Love, Marriage & Orthodox Judaism

Marc B. Shapiro blogs: The Yated “translation” omits anything about R. Shulman and R. Sher’s daughter “falling in love.” This is because there is no such concept in the haredi world (and in traditional Jewish societies, in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic worlds, such a notion was hardly found at all). Any love between husband and wife is said to come after marriage, and the biblical support for this concept, repeated in numerous texts (both haredi and pre-haredi[4]), is found in Genesis 24:67: “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekkah. So she became his wife, and he loved her.” This verse states that Isaac loved Rebekkah, but only after he married her.[5] R. Gamaliel Rabinowitz goes so far as to state that any love that is found before marriage arises from sin, as there is no room for “feelings” before marriage…

R. David Cohen, the Nazir, is an example of one who fell in love before marriage. In fact, his relationship with his future wife, Sarah, is a great love story. They were separated from each other for twelve years. He was in Europe and Eretz Yisrael and she was in Russia and later trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Throughout these long years they remained committed to each other, and the Nazir kept her picture on his desk.

… the Rav fell in love with his future wife in Berlin. R. Ronnie Ziegler writes as follows here:

“The Rav’s most important and fateful encounter in Berlin was that with his wife, Dr. Tonya (Lewit) Soloveitchik (1904-1967). A student at the University of Jena, where she obtained a Ph.D. in education, she was introduced to Rav Soloveitchik by her brother, a fellow student at University of Berlin. Although a scion of the illustrious Soloveitchik family was expected to conclude a match with the daughter of a prominent rabbi or at least a successful businessman, Rav Soloveitchik fell in love with Tonya Lewit and married her in 1931 despite her family’s undistinguished lineage and lack of means.”

R. Ziegler continues by describing the deep connection between the Rav and Tonya.

As mentioned in the previous lecture, the Rav’s relationship with his wife was one of the two most significant relationships in his life. He had unlimited esteem for her – his dedication of “The Lonely Man of Faith” reads: “To Tonya: A woman of great courage, sublime dignity, total commitment, and uncompromising truthfulness.” He respected her opinion and heeded her advice, both in practical and in intellectual matters. It was on her advice that he changed the topics of his annual Yahrzeit (memorial) lectures for his father, which attracted thousands of listeners, to matters which non-scholars could relate to (such as prayer, Torah reading, and holidays). [The halakhic portions of some of these lectures are collected in the two volumes of Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mari z”l.] In a poignant passage in a teshuva lecture delivered after his wife’s death, he recounted how he used to consult her before speaking:
“The longing for one who has died and is gone forever is worse than death. The soul is overcome and shattered with fierce longing. . . . Several days ago, I once again sat down to prepare my annual discourse on the subject of repentance. I always used to discuss it with my wife and she would help me to define and crystallize my thoughts. This year, too, I prepared the discourse while consulting her: “Could you please advise me? Should I expand this idea or cut down on that idea? Should I emphasize this point or that one?” I asked, but heard no reply. Perhaps there was a whispered response to my question, but it was swallowed up by the wind whistling through the trees and did not reach me.” (On Repentance [Jerusalem, 1980], p. 280)
Rav Soloveitchik’s wife was his best and perhaps only real friend. His natural proclivity towards loneliness, which we will encounter repeatedly in his writings, was heightened in his philosophy to an ideal, which expresses itself in an invigorating sense of one’s own uniqueness. One can be lonely even, or perhaps especially, when surrounded by friends, colleagues, and family. This is a constructive force which propels a person toward his individual destiny, while also propelling him to seek a depth-connection with God and with his fellow man. Aloneness, as opposed to loneliness, is a disjunctive emotion – it is a sense of lacking companionship, of being abandoned and forlorn. The passage above highlights the Rav’s almost unbearable sense of aloneness following his wife’s death in 1967 after a long struggle with cancer. He is reported to have said, “After my father’s death, I felt like a wall of my house had fallen down. After my wife’s death, I felt like the entire house had collapsed.”

