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First Come, First Married

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One of the many new “minhagim” in the shidduch world concerns two or more siblings who are in the proverbial parsha simultaneously. This is an increasingly frequent phenomenon due to the ever-increasing length of the average dating career.

It can lead to the poignant occasion of an older single attending the wedding of a much younger brother or sister and the tumultuous emotions this is sure to arouse. The older single is likely to experience joy on behalf of his younger sibling, but is also likely to feel a measure of jealousy, resentment, confusion, self-doubt, fear – and embarrassment and guilt for feeling all these negative things.

The seemingly obligatory platitudes, reassurances, and half-baked set-ups offered as consolation prizes will only intensify the negative emotions and threaten to cause a rift between siblings who always enjoyed a loving relationship.

As a result of this potential tension, a new minhag in the shidduch world has been widely implemented: a younger sibling is forbidden to pursue marriage until all older siblings have been spoken for. If the younger sibling is not comfortable with waiting, he or she must ask for permission from the older sibling to date. If the younger sibling is successful in finding a shidduch, he or she must then ask for forgiveness from the older sibling.

While this minhag may come across as harsh on the younger sibling, it seems to be supported in the Torah. Our forefather Yaakov desired to marry Rachel, but Lavan tricked him into first marrying Leah. After all, Lavan explained, it was anathema in his locale for a younger sister to be married before the older one. Such a thing simply wasn’t done.

The careful thinker must observe, however, that Lavan is the antagonist in this tale, and is consistently portrayed in Torah literature as the worst sort of scoundrel. Barring any more compelling evidence to justify this practice, a Torah-true Jew should recoil from emulating a moral ideal associated with such a character.

While one must certainly be sensitive to the feelings of someone in distress, it is unreasonable and completely against the Torah for a young single of marriageable age to delay the fulfillment of this mitzvah due to such a consideration. To the contrary, the young single should learn from the difficulties of others that the opportunity to marry someone compatible is not something to be squandered or delayed until everyone can be all smiles about it.

Such opportunities do not come along all that often, and it is reckless to rationalize that Hashem can’t possibly have sent someone’s intended spouse while an older single is still waiting. Says who?

Further, there should be no expectation for the younger sibling to request permission before the fact or forgiveness after the fact. No one needs permission to date for marriage. It is an obligation and a critical component of Jewish life. If permission is granted it is redundant and serves only to confuse people regarding this concept, and if permission is not granted the denial must be ignored in any case.

Forgiveness is similarly unnecessary, because the younger sibling has done nothing wrong. An older single who resents the good fortune of a younger sibling is the one who should request forgiveness. Would we ever advise a younger sibling to seek permission to search for a job while the other is unemployed, or ask for forgiveness for making a good living while the other is struggling? Would we ever dream of advising a young married couple to put off having children until all the older siblings are blessed with children? What absurdity!

We must appreciate that things don’t always work out in the way we would presume to be ideal. If we were running the world, we might arrange for everyone to get married shortly after they decide they are ready and for those who have been waiting the longest to be taken care of first. In reality, of course, such conveniences can’t be taken for granted, and trying to force the issue by pressuring younger singles to delay their search creates a far greater problem than that of assuaging the feelings of the older sibling.

Some pain is inevitable. The only obligation on the younger single is to be mindful not to unnecessarily exacerbate the pain of those who are still alone. It is incumbent on the older single to handle the situation in a mature fashion. If he is unable to fully share in the simcha with genuine joy, he can be forgiven. Nevertheless, it is simply unacceptable for an older sibling (or parents) to exert any sort of pressure on a younger sibling to compromise his efforts to get married or to make the younger sibling feel guilty for receiving a blessing.

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