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Child marriage in Judaism

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In Jewish Ashkenazi communities in the Middle Ages, girls were married off very young.[1] Despite the young threshold for marriage a large age gap between the spouses was opposed,[2] and, in particular, marrying one's young daughter to an old man was declared as reprehensible as forcing her into prostitution.[3] Child marriage was possible in Judaism due to the very low marriageable age for girls. A ketannah (literally meaning "little [one]") was any girl between the age of 3 years and that of 12 years plus one day;[4] a ketannah was completely subject to her father's authority, and her father could arrange a marriage for her without her agreement.[4] If the father was dead or missing, the brothers of the ketannah, collectively, had the right to arrange a marriage for her, as had her mother,[4] although in these situations a ketannah would always have the right to annul her marriage even if it was the first.[5] According to the Talmud a father is commanded not to marry his daughter to anyone until she grows up and says 'I want this one'.[6] A marriage that takes place without the consent of the girl is not an effective legal marriage.[7] If the marriage did end (due to divorce or the husband's death), any further marriages were optional; the ketannah had the right to annul them.[5] The choice of a ketannah to annul a marriage, known in Hebrew as mi'un (literally meaning "refusal", "denial", "protest"),[5] led to a true annulment, not a divorce; a divorce document (get) was not necessary,[8] and a ketannah who did this was not regarded by legal regulations as a divorcee, in relation to the marriage.[9] Unlike divorce, mi'un was regarded with distaste by many rabbinic writers,[5] even in the Talmud;[10] in earlier classical Judaism, one major faction - the House of Shammai - argued that such annulment rights only existed during the betrothal period (erusin) and not once the actual marriage (nissu'in) had begun.[11]

In modern times, child marriage is extremely rare in the Jewish community; it is banned by law in most countries.

Rather than being seen as merely a literary device to quickly describe the populating of the earth, the biblical instruction to go forth and multiply[12] was interpreted by the classical rabbis to mean that it was the duty of every male Jew to marry as soon as possible.[13] Several Talmudic rabbis urged that children should be married as soon as they had reached the average age of puberty, which was deemed to occur at 14 years of age;[14] however, it was also strictly forbidden, by classical rabbinical literature, for parents to allow their children to marry before the children had reached this age.[14] Despite the young threshold for marriage, marriages with a large age gap between the spouses (e.g. between a young man and an old woman) were thoroughly opposed by the classical rabbis[15][16]

The classical rabbis saw 18 as the ideal age to become married,[17] and anyone unmarried after the age of twenty was said to have been cursed by God;[18] rabbinical courts frequently tried to compel an individual to marry, if they had passed the age of twenty without marriage.[19] Nevertheless, the classical rabbis viewed study of the Torah as a valid reason for remaining unmarried, although they were only rarely willing to regard lifelong celibacy favourably.[20] Since the classical rabbis viewed marriage as a duty deriving from the instruction to go forth and multiply,[13] they also believed that the duty to marry ended once the husband had fathered both a son and a daughter;[21] despite this, they also argued that no man should live without a wife even after he has several children.[21]

Ability to give consent

Children, however, were not regarded as old enough to make an informed decision, and so could not consent to marriage themselves,[19] although marriage to a female child was still permissible if her father consented, whether she agreed to it or not;[19] if the father was dead, such consent could be given by her mother, or her brothers, but in this latter case the girl could annul the marriage when she reached the "standard" age of puberty (12), if she wished.[19]

The mentally handicapped, and deaf-mutes, were also regarded, by traditional Jewish law, as being unable to give their consent; indeed, marriage to such people was forbidden. However, the rabbis allowed deaf-mutes to marry each other.[19]


  1. Kiddushin (tosafot) 41a
  2. Yebamot 44a
  3. Sanhedrin 76a
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Majority", a publication now in the public domain.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Mi'un", a publication now in the public domain.
  6. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer, 37:8
  7. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer, 42:1
  8. Yebamot 107a
  9. Yebamot 108a
  10. Yebamot 109a
  11. Yebamot 107a
  12. Genesis 1:28
  13. 13.0 13.1 Maimonides, Minyan haMitzvot, 212
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sanhedrin 76b
  15. Yebamot 44a
  16. Sanhedrin 76a
  17. Pirkei Abot 5:24
  18. Kiddushin 29b
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 Jewish Encyclopedia, Marriage Laws
  20. Yebamot 63b
  21. 21.0 21.1 Yebamot 61a

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Jewish views on marriage. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Forbidden relationships in Judaism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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