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
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