French and German halakhic writings from the Middle Ages make frequent mention of the use of professional matchmakers, consider the breaking-off of an engagement a source of embarrassment for which one family may seek damages from the other, and encourage parents to wait until girls reach majority before letting them be betrothed, so that they can consent to the union. By contrast, Spanish rabbis of the same era make scant mention of matchmakers, see the breaking of an engagement as an insignificant thing, and have few qualms about betrothing children. Surveying and analyzing these differing approaches, Efraim Kanarfogel argues they reflect fundamentally different views of marriage:
Spanish rabbinic authorities, going back to the [early] Muslim period and [drawing on the attitudes of] several Babylonian authorities as well, maintained that the divine role in bringing husband and wife together was the predominant factor in determining the existence of a marriage. The task of the parents and grandparents was to arrange the marriage within the earthly realm, of which they were quite capable. However, it was ultimately divine agency that allowed the marriage to move forward.
Since the parents and family were charged with [realizing God’s plan], the bride and groom themselves had little input. Thus, it was expected that a daughter would always agree to the choice of her father (or grandfather). . . . [I]f a commitment to marry was broken, there was no cause for regret or embarrassment. This was a matter of the heavenly fate of the bride and groom.
Ashkenazi rabbinic authorities, however, believed that the driving force behind marriage consisted of the will and efforts of the bride and groom, along with those of others (parents and family members, as well as matchmakers) who acted on their behalf. The Almighty obviously played a crucial if inscrutable role in this process, but it was up to the human participants to expend whatever efforts and means available to bring about a marriage that was appropriate in their view. The cancellation of a marriage commitment was seen as a source of deep disappointment and embarrassment, and was to be avoided at almost any cost.
Since the bride and groom were the key actors on their own behalf, the bride had to agree explicitly to her ritual betrothal. . . . Although Sefer Ḥasidim [an influential 13th-century German rabbinic work] advised fathers to marry off their children at a relatively young age so that they would accept the choice of a mate presented to them, it also strongly supported the concept of a marriage entered into on the basis of love or at least on the desire of the couple to marry one another.