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    Choosing to marry – Sh’mini

    What was the sin of Nadav and Avihu?

    “A Jewish wedding” – painting by Jozef Israëls, 1903

    What was the “strange fire” that they brought to the altar?

    There are many explanations. Some see the sin not so much in their acts but their attitudes, including the fact that they did not wish to marry.

    Now of course we need no reminding that there are people who do not get married, but not because they adamantly decided against marriage in principle. But that anyone should consciously decide that they would not marry – that, to Judaism, is unthinkable.

    One of the arguments heard in recent decades is that marriage and the family are too inward-looking and tend to stifle the individual and create emotional stress.

    The pro-marriage argument is that there is a fundamental need within every human being for the closeness, emotional commitment, loyalty and security that come with a fulfilling marriage, and that family creates identity and a pattern of community that is essential for living in the wider society.

    Some argue that the institution of marriage stands in the way of freedom, especially the greater sexual freedom that comes from pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

    The Jewish answer is that it is better for human character and for humanity as a whole if people’s activities are refined through restraints and disciplines and lived on the highest level.

    Significantly, it is the three basic drives of sex, eating and acquisition that the Jewish system believes must not be allowed to get out of hand and require to be directed and disciplined. Otherwise they are not good for the individual and not good for society.

    Despite the attacks of its opponents, marriage shows no signs of dying out. However, there is an increasing awareness that the greatest danger to the marriage institution actually comes from within, from the mediocre marriage.

    The development of marriage education and guidance aim, therefore, to bring about a gradual improvement in the quality of marriage and to assist couples to enter marriage with more idea of its responsibilities as well as its rewards.

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