For Medieval Sephardim, Marriages Were Made in Heaven. For Medieval Ashkenazim, They Were Made by Matchmakers

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.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Jewish marriage, Middle Ages, Sephardim

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7