Concerning the matter of falling in love before marriage, it is noteworthy that the great R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai (the Hida) was in love with the woman who would later be his wife, and whom he knew for a number of years before they were married…

I am quite surprised by the example the author uses. In commenting on the rabbinic derashah connecting the words מורשה and מאורסה,[21] he uses an example that portrays a romantic relationship. He tells of a rich man, apparently newly married, who loved his wife and tried to woo her by telling her how greatly he loved her. “His love for her increased in quantity and quality beyond how other grooms love their brides.”
This type of description would be unusual enough in a rabbinic work. Yet it gets even more unusual when R. Fried continues by telling us that the rich man showered her with hugs and kisses and placed an expensive necklace around her neck as a sign of his love. R. Fried also elaborates on why, despite all these signs of affection, the woman did not reciprocate with any feelings of love. Later he explains that since the Torah is to us like one bound with erusin, that is why we show it love, decorate it with silver and gold, and even kiss it, just like a groom does with his bride! It happens to be a clever derashah, and ends with how if you want the Torah (i.e., God) to love you back, it is not enough to only support the Torah. One must also support the poor Torah scholars, the “relatives” of the Torah.
Is it just me, or is anyone else surprised by this derashah? I can’t imagine using the imagery found here as part of a derashah before a haredi audience in order to inspire them to be generous with their support of Torah scholars. With the mention of hugging and kissing the bride, I don’t even think this would go over well in front of a Modern Orthodox audience. [22]
I am doubly astounded by the fact that the derashah we have just seen was written by an outstanding student of the Hatam Sofer, one who also showed his halakhic expertise by authoring a volume of responsa titled שו”ת מהרא”ף…

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary to Gen. 24:67, writes as follows:

“Like the marriage of the first Jewish son [Jacob], Jewish marriages, most Jewish marriages, are contracted, not by passion but by reason and judgment. Parents, relations and friends consider which young people are really suited to each other, bring them together, and then love grows more and more, the more they get to know each other. But most non-Jewish marriages are made by what they call “love”, and one has only to glance at the novels depicting life to notice what a gulf there usually yawns between the “love” before marriage and after, how rapid and insipid everything then seems, how different from all the glamour one had imagined etc. etc. Such “love” is blind, every step into the future brings disappointment. But of Jewish marriage it says: ויקח את רבקה ותהי לו לאשה ויאהבה. There the wedding is not the culmination but the seed, the root of love!”

Reading all of these passages shows us how much has changed both culturally and sociologically. I don’t think there is a parent in the Modern Orthodox world who would support a child’s marriage if the son or daughter was not convinced that he/she loved the future spouse.

The phrase חולי האהבה is used by Maimonides in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 10:3 (חולת אהבה appears in Song of Songs 2:5). He states:

“What is the love of God that is befitting? It is to love the Eternal with a great and exceeding love so strong that one’s soul shall be knit up with the love of God, and one should be continually enraptured by it, like a love-sick individual, whose mind is at no time free from his passion for a particular woman, the thought of her filling his heart at all times, when sitting down or rising up, when he is eating or drinking.”

Although some have described Maimonides as akin to Spock when it comes to emotions, anyone who reads the passage just quoted will see that Maimonides understood very well what being in love is all about.

The most recent book to appear in my series with Academic Studies Press is Maxine Jacobson, Modern Orthodoxy in American Judaism: The Era of Rabbi Leo Jung. Anyone with an interest in the history of Orthodoxy in America will want to read this book, and I am very happy that I was able to include it, together with other high quality works, in my series, “Studies in Orthodoxy.” Rather than offer my own description of the book, here is an “official” description, which appears on Amazon.

