefilah could work to cause one of them to die before they get married (see Rashi there). If one can successfully daven so someone can die to not get married, then certainly one could choose not to get married. The second source is using the word zivug differently than you are. Zivug just means a match. It is saying that it is possible for a person to earn a different match than the one assigned before birth (see Tosafos there). Sep 30 at 18:00
  • @RabbiKaii Ben Azzai was engaged to Rabbi Akiva's daughter. Presumably she was his zivug. Also, if he didn't have a zivug that would have been a better answer than the one he gave when asked about not getting married. Sep 30 at 18:01
  • I'm not sure he would know who his zivug is but interesting analysis
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 1 at 19:16

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