2023 Rav Moshe Feinstein on Waiting for an Older Sibling
Chananya Weissman

March 23, 2023


There are many norms in the shidduch world today that are antithetical to the Torah, but one that stands out is the notion that a younger sibling should delay getting married if they have an unmarried older sibling. This one is such a no-brainer that the chapter I devoted to it in EndTheMadness Guide to the Shidduch World is barely a page long. I wrote as follows:

We often hear that girls with older sisters who are unmarried will refrain from dating indefinitely (this is less common among single brothers). This is a nice gesture but otherwise incomprehensible. Again, this mindset flies in the face of good judgment that we employ in all other aspects of our lives. If two siblings are unemployed, they will not let age factor into their individual searches. If two married siblings are childless, the younger one will not delay having children so things can work out with perfect neatness.

The only support for this idea comes from Lavan, who was not exactly a role model. Although Chazal do derive from here that it is appropriate for a father to marry off his eldest daughter first (Kiddushin 64b, Mishnah, and Tosfos 52a) it is by no means an obligation — certainly not if doing so would hurt the prospects of the other daughters. Furthermore, this concept is primarily directed at parents looking out for the needs of young children, and certainly not adult children themselves.

Adults have a responsibility to get married when they are ready and to pursue good opportunities. To pressure or even compel younger siblings to wait is to deny a human being a basic need that could have devastating consequences down the road. It is nothing short of cruel and immoral.

Besides, when we are dealing with a “shidduch crisis,” we shouldn’t be looking for reasons to prevent people from getting married, or for more restrictions in how people meet and court. The attitude of some people just boggles the mind.

No one needs to ask permission from an older sibling (especially when they intend to date regardless), nor should they apologize for doing what they are supposed to do. They should certainly be sensitive and not exacerbate the pain of their older sibling in any way, but some pain is natural and normal. Life is not about running away from pain. The older sibling needs to just deal with it.

I wrote these words in 2013, and was unaware at the time that Rav Moshe Feinstein had already addressed this head-on in Igros Moshe Even HaEzer 2:1. If people will not listen to me, no matter how sensible and Torah-based my arguments, let them listen to Rav Moshe. If they will not listen to Rav Moshe, they should stop writing anonymous letters to the editor whining about the shidduch world. They willfully brought it upon themselves — it wasn't a gezeira from Hashem — and they deserve scorn, not pity.

Rav Moshe responded to a question about a young man who found a suitable shidduch, but he had an unmarried older brother who would be distressed if he got married first. The father of the prospective bride wasn't keen on waiting for the older brother to find someone. Was the younger brother allowed to proceed with the shidduch, and was his own father allowed to assist him with this in the usual fashion?

Rav Moshe wrote as follows:

It is obvious, in my humble opinion, that even lechatchila the younger brother may marry a woman even though his older brother did not find a woman to marry, for he is obligated to marry a woman, and how is it appropriate for him not to fulfill his obligation simply because his older brother has not fulfilled his own?

Even if the latter has not done so through no fault of his own, that he has not met one who is suitable for him, nevertheless it is inappropriate that because of this his younger brother should cancel his own mitzvah for an unknown, indefinite amount of time. This is especially so when the father of the woman who was arranged for the younger brother doesn't want to wait...and if he does not [marry her soon] it will be called off, and this is an appropriate shidduch. Certainly he should not lose out on something so important because of this.

Rav Moshe makes it crystal clear that one should not delay fulfilling his personal obligations or risk losing an appropriate shidduch simply because his older sibling is still unmarried, even if the latter is not to blame for his predicament.

Apologists for the status quo might argue that Hashem would not send the younger sibling “the right one” before the older sibling is taken care of, or that Hashem would cause the younger sibling to lose out by forfeiting this opportunity, they have no right to make such a claim — which is really just pseudo-bitachon — especially at the devastating expense to others.

Rav Moshe Feinstein doesn't even entertain such a possibility. You have a mitzvah to do now, you do it. You have an opportunity to marry someone suitable, you don't blow it.

