Is Marriage A Mitzvah?

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From Insights to the Daily Daf by the Kollel Iyun HaDaf of Yerushalayim (link):

QUESTIONS: The Mishnah [Beitzah 36b] mentions the act of Kidushin [betrothal] in its list of voluntary acts (“Reshus”) that are prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The Gemara asks why the Mishnah calls Kidushin a “Reshus” if marriage is a Mitzvah. The Gemara answers that the Mishnah refers to a case in which one is already married and has children.

RASHI explains that the Mitzvah which one fulfills by getting married is the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah, having children. Other than the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah, there is no inherent Mitzvah in the act of getting married. This explains why the Gemara mentions that the case of the Mishnah is not only where one already has a wife, but he already has children as well.

The ROSH in Kesuvos (1:12) writes that the reason why no blessing (Birkas ha’Mitzvah) is recited for the act of Kidushin is because there is no actual Mitzvah of Kidushin. The only reason why one is obligated to get married is to fulfill the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah. The words of the Rosh are consistent with the Gemara and Rashi here [Beitzah 36b]. However, the Rosh adds that one has the option to fulfill the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah without getting married at all, by merely taking a Pilegesh (concubine).

(a) According to the Rosh, why does the Gemara here say that the reason why the Mishnah does not count Kidushin as a Mitzvah is because it refers to a case in which one already has a wife and children? The Gemara should answer that there is no Mitzvah to marry a wife because one could fulfill his obligation of Piryah v’Rivyah by taking a Pilegesh. 

(b) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Ishus 1:2) writes that marriage is a Mitzvas Aseh [positive commandment]. The Rambam apparently maintains that every time a man marries a woman he fulfills a Mitzvah. How does the Rambam understand the Gemara here [Beitzah 36b] which says that one who is already married and has children does not fulfill a Mitzvah by getting married?

ANSWERS:
(a) Apparently, since it is uncommon for a woman to agree to become a man’s Pilegesh (since she has no guarantee that the man will take care of her and her children, as she receives no Kesuvah and there is no Kidushin), the Gemara considers Kidushin a Mitzvah because in practice one is unlikely to fulfill Piryah v’Rivyah by taking a Pilegesh. He has no choice but to get married with Kidushin.

The Rosh in Kesuvos writes that no blessing is recited for the act of Kidushin because it is not a Mitzvah, as one could fulfill the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah by taking a Pilegesh. Even though it is unlikely that one will find a woman to be his Pilegesh, since there exists the possibility of fulfilling Piryah v’Rivyah without Kidushin, Kidushin is not considered an intrinsic part of the Mitzvah of Piryah v’Rivyah and thus no blessing is recited for it.

(b) The MAGID MISHNEH cites RABEINU AVRAHAM BEN HA’RAMBAM who was asked a similar question concerning the opinion of the Rambam. He answered that the Rambam does not mean that the act of Kidushin [betrothal] is a Mitzvah, but rather that the act of Nisu’in [marriage] is a Mitzvah (which is expressed in the wording of the Rambam in his list of Mitzvos at the beginning of Hilchos Ishus). When the Rambam writes that Kidushin is a Mitzvah he means that it is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Nisu’in. Here, too, the Gemara does not consider Kidushin a Mitzvah because without Nisu’in the Mitzvah is not completed.

Alternatively, perhaps the Rambam does not mean that it is a Mitzvas Aseh per se to marry a wife with Kidushin. Rather, he means that it is an Isur Aseh (a prohibition that results from a positive commandment) to take a woman without Kidushin. (The Rambam rules that taking a Pilegesh is prohibited; see Hilchos Melachim 4:4.) The Magid Mishneh mentions this possibility later in Hilchos Ishus (1:4). Accordingly, there is no actual Mitzvah in the act of Kidushin, even according to the Rambam.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

23 comments

  1. “The Gemara answers that the Mishnah refers to a case in which one is already married and has children.”
    The question arises if he has children and is not married at the moment. Or if he has children and a wife who is incapable of having children. Or a wife who is incapable of having children and has no children.
    Which of these cases are also included in the gemara’s answer.

  2. I think we have to say that marriage while not a chovah is definitely a mitzvah.The fact that the compilers of the mitzvot did not include marriage in the613 mitzvot is irrelvant. Rambam in the introduction to Sefer Hamitzvot explains that there are basic mitzvot such as ahavat Hashem from which many other mitzvot flow which are not counted in taryag. Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is another.Tzitzit is also a mitzvah and not chovah. We are not obligated to wear four cornered garments, but if we do we must attach tzitzit and techelet. In the same way the Torah tells us “Ki yikach isha”-IF a man acquires a wife…
    Where do we learn that this is not just reshut, but mitzvah? Hashem said “Lo tov heyot adam levado”. The fact that Man procreates sexually was not lechatchilla,but Hashem decided that Man was incomplete davka when he was indivisible (see Malbim on Par. Bereishit).Therefore it is a mitzvah, Ki yikach isha”-WHEN a man acquires a wife.
    Why all this applies to marriage rather than concubinage is topic in and of itself. But IIRC while the concubine has no ketuba, there is kiddusshin.

