“There’s a passage that says everything is in the hands of heaven except hot and cold; if you go out in winter without a jacket, it’s not God’s fault you catch a cold.” Likewise, scholars debate whether marriage is the result of a divine plan, or individual choice and persistence.
In The Symposium, Plato has Aristophanes present the idea that humans originally had four arms, four legs and one head made of two faces; Zeus split these creatures in half, leaving each torn creature to search for its missing counterpart.
The widely used kismet—a Turkish derivation of the Arabic word qisma, meaning lot or portion—originated as the version of fate in the Arab world.
The Jewish theory of soulmates has its roots in that most romantic of canonical texts: the Talmud.
The sage Rav stipulates that “40 days before the formation of a child, a heavenly voice issues forth and proclaims, the daughter of this person is for that person; the house of this person is for that person; the field of this person is for that person.” This declaration is considered the origin of the idea of the soulmate in Judaism, although it is also discussed elsewhere, including Kabbalah, which teaches that husband and wife are plag nishamasa, or “half-souls.” The 13th-century scholar Nachmanides—echoing Plato’s themes—writes that when a soul is about to be born, God splits it in half, to be fully united in marriage.
Some rabbinic scholars take exception with what seems to be a negation of free will.
Maimonides rejects outright the concept of a fated match: “If a person marries a woman, granting her a marriage contract and performing the rites of kiddushin, he is performing a mitzvah, and God does not decree that we will perform any mitzvot.” The disagreement reflects a deeper undercurrent in Jewish theology: the conflicting tenets of free will and divine providence.
How much of our life’s path is God’s decree, and how much is the consequence of personal choice?
“That tension pops up in a lot of different elements” of Judaism, says Josh Yuter, an Orthodox rabbi in New York who has written about the religious debates over beshert.
Stroll Manhattan’s Upper West Side on a Saturday night and you’ll find yourself surrounded on all sides by prospective couples trying each other out.
The last few years have seen an explosion in the neighborhood’s popularity among Jews in their twenties and thirties.
For New York’s young Jewish singles, destiny—or beshert—has an address, and it’s west of Central Park.