Rabbi Sacks on Family and Marriage

JInsider (March 2010)

Think of this paradox: In the 21st century, we can do things that no human beings have ever been able to do since homo sapiens first set foot on Earth. We can photograph the birth of galaxies, we can look at the human genome, we can communicate instantly across the globe. And yet, certain things that our ancestors found so simple, we find difficult to the point of impossibility. One of those is sustaining marriage and a family. Believe me, that is not an optional extra when it comes to human happiness. It is not good, as the Bible said, to live alone. Therefore, the importance of marriage and the family, I call marriage, “love that becomes loyalty.” That is the essential of human emotional literacy.

How do you keep the family going? All I know is that you must, because today in Britain, 44% of children are born outside marriage. Today in Britain and America, 50% of marriages end in divorce. And there are cities in Britain where there are almost no marriages anymore. The end result, of course, is the children suffer. Children are the most vulnerable in the world and we must not let children suffer.

How then do you create a marriage and sustain it? Well, I think it takes a great deal of support from friends, from community, from tradition, to keep a marriage going. Here is our faith as Jews, in which faith itself is a marriage. God says to the children of Israel, in words Jewish men say every weekday as we put on our tefillin, “I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth with you to Me in righteousness and justice, kindness and compassion. I will betroth you to Me in love, and you shall know the Lord.”

Somehow Judaism, the Shabbat table, sitting together, telling the Jewish story, singing the Jewish songs, celebrating the fact that the Divine Presence is to be found between man and woman when they are joined in the love, that is what helps us sustain a marriage. And a marriage is what gives us the sense of happiness, of joy, and of a life that brings new life into the world.