This work presents the issues of Modern Orthodox Judaism in America, from the decades of the twenties to the sixties, by looking at the activities of one of its leaders, Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung, pulpit rabbi, community leader and writer, whose career spanned over sixty years, beginning in the 1920s. Jung is a fulcrum around which many issues are explored. Rabbi Jung’s path crossed with some of the most interesting people of his time. He worked with Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, with Albert Einstein to promote Yeshiva College, with Herman Wouk, American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, and with Pearl Buck, a Nobel Prize laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner.
Modern Orthodoxy went from being a threatened entity on the American scene to a well- recognized and respected force in Judaism. Orthodoxy, at first, was seen as alien to the American environment. Marshall Sklare, perhaps the most influential exponent of this notion, wrote in the 1950s that the history of Orthodoxy in America could be written in terms of a case study of institutional decay. He realized the errors of his ways in the 1970s. This is the story of the renaissance of American Modern Orthodoxy, from the disorganization of the older Orthodoxy to the new spirit of confidence that emerged after World War Two. The phenomenon of Modern Orthodoxy is examined in the context of Orthodox invigoration and change. This book has relevance for further studies in various areas. It is part of the study of religious acculturation, of the conflict between tradition and modernity and of religious reinvigoration in a secular society.

Another noteworthy recent book is Michael J. Harris, Faith Without Fear: Unresolved Issues in Modern Orthodoxy. In my blurb that appears on the back cover, I write: “A proud and sophisticated manifesto of Modern Orthodoxy, one which builds on past thinkers but does not hesitate to chart new ground as well.” Rabbi Harris deals with a number of issues such as the role and status of women, mysticism, academic biblical scholarship, and religious pluralism. He generally comes down on the more “liberal” side of what is known as Modern Orthodoxy. (An exception to this generalization is his chapter on academic biblical scholarship.) Anyone who is interested in the intellectual trends of Modern Orthodoxy will want to read Harris’s book, as it is engaged scholarship at its best…

After the retirement of R. Israel Brodie, Herzog was offered, and accepted, the position of British Chief Rabbi. The common view is that Herzog’s health problems prevented him taking up the post, but the truth is more complicated. See Bar-Zohar, Yaacov Herzog, ch. 13.

Since I have spoken in prior posts about religious men not wearing kippot, Herzog should be added to the list. Not only did he go bareheaded when representing the State of Israel in the Diaspora (and also in his famous debate with Toynbee), but as you can see from pictures in Bar-Zohar’s book, he also did so in Israel, while at work in various important government positions. Bar Zohar writes, “Even as a very young man, when he was working at the Foreign Ministry and then in the Prime Minister’s office, Yaacov did not wear a skullcap, except when saying blessings or praying.” (Yaacov Herzog, p. 111) Because of the vast changes that have taken place in Israeli society, it is hard for us to appreciate why, in the early decades of the State of Israel, some religious men, even those who were not of German background, felt that government work required removing their kippah.

You can listen to the Herzog-Toynbee debate here.

In a previous post here I referred to Yitzhak Nebenzahl as not wearing a kippah, and I mentioned that this German practice continued into his old age. In 1974 Nebenzahl was a member of the Agranat Commission which investigated the Yom Kippur War. In pictures of him from this time you can see that he was still without a kippah. A couple of people emailed me to say that by the 1980s he had abandoned the galut custom and indeed wore a big black kippah. One of them even sent a picture of him and Nebenzahl together.

In the post referred to in the previous paragraph, I also discussed Aharon Barth, who like Nebenzahl came from Germany and did not wear a kippah while at work. Subsequent to the post I found that Zorach Warhaftig mentions that after the death of Chaim Weizman, Ha-Poel ha-Mizrachi recommended to Ben Gurion that Barth be a candidate for president of the State of Israel. Warhaftig reports that Ben Gurion rejected this since Barth was too religious and thus not an appropriate representative for the average citizen.


* See R. Daniel Eidensohn’s post on the Daas Torah blog titled, “Sex as a metaphor for love of Torah & G-d”(6/14/12):

“In researching my present sefer on sexuality – it has become obvious that the current attitude towards sexual issues is different then it was in Biblical and Talmudic times. Then it was not only more openly discussed and used as a metaphor in Biblical and Talmudic texts as well as Kabbalistic writings – but there was also a very positive appreciation of sexual attraction and pleasures. In fact love of Torah and love of G-d are expressed as sexual feelings. Is it just a metaphor or is it that intense spirituality is on a continuum with human sexuality? Below is just a small sampling of texts….”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Marriage, Orthodoxy. Bookmark the permalink.