Is marriage obligatory in Judaism? Is there a difference between men and women on this issue?
Firstly, before we speak about obligations, Jewish life is clearly built upon a beautiful family life, which educates and regulates us to be altruistic/selfless=Godly. One who lives alone without that eternal mate and daily family responsibility and loyalty, will tend to be more self-oriented, and this has many unfortunate religious, characteristic and social ramifications. All Jewish men are obligated to marry because they need it both physiologically and spiritually in order to keep them focused on life itself (rather than being preoccupied with their sexual gratification). Women also are meant to marry for the Torah says “It’s not good for the person (!) to be alone”, and that clearly means any person, as every body also knows from experience. We all need a soul-mate, a companion with whom we can share and reveal our intimate thoughts, dreams, fears, passions and yearnings. God in His ingenuity, combined this necessity with a natural desire, found in all females, to want love and warmth, to nurture, to have offspring and continuity after our generation passes away. In addition, He created the world in a way that from primitive times, women always needed a husband to protect and support them in a barbaric and agricultural society. This clearly set the tone and norm for the family life which is so basic and elementary to anyone who knows anything about Judaism (the celibacy found in the Essene, Catholic and other religions was always mocked and ridiculed by Judaism as if inferring that a perfect God “made a mistake” (!) when He created the exceptional attraction between men and women!). On the other hand, the Torah does not obligate women to marry and have children and the Meshech Chochma explains this for two beautiful reasons: a. Just as the Torah doesn’t command breathing or eating, because it’s an inborn necessity and desire, so too, there’s no need to explicitly or externally “command” women to do something they so naturally desire (the Torah always prefers us to act idealistic out of internal identification and not external coercion). Men, on the other hand, might suffice with having intimate relations, without having children, so they need the command. b. The Torah is pleasant and enjoyable, and doesn’t obligate women to do something which is painful like childbirth. c. A third reason women are exempt may be because the eternal Torah had to also be relevant to the world in which it was given 3300 years ago. At that time, relatively many women could not conceive and/or were not attractive (lacking modern make-up and beauty accessories), or were lacking the then-accepted dowry, and sometimes were not chosen as brides. Accordingly, the Torah wouldn’t want to obligate women in something that was either very difficult and/or out of their control, or alternatively, if they would be wed just out of pity or religious commandment, those would not be happy but artificial compulsory marriages (which would counterproductively harm the beautiful concept of the family). In short, it’s our same loving Father who created nature and desire, Who also infers on all accounts, that it’s natural, necessary and desirable for men and women to marry and have that beautiful family life (which educates and regulates us to be altruistic/selfless=Godly), and Who wrote in the Torah (and “between the lines”) that this is meant to be, yet ingeniously and beneficially, only commanded men, but not women.