By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It was why Yaakov Avinu married Leah before he married Rochel. The issue comes up again and again, yet people have only vague ideas of when it is OK for a younger sibling to marry first and when it is not. Some people wonder about the source of the practice. Others aren’t sure whom it applies to.
Since it is the season to be asking four questions, we have four questions about a younger sibling waiting for an older sibling to get married first:
Is it a halachah—or is it just a nice thing to do?
What is the source of this halachah or practice?
To whom, exactly, does this concept apply?
Are there any exceptions to the rule?
Is It Halachah?
There are numerous poskim who state that the entire concept of waiting for a sibling is not an actual halachah, but rather a matter of derech eretz, or appropriate ethical behavior. The Chasam Sofer (Vol. VII #23) rules in this manner. Yet we also find poskim that understand this concept as an actual halachah, and this is the indication of the TaZ (Y.D. 208:1).
The Rashbam (Bava Basra 120a) understands the following pasuk as the source of this practice: “It shall not be done thus in our place, to give the younger one [in marriage] before the older” (Bereishis 29:26).
There is a second possible source as well, regarding the daughters of Tzlafchad in Bamidbar 27. Machlah, Noah, Choglah, Milkah, and Tirzah either got married in age order or in order of wisdom. According to the commentaries that understand it as age order, this is a source for our concept.
A third source may be from Rabbeinu Tam’s understanding of the Gemara in Kiddushin (52b). He writes that when a person says, “Your daughter is engaged to me” to a person who has two daughters, the marriage is effective and the intent is that it should be the eldest daughter, on account of the pasuk in Bereishis 29:26.
Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Approach
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Vol. II #1) has a unique approach to the concept discussed. He writes that, regarding brothers, there is an issue only if each of the brothers has someone available to marry. Under such circumstances, the elder one is to be married first. However, when a younger brother has someone available and the older sibling does not, then this issue does not arise at all, and the younger one is permitted lechatchilah to marry first.
Rav Feinstein then states that in regard to two sisters, it is not a halachah, but just a minhag. A member of this author’s family, in fact, had consulted Rav Feinstein on a case of two sisters, and his response was rather lenient.
The Maharash Engel (Vol. VI #102) agrees with the position espoused by Rav Moshe, zt’l. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Acharonim do not understand the concept in the manner that Rav Moshe does. The issue seems to revolve around how to read the words of the Shach (Y.D. 244:13).
To Whom Does It Apply?
The idea applies both to older brothers of brothers and older sisters of sisters. It is interesting to note that it applies only to the members of the family. In other words, it is perfectly permitted for a suitor to date the younger sibling. Any restriction applies only to the younger sibling himself or herself, but not to the would-be spouse.
Regarding the older sister of a younger brother, there appears to be a debate among the poskim. The Bach (Y.D. 244) seems to forbid it, while the Maharsham is lenient. The Chelkas Yaakov (Vol. I #125 cited by HaNesuim K’hilchasam) states that the custom is to be stringent.
Regarding the older brother of a younger sister, there also appears to be a debate. The Igros Sofrim (#29 citing the Chasam Sofer) is stringent. However, the Chazon Ish and the Steipler Gaon (Orchos Rabbeinu Vol. page 281) were both lenient in such a case.
What about twins? Does the twin who is slightly older need to get married first? The Shulchan HaEzer Vol. I 45:3 states that the issue remains a question.
There are some nine exceptions to the rule.
- When the siblings do not live in the same country. We need to explore the parameters of this, however. Some poskim apply this leniency even further, stating that it applies to siblings not residing under the same roof.
- When the older one agrees to it, Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Vol. I #739) permits it. However, if the older sibling is pained by it, then it is not permitted.
- The Maharsham (Vol. III #136) writes that when the daughter has reached a mature age, the age of 22, it is permitted.
- If the older sibling is not following in the path of the Torah, it is also permitted, according to the Einayim L’Mishpat, Kiddushin 52a, as cited in HaNesuim K’hilchasam 1:54.
- The aforementioned Maharsham allows it when the younger one went ahead and started dating.
- When the older sibling chooses not to marry. The aforementioned Maharsham calls this leniency “b’shaas ha’dchak.”
- When the older sibling has an illness which makes it difficult for him or her to find a shidduch, this is also termed b’shaas ha’dchak, and the Maharsham permits the younger sibling to date.
- When the parents are not paying for the wedding at all and it is done by the children, the Beis Yechezkel (siman 60) is lenient.
- Some poskim are lenient whenever there is somewhat of a need, tzorech k’tzas (Maharash Engel Vol. VI #102; Minchas Elazar Vol. I #163). What does this refer to? It seems that these poskim hold that if there is any need beyond the regular desire to get married, it would be permitted.
It should be noted that the Shulchan HaEzer (Vol. I, siman 47:1) states that regardless of the heterim, it should only be done after consultation with a beis din. Others permit it after consultation with a known gadol and posek.
As in many areas of halachah, we find three important notions here. The first is that there is a wide range of divergent opinions. The second is that we should always have a posek or moreh hora’ah that will guide us as we travel down the path of life. The third conclusion is, as in much of halachah, that there are moral and ethical considerations in every decision and path that we embark on. The goal is to do things in a manner that does not hurt people. v
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