In an article appearing in the news section,* Rabbi Daniel Schneierson makes the case that romance is essentially not a concept consistent with traditional Judaism. He also asserts that ahava is a word that primarily has nothing to do with what is generally associated with the emotion called love, but rather connotes one’s desire to be a giver. This, he claims, is what the Torah and Chazal refer to when they speak of a man’s ahava to a woman, this is true love, and this is something which one only becomes receptive to after marriage.
Rabbi Schneierson is incorrect, as even a cursory analysis of many statements throughout Tanach and Chazal prove.
The two famous cases of rape in Tanach are those of Shechem with Dinah and Amnon with Tamar. Regarding the first, the Torah tells us (Bereishis 34:3) “and he loved (וַיֶּאֱהַב) the girl.” Regarding the second, the navi writes (Shmuel Beis 13:4) “and Amnon said to him: Tamar, the sister of my brother Avshalom, I love (אֲנִי אֹהֵב).” Does Rabbi Schneierson think that Shechem and Dinah were feeling something akin to his description of “true love”? I highly doubt it.
Furthermore, in the latter case we find an interesting pasuk. After the incident we read -וַיִּשְׂנָאֶהָ אַמְנוֹן שִׂנְאָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד כִּי גְדוֹלָה הַשִּׂנְאָה אֲשֶׁר שְׂנֵאָהּ מֵאַהֲבָה אֲשֶׁר אֲהֵבָהּ. “And Amnon hated here a very great hatred, for the hatred that he hated her was greater even than the love that he had [originally] loved her.” The pasuk clearly contrasts the love of a man and a woman with hatred. Obviously it makes most sense if we are talking about simple emotions; love being a very strong attraction or desire to connect, and hatred being the opposite. Rabbi Schneierson’s pshat would seem very convoluted here.
If we look through Chazal we find numerous statements which idealize the romantic connection between a man and a woman. In Niddah (31b) the Gemara famously ascribes the purpose of the seven day Biblical separation between a man and his wife each month to the idea that a little distance makes the heart grow fonder. Even Rabbi Schneierson acknowledges that we find such a concept, as he writes:
“This rejection of romance should not be confused with attraction, which Chazal fully support. A man shouldn’t be repulsed but should be attracted to his own wife- (Gemarah in Kiddushin 41A) Sefer Hachinuch in explaining the reason behind the Mitzvah of “Viseemach Es Ishto Asher Lakach”- Shanah Rishonah- says: A man should establish such a strong bond with his wife by the end of the first year of marriage that others should look like strangers to him – and not be attractive- but rather his wife should look like the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Ha-shem gave us this as a Brachah- otherwise almost every man would want to marry the one absolute prettiest woman in his town and the world wouldn’t function btznius, in an ehrlich manner.”
I am confused, however, by his opening sentence there. He says that we should not confuse attraction with romance, but he doesn’t explain the difference. To me, Chazal are saying the opposite, and he is splitting hairs. They are saying quite clearly that a romantic connection is important in a marriage.
Of course it is essential to any relationship not to have unrealistic expectations. I can certainly agree that Disney and others tend to promote ideas of romance that are foolishly unrealistic. People are different and need to learn, first and foremost, how to live together in harmony despite those differences. No one should enter a relationship thinking they will not have to work for it. This is all true, but it doesn’t negate any of the above. Romance can still be good. Ahava can still mean what regular people call love; plain and simple.
As for Rabbi Schneierson’s main point that one should not be concerned about chemistry when searching for a future spouse, in my opinion he is wrong. Even he admits, as I quoted above, that what he calls attraction is important. His argument about the definition of ahava is not relevant, because regardless, he still believes attraction is good, and attraction comes from what we call chemistry.
Bottom line: if after dating a few times you don’t feel anything, it probably isn’t a good shidduch.