Rav Moshe then debunks certain unnamed authors of seforim who claimed that the Shach in Yoreh De'ah 244:13 forbade a younger brother from getting married first. “This is a total mistake,” writes Rav Moshe. The Shach was referring specifically to a case in which two brothers had both finalized a shidduch and the only issue was who would have the honor of having the wedding first. In this case, the older brother would take precedence, even if the younger brother was more learned.

Rav Moshe then proves his point from the Gemara in Kiddushin 64B that I cited earlier. We learn from there that if a father has both adult and minor daughters who are unmarried, he has a greater mitzvah to marry off the minors (“enlightened” people won't understand this), because his adult daughters share in the responsibility for themselves. If it were true that it was forbidden or otherwise wrong for a younger daughter to get married first, the father would have a greater obligation to marry off the eldest first – and that is clearly not the case.

It is only when the father betroths one of his daughters to someone without specifying which, and he has either multiple adult daughters or multiple minor daughters, that the assumption is he has the oldest in mind. There is simply no basis to argue that a younger sibling who is already an adult must wait for an older sibling to get married.

As for the older brother being distressed, writes Rav Moshe, “On the contrary, it is forbidden for him to be distressed due to the prohibition of jealousy.”

We are not to be held hostage to the emotions of other people, particularly when these emotions are inappropriate. Obviously we should be sensitive to people's feelings, but when asked if a younger brother should delay getting married and even forfeit a shidduch because of the “pain” of his older brother, Rav Moshe would have none of it.

Rav Moshe then added that the father has every right to assist the younger brother. If the father were concerned that the older brother might become physically sick over this, the father would be advised not to assist. However, the younger brother was not prohibited in any way from moving forward with his life because the older brother was upset and claimed it would make him sick.

The questioner had raised one final concern: perhaps the younger brother should refrain from getting married because it would embarrass his older brother, which is a severe prohibition. Rav Moshe replied that here too the younger brother was not inflicting shame on his older brother, but the older brother was feeling ashamed on his own. Furthermore, if the older brother wanted to marry someone of lower social status – as Chazal advise – he would be able to do so, “so how is it appropriate for him to hold back his brother with the claim that it is embarrassing for him, when he wants to be haughty and wait until he finds a woman of stature that he wants?”

Rav Moshe concludes: “It is unreasonable to forbid someone from doing his affairs and taking care of himself with the claim that someone will be ashamed because of this, that he was not successful like him. Therefore, I see no prohibition, nor even anything inappropriate that the younger one should get married first. On the contrary, he merited the great mitzvah of getting married and having children, which one of twenty years is obligated to do, and he does not need to seek spiritual merits to be saved from punishment [for not getting married young], as Rava said and they taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael.

“And this is clear according to the law.”

It is simply incredible that this teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein is not widely known. For all that has been written and said about the shidduch world, and all the hand-wringing about younger singles waiting for older siblings, I have never seen it cited. It's an open and shut case. Younger singles do not have to wait for older singles, nor should they. They do not have to ask permission to date, or feel guilty, nor should they.

Obviously, they should be sensitive to people's feelings, but ultimately it is incumbent on older singles to overcome feelings of jealousy and embarrassment, and not hold others emotionally hostage. The notion that older singles have the right to make younger siblings wait, or that younger singles should put their lives on hold out of a sense of obligation or guilt, or even ask for permission or apologize, is perverse and antithetical to the Torah.

Moreover, it is reminiscent of Molech, in which some children are sacrificed to (supposedly) protect others. That sort of idolatrous thinking has made a comeback in our days, and has pervaded the Orthodox world as well. For all the talk about the so-called shidduch system being “the Torah way” and protective of people's feelings, it is in many ways corrupt, cruel, and destroys people's lives.

If so many Orthodox Jews approach shidduchim with such warped notions about something that is clear as day, and so many rabbis support this erroneous behavior, there is no doubt that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let's stop making excuses and rationalizing what is wrong.

It never had to be this way, and it doesn't have to continue to be this way.

What are you willing to do about it?



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