A wife had several functions. She was to give her husband sexual satisfaction, but, more than that, she was to guide and inspire him. She was to be a spiritual force in his life, leading him to Torah. She also had to minister as “princess” by giving her husband children and bringing them up worthily. Her house was to be a sanctuary. The Rabbis offer some guidelines for the choice of a partner.
Physical satisfaction is keyed to beauty and mutual consent. Beauty was, therefore, important in a woman and a young man should take warning from Jacob’s fate and never marry a girl he had not seen. Nor could a girl be married off by her father against her wish, as had been done in the past. The girl had to be old enough to express her agreement. There had to be reasonable hope that they would give satisfaction to each other.
Compatibility was of greater importance than beauty. They should complement each other physically. Ideally, both should come from the same social stratum, but in any event the woman should not be of higher status than the man. They should be of similar age. A father who married off a young daughter to an old man or a mature daughter to a child groom actually turned them into prostitutes (Sanhedrin 76b). Money should not be a decisive factor. A man who married an unworthy woman only for her money would have worthless children. Materialism would breed marital conflict, affecting home life.
Concern for Worthy Children was the overriding consideration. Worth was more important than beauty. Both partners should truly be suited to each other that they might rear children on the basis of shared parental values. As the mother was the prime educator of the younger children, her background and upbringing were of primary importance. “Investigate the girl’s mother and brothers,” was the Rabbi’s advice (Ketuvot 43a). Moses was not concerned with his wife’s background; he married Ziporah, daughter of a Midianite priest, and his sons did not amount to much. Aaron married the sister of a prince in Israel, and his sons became priests (Bava Kamma 109b-110a).
A young man should make every effort to find the daughter of a Talmid Hakham, Disciple of the Wise. Should he die young, she would then be able to bring up the children in the hallowed tradition of her family. A father who marries off his daughter to an ignorant man, “throws her to the lions” (Pessahim 49b).