Thursday, July 12, 2007

Masei: The Marriage of the Daughters of Tzelophchad

There is a popular practice in certain communities that they do not marry off the younger before the older, or at least the younger sibling needs to ask the older siblings permission. (Not that I agree with this practice, given certain negative repercussions in different communities.) Often, I have heard that this is Jewish custom. But then, it seems to be Lavan's custom! {Bereishit 29:26}

כה וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה-הִוא לֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-לָבָן, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי--הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ, וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי. 25 And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban: 'What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?'
כו וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן, לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ--לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה, לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה. 26 And Laban said: 'It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born.
כז מַלֵּא, שְׁבֻעַ זֹאת; וְנִתְּנָה לְךָ גַּם-אֶת-זֹאת, בַּעֲבֹדָה אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲבֹד עִמָּדִי, עוֹד, שֶׁבַע-שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת. 27 Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give thee the other also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.'
Yet Yaakov clearly expected it not to be so, but to marry the younger. And Lavan is saying this as an excuse to defraud. And he states בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ, which can be taken as merely local custom. On the other hand, we can interpret this as (false) indignation -- "In our place we are not so low as to marry off the younger before the older!"

Regardless, this does not seem like such a firm basis.

There is better basis for it in Rashi on parshat Masei. There, we read {Bemidbar 36:11}:
יא וַתִּהְיֶינָה מַחְלָה תִרְצָה, וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְנֹעָה--בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד: לִבְנֵי דֹדֵיהֶן, לְנָשִׁים. 11 For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father's brothers' sons.
Yet the order of these daughters is different than the other three places in Tanach where the names of these daughters occurs. Why?

Rashi explains:
Here it enumerates them according to seniority over each other in age, and they were married in the order they were born. But throughout Scripture (26:33, 17:1, Josh. 17:3), it lists them in order of their intelligence and informs us that they were all equal. — [B.B. 120a]
Rashi is actually cited Bava Batra 120a, which states:
Further on, Scripture enumerates them according to their age and here according to their wisdom.
"Further on" referring to this pasuk in Masei. It is actually a dispute, for a bit later in Bava Batra, we read:
The school of R. Ishmael taught: The daughters of Zelophehad were [all] alike, for it is said, and they were [implying], 'all of them possessed the same status'
meaning that they were of equal status. Other sources say that same about Moshe and Aharon who are once in this order and another time in the opposite order, to say that they are equal.

Yet, Rashi cites this first explanation, which gives a more precise reason why the order of the daughters of Tzelofchad are in a different order here than in other places.

In fact, Rashi adds a bit to the statement. The Talmudic statement was just that this was their age order. But Rashi's statement continues that they married in this order. This ties it in more to the wording of the pasuk, and perhaps reveals how Rashi felt that age-order was to be deduced from this pasuk. That is, the pasuk stated:

יא וַתִּהְיֶינָה מַחְלָה תִרְצָה, וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְנֹעָה--בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד: לִבְנֵי דֹדֵיהֶן, לְנָשִׁים. 11 For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father's brothers' sons.
and thus the explicit topic in the pasuk in marriage, and it is the verb. Thus, the pasuk lists them in the order they married. And there is this apparent Jewish practice or marrying in age order, apparently the same custom as that mentioned by Lavan, which then leads to the explanation that it is age order here and not elsewhere (for age order is an appropriate order of listing them).

While on the topic of the marriage of the daughters of Tzelophchad, it might be worthy to mention a midrash which Rashi does not bring up. Were the daughters of Tzelophchad actually restricted from marrying whomever they pleased? Were they restricted to people in close relationship, or at least within the tribe?

We read one opinion in Bava Batra 120a:
Rab Judah said in the name of R. Samuel: The daughters of Zelophehad were given permission to he married to any of the tribes, for it is said, Let them be married to whom they think best. How, then, may one explain [the text]. Only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married? — Scripture gave them good advice, [namely], that they should he married only to such as are worthy of them.


At all events, it was taught, 'In the case of the fathers it is said: And every daughter that possesseth an inheritance'? — He raised the objection and he [also] replied to it: 'With the exception' [he said] 'of the daughters of Zelophehad'.
Thus, he interprets, in the pasuk
ו זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה ה, לִבְנוֹת צְלָפְחָד לֵאמֹר, לַטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיהֶם, תִּהְיֶינָה לְנָשִׁים: אַךְ, לְמִשְׁפַּחַת מַטֵּה אֲבִיהֶם--תִּהְיֶינָה לְנָשִׁים. 6 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying: Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married.
by splitting it into two phrases. In the first, "Let them be married to whom they think best." In the second, "only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married" is a piece of good advice. (The alternate way of interpreting it is that they should choose whomever they like best from within the range of people enumerated next, which can be fairly broad.)

This, in part, can be read as foreshadowing and partly justifying the later practice to allow marriage to anyone in any tribe -- by allowing even the ones who started it all an exemption.

Regardless, the daughters of Tzelophchad did not take up the offer, and followed the good shidduch advice.


Anonymous said...

Hey, great post.
First question: You're saying that you don't like the practice of marriage-order-is-birth-order. But it can be said that the Torah itself has taught us that it should be done that way: This is what we learn from Tzelophchad's daughters. So maybe you'll change your mind? :-)

Second thing: This can be a great lesson about the free will. In the first part of the pasuk 6 g-d tells the daughters that they have a free will to marry whoever they want, and only after that he gives them a good advice. But still, the free will is the key here.

Shabat Shalom.

joshwaxman said...

nice thoughts.
in terms of your first point, while this explanation appears to assume this practice was in place, the practice itself is still not legislated as normative halacha. and while it may make sense in certain societies (e.g. where all daughters will get married off in arranged marriages, even to older men), it does not in others. Just as we would not take Rav's practice of wife-for-a-day as a recommendation in today's society, even as it might have been a perfectly normal and moral practice in the Persian society in which he lives.
Given today's shidduch scene, with pressure to get married and difficulty getting married the older a girl gets, having younger siblings wait while an older sibling has difficulty *might* be a good idea (like that there is no competition among siblings) but most likely is not, as one bottleneck for the oldest girl, even if she eventually gets married, causes much more difficulties for younger girls who are aging while they wait for the older sibling to get married. And it could turn into a true bottleneck, which is not good. Practical advice for actual living situations, rather than an ideal transported from another context, where it originally made sense but no longer.

Kol Tuv (and good comments -- thanks!),


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