  3. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Aaron,

    > “if he has children and is not married at the moment.”

    By the Biblical value of “lo tov heyos ha’adam levado” (it’s not good for a man to be alone), it’s preferable for such a man to remarry. Ramban in Milchemes Hashem in … Yevamos if I recall … implies this is an all-out Biblical obligation; otherwise we’d read the Gemara as saying it’s a religious strong preference (but wouldn’t be called “chova.”)

    > “Or if he has children and a wife who is incapable of having children.”

    If he both has children (let’s assume one boy and one girl) and a wife, then having any more children would be a religious preference, but again not all-out obligation to warrant the language of “chiyuv.” (The Gemara says this is based on Koheles’ advice of “baboker zra es zar’echa, vela’erev al tanach yadecha”, “plant seeds in the morning, but don’t let up in the evening either”) For instance, if a widower has children and has the choice of marrying two women, one of whom can have children and the other can’t, there’s a preference for the former but not an obligation. (Whereas we strongly recommend that he marry *someone*.)

    > Or a wife who is incapable of having children and has no children.

    That’s a tough one, especially as today we generally don’t recommend divorce for the sake of p’ru urvu.

  4. Shalom Rosenfeld

    I’d heard a shiur about the mitzva of helping a person find a spouse; some tried to argue that whether it’s an all-out mitzva depends on whether marriage per se is a mitzva.

    IMHO, even those who say marriage isn’t, agree that pru urvu is. Had this fellow and this young lady never met, they wouldn’t have been able to fulfill pru urvu (via kiddushin, pilegesh, whatever). Now that you introduced them to each other, they can. You’ve already done your mitzva; the halachic particulars of how they march down the aisle is irrelevant.

  5. As a side point- I often wonder if before R’ Chaim the difference between a mitzvah (a chalos etc.) and doing the obvious ratzon hashem even if not clearly “a mitzvah” (in the technical sense, was viewed as much of an issue (e.g. those who say belief in HKB”H is not technically a mitzvah, those who say tfila is “only” drabbanan)
    KT

  6. to 8:57
    The question was not if these cases where mitsvot or not, but if the gemoro was referring to them. Of course there is a mitsva not to be without a wife and to have ‘more’ children. These may be considered minor mitsvot or only mitsvot midrabonon and therefore included in the ‘shvus’.

  7. can i ask why you posted this? you don’t usually just lift content from elsewhere and post it without comment.

  8. I was going to write this and stumbled onto almost exactly the same thing already written. I would have only added one or two things. So to save myself the time I just used their write-up, with a link and full attribution.

  9. IIRC Rav Elya Pruzhener (father of Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik’s mother, Rebbetzin Pesha Soloveichik) in his sefer says the biah is the maaseh mitzva (of perya v’rivyah) and the baby being born is the kiyum mitzvah.

  10. Probably the mitzvah is that if one does get married, one is to do it in the way that the Torah prescribes and not in some other way, e.g., by going to city hall. (This doesn’t depend on the question of whether a civil marriage is valid under Jewish law. Even if valid, it isn’t the right way to do it.)

    This is similar to divorce being a mitzvah. Of course, there’s nothing great about getting divorced. If you live your whole life and never do it, no one will say that you did wrong. But if you do need a divorce, you must use the Torah’s method.

    Another example: The mitzvah to swear in God’s name. Again, there’s nothing great about swearing. In fact, the Jewish practice is to avoid it as much as possible. But if you do swear, do it in God’s name and not (ch”v) in the name of another deity.

  11. “I’d heard a shiur about the mitzva of helping a person find a spouse; some tried to argue that whether it’s an all-out mitzva depends on whether marriage per se is a mitzva. ”

    surely it’s an all-out mitzva of gemilas chesed…

  12. Reb Joel,

    I think the confusion over the term “mitzvah” predates R. Chaim by many centuries.

    In the Talmud, the term mitzvah is often used in contrast to chovah. The latter term means an absolute obligation, while the former means a meritorious act, but not an obligation. Today, we sometimes call the latter a mitzvah kiyumit.

    Then there is the concept of mitzvah as something requiring a blessing, as something whose violation may incur a punishment, or as something that may invoke the rule of aseh docheh lo sa’aseh.

    Then we have the concept of mitzvah as something that is counted among the 613. This latter meaning is entirely post-Talmudic. That is, the Talmud (R. Simlai) gives the number 613, but shows no interest in counting the mitzvot. It was left to later authorities to draw up the list(s), which necessitated a definition.

    Now, it’s entirely possible that these usages of mitzvah aren’t the same. Don’t ask me how they differ. I’m just raising the question.

  13. I’m not sure why there is any confusion about the Rambam’s view concerning marriage as a mitzvah. He explicitly counts it as one of the taryag in his Sefer Hamitzvos, in his introduction to the Yad, and in the koseres to hilchos ishus. By the way, at the end of the section of the mitzvos aseh in the Sefer Hamitzvos he explicitly states that marriage is a mitzvah mide’oraysa which applies both to the man AND the woman.

