Kiddushin Conundrum

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

At a typical wedding, there can be no doubt who the kallah is. But hundreds of years ago, a chassan got himself into a jam due to a lack of specificity. Tosfos (Kiddushin 52a) recount a fascinating story that occurred with Rav Oshaya HaLevi’s son. Details are somewhat sketchy, but the following may be what occurred. There was a wealthy individual with several daughters. Someone suggested that Rav Oshaya’s son might be a good match for one of the daughters. Rav Oshaya’s son checked out the family and thought that one of the wealthy man’s daughters would make a good shidduch. It seems that the father specifically agreed to allow the prospective chassan to marry his oldest daughter. However, it is unclear if there ever was a formal agreement. The wealthy man was authorized to act as an agent on behalf of his daughters to accept kiddushin. In other words, his future sons-in-law were expected to give the wedding bands to him instead of to their kallos directly. Rav Oshaya’s son followed this procedure, handing the wealthy man a ring and declaring: “Your daughter is betrothed to me.” He failed to specify the daughter he intended to marry. Which daughter is he married to? This incident caused quite an uproar. A well-respected sage declared that the poor chassan is, in a way, possibly married to all of the man’s daughters. Therefore, he can marry none of them. The sage ruled that all of the man’s daughters require a get from this poor bachur. Furthermore, even after he gives the gittin, he is not allowed to marry any of them. The sage reasoned that neither the boy nor the father verbalized at the time of kiddushin which daughter was getting married.

One of the daughters is, in fact, married to him, and the remaining girls are forbidden to the chassan because they are his wife’s sisters. Since we cannot go back in time and clarify which daughter was intended, sadly, he may not marry any of them. Rabbeinu Tam disagreed for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most interesting reason he supplied was based on a quote from Lavan, of all people. When Yaakov asked Lavan why he had tricked him, Lavan replied, “This is not done in our place–to give the younger daughter before the elder daughter” (Bereishis 29:26). Rabbeinu Tam therefore reasoned that it is obvious that the father intended to marry off his oldest daughter first. The father wouldn’t want to violate a pasuk in the Torah! However, Rabbeinu Tam later retracted his ruling, and the incident had an unfortunate ending. The bachur couldn’t marry any of the daughters, and all the daughters had to receive a get. The Chasam Sofer advised against a proposed shidduch for a younger daughter when an older daughter wasn’t married. This would seemingly be in line with Tosfos. However, some commentators wonder why Tosfos quote Lavan to bolster his point about not allowing a younger daughter to get married before an older daughter. Was Lavan such a great posek that we should follow his ruling? Perhaps we don’t hold like Lavan. Yaakov Avinu apparently didn’t! Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, points out that the Gemara (Kiddushin 51b) discusses a situation where a man has a minor and an adult daughter.

The Gemara suggests that when it is unclear which daughter the father accepted kiddushin for, we can assume it was for the younger daughter who is still a minor. Rav Moshe asks, how can the Gemara make such an assumption? If it is an aveirah to marry off a younger daughter before an older daughter, certainly the father would accept kiddushin for his older daughter first even if one daughter is a minor! It must be, Rav Moshe concludes, that Rabbeinu Tam was simply saying that there was a custom in his town to marry off the older daughters first. It is not a halacha. Rabbeinu Tam was not learning a halacha from Lavan’s words; he was merely pointing out that even in the Torah we find that Lavan said such a custom existed in Padan Aram to marry off the older daughters first. Therefore, since the custom in the locale of the Tosafists was to marry off one’s oldest daughter first, it can be assumed that she is the daughter for whom the kiddushin was intended. (For a more elaborate discussion on the halachic rulings of this issue, one can search for Rabbi Yair Hoffman’s well-researched article entitled “Waiting for a Sibling.”) There is a well-known Yerushalmi family that had a 28-year-old unmarried son. His 21-year-old brother wanted to start dating; however, he was reluctant to do so since his older sibling was still unmarried. He asked Rav Shmuel Auerbach, zt”l, for guidance. Rav Shmuel advised him that he certainly shouldn’t delay looking for a zivug. He pointed out that when the extended family got bigger upon his marriage, there would likely be more shidduchim suggestions for the older brother. The young man found his zivug rather quickly. He married the daughter of a well-known American author now living in Israel. The next yom tov, the new kallah received a visit from an older friend from the United States. Her inlaws were quite impressed with this fine girl. The rest is history.  

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

Share this article: