Teen marriage isn't such a big deal in the charedi world and most Chassidish groups marry off both girls and boys between the ages of 18-20—occasionally, a girl might be even younger.
(Teen marriage in the Western non-Jewish world is considered one of the most destructive & dumbest acts a person can do. But the factors making teen marriage so difficult to succeed among modernized non-Jews are either not present or much less among frum Jews.)
Furthermore, a lot of American Chalabim (Syrian) Jews traditionally married off their daughters right after high school, and the boys a couple of years later after they learned the family business. (Don't know if this is still true, but it was true at one point.)
Despite all this, Litvish Ashkenazim and a lot of Sephardim in the charedi world wait until their early twenties. This gives the girls time to earn a degree to support a kollel husband & both extra time to mature emotionally.
Some of the greatest rabbanim recommended the early twenties rather than the late teens.
But all the sudden, tons of teen marriages started occurring among the more "open" charedi Sephardim here.
Many were 18-19, with sometimes both the boy and the girl married at 18. In one case, a 17-year-old girl married a 19-year-old boy.
More recently, a 17-year-old boy proposed to an 18-year-old girl a week before his 18th birthday.
Intrigued, I decided to learn more.
What are the Common Factor in This New Trend?
- Nearly all of them are charedi-lite or what's now called patuach (open)...but NOT off-the-derech (nor do they want to be).
They own cell phones (some filtered, some not) and dress modern.
Nearly all the boys either did not continue to yeshivah gedolah (post-high school yeshivah) or they did, but did not stay for more than a year or two.
Instead, they headed straight into full-time employment.
And while they push the boundaries with their clothing styles, associating with the opposite gender, Internet usage, etc., no one seems to want to stop being frum or even leave the charedi community.
They're not going to the army either.
In fact, these young couples even choose to continue living in the same charedi community in which they grew up.
So I think it's interesting that they feel friendly toward their upbringing and community (even if they sometimes had negative experiences).
They're not hostile or bitter toward their communities or parents.
They want to stay within the charedi framework and send their children to charedi schools.
But they want to do it on their terms.
- The vast majority did not meet on shidduchim; they met at work or at a friend's house or on the street.
Along with their more open tendencies (with which I don't agree, but nonetheless admire them for wanting to remain within the basic framework)
One exception to that went like this:
The parents of a 17-year-old boy divorced & both married other people within a few months.
One of the youngest in his family, most of his siblings were married in homes of their own.
He dormed in yeshivah, coming home only twice a month, but no longer felt he had a home to come home to.
Though his step-parents were nice to him, he understandably no longer experienced the same feeling of being at "home" that he felt when his parents were still married to each other.
Because there was no remedy to this problem, he didn't feel comfortable confiding in either of his parents.
After all, there was no way to switch the situation back, plus both his parents and step-parents were being nice and doing what they could to make him feel comfortable.
But tachlis, once you have parents focused on a new marriage in a new home, with a new authority figure around, plus step-siblings, it's just no longer as comfortable as before.
So he came home from yeshivah, but never felt "at home."
Parents can try and make this work as much as possible, but his feelings are completely normal and understandable.
So he began confiding in a big-brother figure at his shul. This big-brother figure was close to thirty & married with children.
He understood and felt for the young bachur.
After listening and empathizing for a few months, the big-brother figure said something like, "Listen, I don't see any way in this situation to get back that feeling of being home. In fact, I see only one solution for you. How do you feel about getting married and creating a home of your own that way?"
The boy was open to the idea.
So the big-brother figure continued, "Great. Because my wife's best friend has a younger sister who we think would be a good match for you."
The teenagers met and it indeed ended up being a match. They married at 18 and are very happy together.
- Covid regulations had a significant impact on creating this phenomenon.
As mentioned above, many couples met in non-traditional ways.
It started before covid, but the erratic covid lockdowns put this trend on steroids.
Covid regulations caused the following:
- Educational institutions closed or on unpredicatable schedules
- Bus lines operated erratically (meaning, a yeshivah student could wait 90 minutes for a bus meant to come every 15 minutes, and when it finally arrived, the bus wouldn't even stop because it was full)
- Israeli apartments are too small to confine a large family (or even a small family!) comfortably for extended periods of time
So many frum youth ended up gathering together on the streets, the parks, or wherever.
This led to boy-girl mingling.
In another case, an 18-year-old yeshivah bachur traveled far outside his hometown to get to yeshivah. But with the above-mentioned issues, he often found himself hanging out at a friend's home near the yeshivah.
(Again, he did this because the yeshivah would suddenly close then re-open or because the buses weren't operating in a normal way. So he needed somewhere to go in the meantime.)
And that friend had a 16-year-old sister.
And that 16-year-old sister had a friend who liked to come over and hang out at their apartment.
And the friend of the brother noticed the friend of the sister and found her very appealing.
Anyway, after his parents found out about their relationship, his father said, "Having a girl friend isn't healthy. Either break up or get married."
And they did. By the time the wedding came about, she was 17 and he was 19.
That happened frequently, BTW. The parents discovered the relationship and didn't oppose it outright; they understood. But commonly, the parents told the couple what the father said above.
And these are frum youth. They understood exactly what their parents meant.
- The boys and girls tend to be fairly clean-cut and responsible.
The boys all hold down jobs.
(And it's much easier to live in Eretz Yisrael on a lower salary than it is in the USA.)
Some boys were doing phenomenally well from a young age. For example, the boy from the above example was managing an optometry store from age 18.
Another made money hand-over-fist as an excellent barber.
Another worked as a tailor since he was 15. He started off doing excellent work for friends in yeshivah, then he found steady part-time work tailoring in a mens clothing factory while learning part-time. (He and his wife were 18 when they married.)
And so on.
Some of the boys smoked, but none of them were doing drugs or drinking (either not at all or only sporadically). The girl they married ended up being the only girl they'd ever met or dated. (In other words, they hadn't been seeking out girls prior to that.) They hadn't gotten in trouble with the police. They weren't getting rowdy or openly rebellious when they hung out together.
The girls too had finished school and were working or completed a degree or in the middle of completing a degree.
If you saw any of them, you'd think they were modern and patuach and somewhat week spiritually.
But no one is looking to reject frumkeit outright.
And while they own Internet-connected cell phones (which is admittedly a huge problem), they aren't looking to rebel or reject. They're not cynical. They don't sit around kvetching about all the defects in the charedi community, etc.
And yes, they've had negative experiences. (Haven't we all?)
But they don't allow those negative experiences to blackout all the positive they experienced.
They have rabbis, rebbetzins, teacher, and/or frum adult family members with whom they maintain a positive relationship.
They more or less get along with their families of origin, even if they don't like certain aspects of their families.
They seem happy, encourage marriage, and generally create a positive peer pressure to do it.
The boys seem content in their married lives (including those with children), which presents a positive example.
It makes marriage and establishing a home attractive.
In one case, one of the married youth at an engagement celebration turned to a good friend (who'd gone off the derech and was shacking up with a girl) and said, "B'ezrat Hashem, we'll be dancing at YOUR irusin and wedding this year!"
In other words, they're very confident in their decision to live life right.
And they're not afraid to say it, including to the off-the-derech youth who often get offended and upset when people press them to do anything frum.
Being confident, strong, capable, and responsible are positive masculine qualities.
And seeing these young married men with such manly qualities presents a very compelling example for other boys.
They're good at relationships.
As mentioned above, these youths tend to get along with their families of origin, even when they're not the best.
They also proved themselves able to make friends and keep them.
They're good-hearted, loyal, and giving...the very qualities people need for marriage.
In other words, they come into marriage with the skills and experience of how to make relationships work.
- They want to establish their own Jewish home.
These couples don't just want to shack up together.
Despite their young age, they have solid ideas on what it takes to make relationships and a home
Especially with the girls, the girls REALLY seek to make a home and marriage according to their ideals.
They're very idealistic.
And the boys are too, depending. (Usually, boys aren't as idealistic as girls regarding parenthood and marriage.)
But they all expect to work for their relationship, work for their parnasa, and work at raising their children.
And while they may get along with their families of origin, it's true that most seem to be seeking a way to create the home they would have preferred, but their own parents weren't able to give them.
And I see this as a good thing.
People want to better themselves and make course-corrections without throwing the baby out with the bath water.
- Both the boys and the girls receive Torah hashkafah on marriage.
This means a lot more than just taharas mishpacha laws.
In fact, one rabbi in our area opened a weekly class for these young soon-to-be-married or just-got-married young men. He also teaches them privately before the wedding.
They like him a lot & really listen to him.
- They have support from their families.
Their parents accept their child's chatan or kallah, despite not having been found in the conventional way of shidduchim.
They pay for much of the wedding expenses and continue to provide financial and practical support in the way frum parents do for any married child.
In one case, this meant the teenage daughter-in-law moving in with her parents-in-law when her second pregnancy demanded bedrest and extra care.
Married for all of 6 months so far, he spoke from the heart about how important it is to understand the different natures between men and women, and, referencing verse from Chazal, he darshaned that if only the husband does his best to understood, accept, and be mevater to his wife, then it builds both him and his shalom bayit.
Everyone loved it.
In fact, looking around, everyone felt amused by this teenager married for 6 months speaking like an experienced madrich chatanim...and we all felt impressed too by his sincerity and maturity.
Later, we all commented on how moved we were by his short by heartfelt drasha.
One person said, "It's because he spoke from the heart. 'Words from the heart enter the heart'."
Watching them, they seemed emotionally mature and very connected to each other. The young wife also dressed with exceptional tsniyut while still looking contemporary.
I found out later how well he supported her through an early miscarriage and she's pregnant again, but going strong this time, baruch Hashem.
But I'm optimistic.
To date, I know of only one divorce among these young couples and it's because the girl suffers severe immaturity. She's sweet, but very immature due to extreme abuse suffered in her youth, combined with the influence of non-Jewish movies & social media, and the increasing social acceptability of divorce, etc.
The guy was and is such a good sweet person and everyone (including the girl's mother, siblings, BFFs, etc.) think she made a big mistake by pushing for the divorce.
(I think she's worse off for it too, as is their little daughter.)
But everyone else seems to be going strong.
Despite being brought up to disdain young marriage (and experienced disdain myself from secular relatives when I married at age 24—considered unusually young by modern American standards), I realized how good young marriage is for people and society.
Also, I noticed while still an extremely secular person in high school how malleable teenage girl are.
Meaning, they have this profound ability to completely absorb themselves into a relationship with absolute commitment & dedication.
Unfortunately, due to the mores of the surrounding liberal society, these girls wasted their dedication and faithfulness in non-marital relationships with teenage boys who weren't up to the task.
But channeled in a healthy way, I saw this ability as a very powerful thing.
I actually had a married friend in high school who'd gotten married the summer between 11th and 12th grade, and she clearly reaped the benefits of this decision, even though some of the teachers looked down on her for it. But she didn't care because she genuinely loved her husband and her life.
It's true that some aren't ready.
And though people for whom a young marriage did not work out will proclaim they were too young at the time, that's not usually the real factor.
It's not only because they were eighteen or nineteen, but because of their middot or their young spouse's middot, poor relationship skills, unrealistic expectations, unwillingness to do what it takes, overlooking abuse & addiction (something that even well-educated thirtysomethings do), lack of resources, interfering friends & relatives, lack of support, and so on.
But they'll usually claim, "Oh, it's because I was so young when I first married"—even though that's rarely the real reason.
And in today's world, with emotional immaturity and self-indulgence all the rage in Western culture, it's very hard to make marriage work at any age.
50% of American marriages end in divorce. In England, 42% end in divorce & decreasing, but divorce within the first year of marriage is increasing.
(How does that work? Well, England's Muslim population hovers around 7%. Muslims divorce less, so that's probably what's bringing the divorce rate down, plus other people get married less. Also, England hosts a large Indian population, which also divorces less than other Brits.)
But here, I'm seeing these very young couples starting off on the right foot. Some of them reached their twenties, have a few children, and are still going strong.
So that's an interesting sociological trend happening here.
B'ezrat Hashem, it will continue to be a good thing.