  14. Doron Beckerman

    Rav Soloveitchik held it a דבר פשוט that Kiddushin is a Mitzvah, irrespective of Pru Ur’vu, based on the Gemara in Kiddushin 41 – מצוה בה יותר מבשלוחה. The Ran there is forced to answer for the Rosh’s position that she is aiding in the performance of the Mitzvah.

    R’ Moshe Shmuel Shapira has a fascinating analysis of the Rambam’s opinion on the nature of the Mitzvah of Kiddushin. I’m pasting a paragraph from my own notes on Kiddushin:

    ועי’ קונטרס הביאורים להגרמש”ש שביאר ע”פ הרמב”ם ריש הלכות אישות שעיקר יסוד המצוה הינו שהיות האשה לאשתו צריך לחול ע”י קנין, שע”י הקנין לשם אישות יהיו בעל ואשה, ולא כמו קודם מתן תורה שמכניסה לביתו ובועלה וע”י כך נהיית אשתו. ועפ”ז מבאר מ”ט פילגש מותר למלך ואין בזה משום לאו דלא תהיה קדשה ולא ביטול מצות קידושין, ואף לא איסור פנויה מדרבנן, כיון שיש בה קנין למעשה אישות דפילגשות, כמבואר בהל’ מלכים ריש פ”ד – “קונה אותה ומותרת לו”. ומהני פרשת מלך (שכל האמור בפרשת מלך, מלך מותר בו) גם להתיר לדידה. עיי”ש שהביא ראיות לזה.

  15. I know of someone who recently divorced his wife after forty years of marriage. A week later they had second thoughts,made up and remarried. He told me ironically that he thus fulfilled a rarely performed mitzvah-“lehachazir grushato”. If this is indeed a mitzvah, then kal vechomer the first marriage is a mitzvah.

  16. Doron Beckerman on January 14, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Rav Soloveitchik held it a דבר פשוט that Kiddushin is a Mitzvah, irrespective of Pru Ur’vu, based on the Gemara in Kiddushin 41 – מצוה בה יותר מבשלוחה. The Ran there is forced to answer for the Rosh’s position that she is aiding in the performance of the Mitzvah.

    The notes I was shown from the Rav’s shiur on Kiddushin 41 showed the opposite – we won’t say that you get a bigger mitzvah if you give tzedaka by yourself vs by a shliach. So kiddushin is not exactly a mitzvah, maybe he said it is a chalos.

    Unfortunately I saw the notes 10 years ago and don’t want to misquote them, so I won’t press the point, but please can you give more details of what you know?

  17. Doron Beckerman

    Rav Schachter’s notes of RYBS’ Shiur:

    והנה לענין מצות כי יקח, אי הוי איסור עשה או אף קיום עשה, עיי’ ר”ם סוף פ”ג מאישות הכ”ג, כל המקדש אשה… צריך לברך קודם קידושין… כדרך שמברכין על כל המצוות. ולכאורה מוכח דאיכא אף קיום עשה, דאין מברכין על האיסורים. אך אין משם ראיה, שהרי י”ל שהברכה היא על חלות ההיתר, כמו נט”י, עירוב וטבילה… אך הראיה המכרחת היא מהגמ’ מא. – דמצוה בו יותר מבשלוחו. ועיין רא”ש בכתובות פ”ק סימן יב, דאין ברכת אירוסין ברכת המצוה, כי פו”ר היינו קיום המצוה, ואם לקח פילגש וקיים פו”ר, אינו מחוייב לקדש אשה וכו’ וצ”ע מהגמ’ רפ”ב דקידושין מצוה בו וכו’. אלא המוכרח מכל זה, דמצות קידושין אינה תלויה כלל במצות פו”ר. ולכך אף דאשה פטורה מפו”ר אפילו הכי מצוה בה יותר משבלוחה ג”כ, ובאמת במצות כי יקח אף האשה האשה חייבת, דאינה תלויה במצות פו”ר (והר”ן דחק בזה מטעם מסייע לקיום המצוה)

  18. So with all due respect, what has RYBS added here to what the rishonim already said?

  19. “So with all due respect, what has RYBS added here to what the rishonim already said?”

    The vast, vast majority of teaching consists of popularizing existing ideas rather than innovating new ones, and there is no shame in this.

  20. R. Schachter also writes about it in his article on weddings in BeIkvei HaTzon and adds interesting nafka minas between the Rambam and Rosh, such as who should say the berachos and who should choose the mesader kiddushin.

  21. Doron, that was great. It looks like he’s trying to show that kiddushin is a mitzvah, first from the fact you make a bracha on it, then he is doche that raaya, then he says because Kiddushin 41 says mitzva bo it must be a mitzvah.

    What I don’t understand is why he doesn’t quote Sefer Hamitzvos 213 and 212 that “livol bikidushin” is separate from perya verivya. It is its own mitzva.

    Also, – I don’t know where the excerpt you brought is from but what I remember is notes from the beginning of 2nd perek of Kiddushin (daf 41) where he discusses the nature of “mitzva bo yoser mibishlucho” and would we say it by other mitzvos also.

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