The Jewish Marriage Council (JMC) has said that while young Jews from a strictly Orthodox background are not “forced” to marry, they can nevertheless feel “coerced”.
In its astonishing admission, the Hendon-based organisation appeared to be trying to justify the traditional Charedi shidduch system of families working together for their children to meet in arranged introductions.
“This is done with consent from both parties which is a requirement under Jewish law,” said the JMC. “While there may be instances whereby one might feel coerced, we have not come across any party feeling as if they have been forced.”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines coercion as “use of force to persuade someone to do something that they are unwilling to do”. Controlling and coercive behaviour in a family setting has been illegal since 2015.
Asked to clarify on what it meant by ‘coercion’, the JMC’s acting clinical director Tova Hersh, a trained counsellor, said it could come from both the home and the community.
“It is true that people – and young people could be more susceptible to this than others – may feel the subconscious impact of parental or societal pressure pushing them toward a particular end,” said Hersh, “That, however, does not mean that they have been forced into a marriage against their wishes.”
Hersh added that free choice is “a fundamental right enshrined in Jewish law and everyone has the right to say no… That applies in full measure when it comes to the choice of spouse”.
She added: “We have no evidence or indication that any couple with whom we have worked has entered into their marriages against their free will.”
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