Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh
Assessing a Potential Spouse
The gemara tells us that there is a difference between the way men and women evaluate a potential match. "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, it is forbidden for a man to betroth a woman until he sees her, lest he should see some discreditable thing and she will lose esteem in his eyes". The result is that he will find it difficult to honor and love her sufficiently (Kiddushin 41a). The gemara concludes that this advice does not apply to a woman, for a woman prefers even a less-than-ideal match to single life.
This source seems to suggest that the quality of the potential match is not extremely important to a woman. Yet a few lines later the gemara seems to say exactly the opposite: "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav ...it is forbidden for a man to betroth his daughter when she is still a minor, until she grows up and says, "I want so-and-so" (Kiddushin 41a). It seems that it is very important for a woman to be able to evaluate and judge the suitability of a candidate.
One way of resolving this paradox is by carefully examining the language of the gemara. When the text is referring to a man, the emphasis is on appearances: it is forbidden for him to take a wife until he sees her, lest he see some undesirable thing. This does not necessarily refer to beauty, but to those aspects of appearance and manners which are evident only when seeing someone. (Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh states that he should wait until he is acquainted with her, lest he find something un- pleasant in her. SA EHE 35:1)
But when the text refers to a woman, the emphasis is on judgment: it is necessary to wait until she is mature - possessing judgment - and says that she wants this match.
There is no doubt that both looks and deeper characteristics are important to men and women alike. But there is a difference in how these are weighed. If a woman decides, based on the information she has about a potential husband, that this fellow will make a suitable partner, we are not afraid that his appearance will deter her; it is enough for her to agree. (Of course if appearances are important to her, she won't say "I want so-and-so" until she sees him.)
However, experience shows that the aspects of appearance and character which are evident only on meeting are much more important to a man. There- fore, even if he agrees to the match based on what he has heard, we discourage him from going ahead until he sees the woman. We are worried that if the fiancée's manners and appearance make him too uncomfortable, this will constitute a material obstacle to marital harmony.
Based on this insight, it is possible that when the gemara tells us that a women is less particular because her main consideration is that "it is better to be married than to be alone" (see Rashi), this refers only to those characteristics which the gemara is referring to: those which are related to impressions. Even if a woman finds a man's outward impression less than ideal, this doesn't make it unbearable for her to stay married. From this particular passage, there is no basis for stating that a woman prefers marriage to single life if her disappointment in the man's character and background relates to something more profound.
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