How Young Is Too Young?

How Young Is Too Young?

By Goldy Krantz

In some cultures it is customary for parents to arrange a marriage between their child and the child of another family. Many times the agreement or contract is drawn up when the children are young, but it is understood that the marriage will not take place until the children are of a mature age. Whether or not you agree with this custom is not the point. The point is that it is done and accepted by the people of that culture. Personally, I didn’t think that Ashkenazi Jews (I am not speaking of anyone in the chasidishe sects or with Sefardi backgrounds) engage in marrying off children when they are young.

But how young is too young? It’s commonplace to hear that a 19-year-old has become a chasan or kallah. In very rare cases, we hear of 18-year-olds celebrating their engagements. In this case, I’m not referring to those scenarios. I’m referring to someone who is 16 years old. And before you attack me, I understand that some Syrian/Sefardi sects tend to marry off their daughters young, even to have a “senior kallah” in high school, but in this instance I am referring to two Ashkenazi families and a 16-year-old girl.

What I am going to write comes from first-hand knowledge, and I can vouch that all facts are real. I had a very lengthy conversation with a friend who was called about her 16-year-old niece. I have known this woman for many years (a good friend of mine) and do not think that she is lying or exaggerating about any of the facts.

I’m putting the question out there: Is it proper to marry off a 16-year-old?

My friend and I met for lunch one day and she was ready to explode. I just saw the look on her face and her body language. It just called out to me that my friend was not happy. I didn’t even have to ask her what was wrong, because as soon she sat down, she started talking a mile a minute. In a short recap, this is what she said: “You know my brother’s daughter – my 16-year-old niece? Well, I just received a call last night about her.” I didn’t catch on right away that the call about her niece had anything to do with shidduchim. That was the farthest thought from my mind, so I stared at her blankly. “A call. I got a shidduch call for her. She’s 16! I have no idea who the woman is who called me. Her name was familiar, but I don’t know her. She started telling me about her friend’s family and how rich they are and how their son is looking to get married and she has seen my niece around town, finds her good looking, and told the family about her. The family wants to know if I can speak to my brother about the son going out with her! Can you believe it?! Obviously I was shocked! Not that it mattered, because the answer was going to be “no” from my brother, so I didn’t even have to ask him. First I asked this woman who she was, how she knew me, my family, and my niece. She never answered and just kept pushing. Finally I asked how old the son was. This lady told me that the son was 23. Twenty-three! Can you believe it?? I was angry! It’s okay for this guy to have lived life, gone to college and had experiences, but they want him to marry a child – a child who has yet to experience life! I mean she hasn’t even gotten her driver’s permit yet! Instead of answering the question, all she said was, “The family has a lot of money. I mean a lot of money. They have a huge business and are beyond successful. Your niece would never have to work and she would have the best of everything.” As if that would make a difference! Thankfully, my brother has money and is successful, too. I told the woman that my niece will never want for anything either way. This lady kept pushing and pushing it. This was the craziest conversation I have ever had! I told her that it’s very sad that she doesn’t see anything wrong with trying to buy my 16-year-old niece by talking about the family’s finances – not to mention how wrong I feel it is to pair a mature, worldly 23-year-old man with a typical 16-year-old girl! I mean, can you imagine! This woman was actually annoyed with me. I hung up on her. She called back, but I wouldn’t speak with her. When I called my sister-in-law, she laughed at the whole thing. She thought it was a joke. When she finally realized I was serious, she thought the woman and the family were nuts!” You can get the picture of what else my friend had to say. At the end of my friend’s diatribe, she added, “Write about it. Write how people are trying to buy 16-year-olds! It’s crazy. She didn’t even see anything wrong and was shocked that I was angry.”

I’m putting the question out there: Is it proper  to marry off a 16-year-old?

I just sat there for a moment to take it all in. I remember when her niece graduated eighth grade! I know her niece! That 16-year-old girl, while she is a striking beauty, is a typical, sorry-to-say immature teenage girl, not ready for dating – let alone dating (and marrying) a grown man! It made me think of my 16-year-old niece. At this point in her life she isn’t interested in boys her age. When we make jokes about her graduating high school and then becoming a “kallah meidel” she always makes a disgusted face and yells, “Ugh!! Wait until I’m 19 or 20 first!” My niece is very mature and has the best wardrobe of any teenager or mature woman I’ve ever seen, but she is still a typical teenager – a teenager who changes her clothes three times a day. Three times in a day!

I’m putting the question out there: Is it proper to marry off a 16-year-old? I’m not even going to go into the fact that the shidduch was being redt for a 23-year-old fellow! I’m also not going to mention that the “shadchan” emphasized to my friend that if the shidduch works, her niece would never have to work and that his family is very wealthy. I think that the mention of money has no bearing (when we are speaking of a 16-year-old!) and it cheapens the whole situation, almost taking us back into ancient times when families sold their daughters into marriage. You can feel free to email me your thoughts and opinions. I have written mine and I always love hearing from others. But please don’t think that I am criticizing or berating cultures that are engaged in this practice. To each his own, as the saying goes. In this scenario, however, I am referring to two American Ashkenazi families, with one wanting their 23-year-old son to date and possibly marry a 16-(soon-to-be)-17-year-old. Yes, we all joke, when we see a newborn or a toddler, with “I have a shidduch for you.” But this situation isn’t the same and I don’t think its fodder to joke about.

To even the playing field, I will mention that I do know women who were “senior kallahs” and love their husbands and children and are very happy with their lives. My friends and I were 17, some were even 18, when we were seniors in high school. We weren’t 16. My question is: Do we now have to start worrying about a single 19-year-old being considered an old maid? Is this practice one that should start or continue? Yes, frum people are known for getting married young, but as I asked before: How young is too young?

Hatzlachah to you all!

Goldy Krantz  is an LMSW and a lifelong Queens resident, guest lecturer, and author of the shidduch dating book, The Best of My Worst and children’s book Where Has Zaidy Gone? She can be contacted at