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The Jewish Ethicist: Money and Marriage II

The Jewish Ethicist: Money and Marriage II

Is it ethical to marry for money?

by

Q. I'm a working woman with a good income, but it is important to me to find a husband with good earning power who will be able to provide financial security. Is this a valid consideration? I don't want to be seen as a "gold-digger."

A. The topic of marriage and money is an ancient and highly nuanced one. We touched on this in a previous column which talked about the importance of having at least a minimal basis for supporting a family.

The basic approach of Jewish law and tradition is that wealth and earnings are valid considerations in choosing a spouse, but the dominant considerations should be character and compatibility.

One important source relating to marrying for money is the following Talmudic passage: "Rabbah bar Rav Addah said, anyone who marries a woman for the sake of money is liable to have unworthy children." (1)

The most intuitive connection is as follows: the most important consideration should be the wife's ability to be a caring mother; if money dominates this consideration then the children's upbringing is likely to suffer. The Iyun Yaakov commentary refers us to another passage that teaches that poor parents are often the most attached to their children, since they have "no other joy" in life.(2)

The legal authorities, however, concluded that even this warning only applies if the woman is otherwise unsuited. Thus the authoritative Rav Moshe Isserles writes in the Shulchan Arukh: "Anyone who marries an unfit woman because of money is liable to have unworthy children. But otherwise, if she is not unfit for him but he marries her because of money, it is permissible." (3) But he then goes on to say that it is not a good idea to make too big an issue out of money: "Whatever his in-laws can give him he should accept good naturedly, and then he will be successful".

We find in another place that money can be an important consideration in choosing a spouse. The Mishnah states that if the man betroths a woman on the condition that he is rich, and it turns out that he is poor, the betrothal is nullified. Yet the Mishnah goes on to say that the opposite is also true: if he betroths a woman on the condition that he is poor and turns out to be rich, the betrothal is likewise invalid. (4)

Here also there seems to be a hint that what is most important is not wealth per se, but rather essential compatibility. One thing that can contribute to marital harmony is when the two spouses have similar characteristics, and this includes similar socio-economic level. Indeed, in another place our Sages specifically recommend that a man should not marry a wife above his class. (5)

In another place, our Sages teach that for a disadvantaged woman, having a husband of means can be particularly important. (6)

We can summarize our approach as follows:

Economics are an important part of marriage. Jewish law establishes that a husband is obligated to support his wife at a level she is accustomed to (7), and that a wife is likewise obligated to contribute to the economic success of the household through household production or equivalent outside income. (8) However, the main consideration should always be personal characteristics and degree of suitability.

Ultimately, money is itself has importance for these reasons. We perceive a person with a good job as diligent and conscientious, and we feel that someone with a similar income will probably have similar tastes and expectations and thus be compatible.

At the same time, overemphasis on financial security and compatibility can often be an obstacle to the more important things in a marriage. As the citation from the Iyun Yaakov teaches us, very often someone who lacks money is better able to appreciate the more important things in life. And as Rav Moshe Isserles states, once a couple have decided to marry they shouldn't let money considerations stand in the way.

So a person should never be ashamed that money considerations are important in a prospective spouse, but at the same time these considerations should never be paramount but should always be subordinate to character and compatibility.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 70a. (2) Babylonian Talmud Moed Katan 24b and Rashi's commentary (3) Shulchan Arukh Even Haezer 2:1 (4) Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 48b (5) Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 63a. (6) Babylonian Talmud Taanit 31a (7) Shulchan Arukh Even Haezer 70:1,3 (8) Shulchan Arukh Even Haezer 80

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to jewishethicist@aish.com

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The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of Aish.com and the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at www.besr.org.

Published: February 19, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, March 24, 2006 12:00 AM

What loves got to do with it

(4) Anonymous, February 27, 2005 12:00 AM

Financial Stress can des

When looking for a spouse, when you search for someone who is wealthy, you need to remember it is just as easy for a wealthy person to end up with out a penny in the bank- a person's character is what is more important, and whether the person is lazy and undriven or if he is willing and driven to work hard and find a realistic way to support his wife and children. That is a more valuable character trait. Financial Stress though, can just as easily destroy a marriage based on love both people in the relationship need to keep focused on what their priorities are.

(3) Anonymous, February 23, 2005 12:00 AM

riches can be measured in many ways

I am an artist and like most, had no money when I married. My wife and I have now been married for 18 years, most of which was very happy. We have had a few bumps along the way and the worst of these had (at least on the surface) a lot to do with money and the lack of it. When we married my wife knew of the financial challenges that were ahead but she loved me as I loved her. We now have two beautiful children, one of which will be barmitsvahed in Jerusalem this year! I think that if we can provide something like this we are rich indeed, with more than money!

(2) Alfred Puglisi, February 20, 2005 12:00 AM

disasters

In my life I have seen several marriages happen in which money was the main consideration. They have all resulted in divorce. If money is what hold you together, it is also a given that it wil put you asunder. My wife and I were flat broke when we got married, for a variety of reasons, and we were young. In the group that were our friends, all those who were like us(broke or nearly so) are still married (30 years or better) and the ones who married for social and monetary considerations are divorced.When a couple has money to turn to for security, there is no incentive to turn toward each other, or worse, no incentive to turn to God for their security. As for me, I would rather believe that the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.

(1) Anonymous, February 20, 2005 12:00 AM

I married a poor man.

When my husband (an artist) and I met he was very poor. He owned two pair of pants two shirts and a jacket. In three months upon our marriage we immediately shared our joy and invited equally poor couples to dinner and gave gifts at appropriate times. When we were married one year my husband told me he didn't know what happened but he felt as thouugh he needed money. He said the minute we met his need for money became a strong irresistible urge.
(I too had none. ) The bottom line: We were married 50 years until his death. We have three kids and six grandchildren. Each year he doubled his income and then some. By the end, he had made each year 100 times the income he had to start. Rabbi, I always thought my husband was cute. My mother used to tell me "You can always fall in love with a rich man as well as a poor one. They are nice too". But I fell in love with a poor man and our love brought us blessings. In a short time...we were sort of well off. By some standards I guess we could be thought of as rich. And by my standards we were...even at the start. I suggest a strong emotional tie. With unity of spirt riches will come.

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