The Odyssey Years Circa 1940

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Over the past few years, the media–Jewish and general–has been filled with discussion of the “Singles Crisis,” the phenomenon of a growing group of people who remain single longer, i.e. marry later, if at How Do You If Your Ex Boyfriend Wants You Back all. David Brooks famously labeled the time between college and marriage as the “Odyssey Years.” Contrary to the hysterical reports, this is hardly a new worry and was a concern some 70 years ago. I await a historical study of this recurring crisis but in the meantime provide the following two data points:

1. Bernard Wasserstein, On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War, p. 154:

By the 1930s, Jewish women, even in the shtetl, were marrying later than a generation earlier and Jews were marrying later than gentiles all over Europe. By 1931 the average age of marriage for Jewish women in Poland was twenty-seven.

In earlier times nearly all Jews had married. But by the 1930s this was no longer the case. In western Europe a growing minority of men and women remained single throughout their lives. The numerical imbalance of sexes after the First World War, particularly in the Soviet Union, led, for the first time in modern history in eastern Europe, to the presence in Jewish society of large numbers of never-married women. In Byelorussia in 1939, for every 1,000 unmarried Jewish men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine, there were 1,687 unmarried Jewish women.

2. R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Lev Ivra, pp. 118-119 (originally published in Ha-Mesilah, 1943):

The matter we are dealing with is “delayed marriage.” Compared to the past when the Jewish people excelled in early marriages, they have now pushed to the opposite extreme. This spreads to all segments, beginning with the non-religious and even reaching the religious and pious. This matter should not be light in your eyes…

My essay applies in particular to the “kosher” among us, the observant young men, among them those who study Torah full-time. Despite this they still fall prey to delayed marriage and waste a significant portion of their lives without good and without light, and “kosher” Jewish daughters are abandoned…

There are definitely pressing reasons that cause this and it is worthwhile to examine them. The first is the difficult burden of earning a living, particularly in this time and place where the necessities of life are great and women shout “give, give.” The second reason for those who learn Torah full-time is that they are concerned of losing time from Torah study… and they have become so used to it that it seems like an immutable law not to marry before the age of thirty. One of the Admorim once jokingly asked the Chafetz Chaim if he could find a leniency to permit marrying before thirty…

How Do You If Your Ex Boyfriend Wants You Back

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

9 comments

  1. Shalom Rosenfeld

    The first is the difficult burden of earning a living, particularly in this time and place where the necessities of life are great and men shout “give, give.”

    Hm; drop 2 letters and you’ve zoomed ~70 years forward.

  2. “The first is the difficult burden of earning a living, particularly in this time and place where the necessities of life are great and women shout “give, give.””

    Mah chadash tachat hashamesh?

  3. If your going to look at history, your going to need to take into account the men that went to battle and died. I was going to do a mathematical study on the “single crisis” because lots of the things said about it dont add up.

  4. A very wise man once told me every generation thinks they discovered sex for the first time in human history.
    KT

  5. Philip Larkin?

    (The Wikipedia bio, by the way, completely misses his joke.)

  6. The average age of Jewish women as a whole in Poland when they married doesn’t tell you the average age of Orthodox Jewish women when they married.

  7. Baruch, good point. The same is true in Israel – factoring in the secular Jewish population bumps up the average by a few years.

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