In the second chapter of the Bible God told Adam and Eve that a man would leave his parents and be united to his wife (Genesis 2:24). Since that time some individuals have married and others have remained single.
Many differences in marriage customs have developed in various cultures over the centuries. However, two things remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years in the development of Western culture: who people marry and when they marry. Only during the past couple of centuries have changes occurred in these two things to create the new singleness.
Old Testament Times
As translated 400 years ago in the King James Version of the Bible, Leviticus 19:29 reads, “Do not prostitute thy daughter to cause her to be a whore.” The same verse in the New International version says, “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute.” It seems inconceivable that a father could ever do that. How could this be?
The Talmud, essentially a commentary on the Old Testament, particularly the first five books, may shed some light on this verse. Here are the comments of some Jewish rabbis centuries ago.
- R. Akiba: “This refers to the delay in marrying off a daughter who is already a bogereth (past puberty).” A footnote explains, “Having attained puberty, she may become unchaste if not married” (Sanhedrin 76a).
- R. Kahna: “The only poor in Israel is the subtly wicked and he who delays in marrying off his daughter, a bogareth.” (Sanhedrin 76a).
- R Abaye: “Which poor man is subtly wicked? He who delays marrying off his daughter, a bogereth” (Sanhedrin 76b).
- The next paragraph states that a good man “leads his children in the right path and marries them just before they attain puberty” (Sanhedrin 76b).
These comments from the teachers of the law make two things clear about the culture at the time of the Talmud. First, parents were responsible to find spouses for their children. Second, ideally marriage should take place as soon as children became adults and were sexually mature. Marriages were arranged, and they took place about the age of puberty
Under ancient Hebrew law the minimum legal age of marriage was 12 for women and 13 for men. This was formalized later when women went through bat mitzvah at 12 and men through bar mitzvah at 13. Of course, not everyone married at 12 and 13, but they could if their parents found them a spouse and wanted them to marry…