For the week ending 14 November 2015 / 2 Kislev 5776

Juliet and Romeo

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: [Name Withheld]

Dear Rabbi,

Can a girl ask a boy to marry with her? Is it against the tzniut (modesty) law if a girl does this?

I am a religious girl living in [withheld] and I am 26 years old. He is my colleague and also he is a Torah scholar.

Dear [Name Withheld],

You may know the famous story where Rachel, the young daughter of the wealthy Kalva Savua “proposes” to the older, poor, uneducated work-hand of her father — Akiva.

Despite his humble background, she saw that he had very elevated character traits and much potential to be a Torah scholar.

She approached him with the following proposal: If I agree to be engaged and married to you, will you agree to learn Torah?

He initially refused, feeling unsuited to learn Torah. But she inspired him by showing him a large stone that had been born away by water, arguing that if something as soft as water can bore a hole into something as hard as stone, surely something as strong as Torah can bore into his heart of flesh. So encouraged, he agreed.

Of course, eventually he became one of the greatest rabbis of all times — Rabbi Akiva.

In this account related in the Talmud, Rachel not only proposed to Akiva, but actually coaxed him into marrying her when he initially demurred.

And since she was righteous, and sensitive to issues of tzniut (in fact, the Talmud emphasizes that tzniut was one of the laudable traits she saw in Akiva), her act of proposing to him must not have been a prohibition.

That being said, nowadays, this is generally not done, and might be viewed, if not as a prohibition, perhaps as a compromise of tzniut.

I imagine this is particularly so in the culture of your country, where I assume it is usually the man who proposes, and your doing so might seem too assertive.

Also, since this man hasn’t proposed to you yet, you would be taking a risk of his refusing you, which is a position you might not want to be in.

If it were possible, it would be better to have someone else suggest the idea to him, without indicating it’s coming from you, and see what his response is. If he’s open to the idea, and interested, then he could be encouraged to initiate the match with the idea that you are also interested.

In fact, this is more or less how it’s usually done in religious communities, whether it’s the man or the woman who is interested in investigating and initiating the prospects of marriage with the other.

May you find your proper soul-mate at the proper time. Amen.

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