This is the Way (to Get Married)

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Bamidbar

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: May a younger sibling get married before the older one?

And Nadav and Avihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children; and Elazar and Isamar ministered in the priest’s office in the presence of Aharon their father. (Numbers 3:4)

May a younger sibling get married before the older one? And would it make a difference whether the scenario involves two brothers or two sisters? 

Tosafos (Kiddushin 52a, s.v. V’Hilchasa) cites the position of Rabbeinu Tam that a younger sister should not be wed off prior to her older sister. This is based on Genesis (29:26): “And Lavan said: ‘It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born.”

While this rule of precedence applies in the case of two sisters, our parshah would ostensibly indicate that the same would not be true for two brothers. The Talmud (Yevamos 64a) understands that when the Torah says that Nadav and Avihu “had no children,” God was conveying that they were physically incapable of producing children, but that they simply had no interest in marrying and fulfilling the mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply.” Therefore, if Jewish law forbids a younger brother from geting married before the older one, why then would Avihu be held accountable for not procreating – would he not be required to postpone so long as his brother has not yet wedded? Thus, the narrative of Nadav and Avihu suggests that there would be no required sequence for when each brother must get married. (However, this proof could be dismissed on the grounds that since it was clear that Nadav had no intentions of getting married there should be no reason for Avihu to delay his own marriage.)

In terms of two sisters, we established that there is an accepted age-based order from the aforementioned verse in Genesis. However, the Maharsham (Techeiles Mordechai, Vayeitzei) is aghast: Why are we learning Jewish norms from the wicked Lavan – on the contrary, we should be learning from our righteous forefather Yaakov – and he insisted on taking Rachel despite her being the younger sister! Therefore, we cannot rely on Lavan’s statement alone to determine whether there is such an idea as a Jewish marriage sequence. However, if we turn to a later narrative in the Torah, we may yet find a more palatable model. The Talmud (Bava Basra 120a) addresses why the order of the names of Daughters of Tzelafchad are not consistent in the Torah:

Later on, the verse lists them according to their age, [stating: “For Machlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Tzelafchad, were married” (Numbers 36:11),] and here [the verse lists them in a different order], according to their wisdom: [“And these are the names of his daughters: Machlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah” (Numbers 27:1)]. This supports the ruling of Rabbi Ami, as Rabbi Ami says: In [the context o]f sitting [in judgment or learning Torah], follow [the participants’] wisdom [in determining the seating, so that the wisest is granted the highest honor, and] in [the context of] reclining [for a meal], follow [the participants’] age.

Both the Bach and Shach (Y.D. 244:13) infer from this passage that not just daughters, but even sons, would be required to wait until their older sisters or brothers respectively are married off.

However, even if we accept this premise, we can still raise two significant qualifications to this general rule:

(1) R. Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, E.H. 2:1) asserts that this order of precedence only applies when all of the siblings have imminent plans to get married. Whereas, in a scenario in which the older sibling is yet to find a suitable mate, there would be no reason for the younger one to delay their own arrangements.

(2) The inquirer in the responsum of the Maharsham (3:136) raises the possibility that the imperative to marry off the children in age-order is solely incumbent upon the father. However, in the event that there is no father it would be every son and daughter for themselves, so to speak. (However, the Maharsham rejects this suggestion since we saw earlier that one of the prooftexts for the concept of a marital sequencing is derived from the Daughters of Tzelafchad…and the whole point of that narrative was that their father, Tzelafchad, was already deceased.)

In taking stock of all of the aforementioned data-points, R. Mordechai Carlebach suggests that there are two principles at play with their own unique ramifications. (A) From the narrative of Lavan we learn that there is a mitzvah incumbent upon the father to marry off both the older sisters and brothers image order. (B) In the absence of a father, the verses pertaining to the Daughters of Tzelafchad still teach us that there is a proper etiquette or “seder nisuin” which regulates which child should get married first. However, this etiquette would only apply to sisters as it is not a significant enough of a consideration to supersede the brothers’ Biblical obligation of “be fruitful and multiply.”

It is worth noting that while women are included in the mandate of “He did not create it a waste land, He formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18), this imperative does not carry the same concrete halachic weight as “be fruitful and multiply,” which is solely imposed upon men. (This distinction can be observed in the case of a man who only remains enslaved to one of his two original masters. While Jewish law requires the other master to free him so he may marry and procreate, the master would not be coerced to do so for a female slave as she only has the prophetic mandate of “He formed it to be inhabited” instead of the Biblical mitzvah of “be fruitful and multiply.” See Tosafos on Gittin 41b, s.v. Lo.)

There is one angle we would be remiss not to address: The matter of one’s feelings. In his aforementioned responsum on the matter, R. Feinstein is asked whether the younger brother should postpone his marriage out of sensitivity to his older brother who has been struggling to find a wife. R. Feinstein responds to that point by asserting that any humiliation experienced by the older brother emerges from his own psyche rather than as a result of the younger brother’s actions. The younger brother is encouraged to carry on with his life normally and enjoy his personal blessing. For if that was not the case, no person would ever be able to accept any success in life, out of concern that another party will be dismayed that they do not also possess the same desired status or possessions. Nonetheless, we should always endeavor to remain reasonably sensitive to those who are not as fortunate as we are and certainly not be loeg l’rash, by flaunting what God has bestowed upon us. 

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my  own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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