What are the correct Jewish procedures for finding someone to marry? Like does "dating" have any Jewish connection?


The requirement for "Shidduchei"

The Gemara (Yevamos 52a) says that "rav menagid ... demikadesh b'lo shiddhuchei", a person deserves to be whipped if he gets married in a crass, inappropriate way, without having shidduchei first. Some might interpret that to mean there has to be an official formal matchmaking document or process or something before the marriage, but what I've heard from both Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff-Rakefet and Rabbi J David Bleich is that the Gemara simply means "getting married without whatever courtship process is normal in that culture." (Rabbi Rakefet suggested, for example, meeting the prospective spouse's parents; Rabbi Bleich suggested if the couple worked together on any joint planning of the wedding, that qualifies.)

The requirement for a man to see his prospective wife before marriage

Kiddushin 41a:

Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: it is prohibited to marry a woman before seeing her first; otherwise, he may [first marry her, and then] see something about her that disgusts him, and the Torah says "love your neighbor like yourself."

The importance of loving one's spouse

The Maharik (Italy, 1400s), 166:3 was asked regarding a guy who had fallen in love with a young lady, but his father objected. Maharik observed that the mitzva of honoring parents does not apply if the parent says to go against the Torah. As one is required to love their spouse, the father's request to dump this lady and find someone else (who he wouldn't love) is of no halachic standing.

Dating for marriage, vs. for fun

Different streams of observant Jews have different senses as to how much social contact between teenagers of opposite genders is appropriate. But R' Moshe Feinstein writes that a teenage boy really shouldn't have a serious "girlfriend" if this has nothing to do whatsoever with marriage.

Hechsher mitzva

Even if something per se isn't a mitzva, if it enables a mitzva to happen, that's important too. What sort of dating could then be considered "enabling" a happy marriage? I leave that to you to decide.

So what does this all mean?

Again, the only black-and-white requirements listed are:

  • Some courtship process
  • Seeing the potential spouse
  • The likely belief that this couple will be a happily wedded one

How does that translate into practice? In some communities, the parents arrange everything, the couple sees each other once, and if they think it works, that's it, mazeltov. In other communities, singles meet on their own, and tell their parents shortly before the official engagement. In many communities, it's somewhere in between, which can be vague.

(Note the Gemara at the end of Taanis sounds like there was a singles population that met at marriage-minded-singles events and worked it out on their own, though I recall that the (7th) Lubavitcher Rebbe zt'l interprets that Gemara non-literally, as a relationship between God and the Jews.)

Certainly if someone feels that s/he're not getting enough dating to cause the likelihood of a happy marriage, s/he should talk with his/her rabbi. Rabbi Moshe Bick wanted to require a minimum of eight dates before engagement, even in the Hassidic community. (He'd seen too many broken marriages.) Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar bristled at the idea.

Lastly, even within a community, there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Rabbi Yitzchak Blau observes that different things worked for different patriarchs:

  • Abraham and Sarah: we don't know exactly how they met, though they were relatives.
  • Isaac and Rebecca: Isaac stays home and davens, and his father's assistant brings home a wife for him.
  • Jacob and Rachel: Met at a well and fall in love.
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    I know of two sichos from the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l which discuss this Gemara (at hebrewbooks.org/… and hebrewbooks.org/…). Of course like all maamarei Chazal it has multiple levels of meaning, but I don't see in either of these sichos any suggestion that it's meant (only) non-literally, though. – Alex Jun 22 '10 at 14:35
  • Hm, that may be the case. The impression I got when I heard the sicha from a Lubavitcher friend of mine was that it was primarily non-literal, as it does sound strange to hold an event on Yom Kippur that sounds a bit like a singles mixer! (Though I'm told the Syrians do a singles event motzei yom kippur.) – Shalom Jun 22 '10 at 14:57
  • Well, they would have had to have something to do to fill up the time while the Sa'ir La'azazel is being taken away, right? (The Kohen Gadol's service couldn't continue until that was done - Yoma 68b.) – Alex Jun 22 '10 at 19:14
  • And also, while it may seem surprising to us (who are on a lower moral level), it may not have been so much to them. We thus find R' Yochanan reminiscing how "when I was younger, sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys and girls would play together in the street, and not come to sin" (Bava Basra 91b) - whereas evidently by his old age (he lived to be about 110 years old), standards had declined to the point where that was no longer possible. – Alex Jun 22 '10 at 19:18

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