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On Shiduchim, Chanukah and Minhagim

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

A.  Shiduchim[1]

In this week's Parsha, Ve'yetze, after Ya'akov Avinu realizes the morning after his supposed wedding with Rachel that he had been deceived and it was in fact Leah that he had betrothed, he turns to Lavan and asks him why he deceived him. Lavan responds to him and says:

“It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older."[2]

Interestingly, this statement of Lavan is used by Rabbeinu Tam, of the leading Ba'alei Hatosfot, in deciding a Halachic case that came before him. Tosfot relates[3] that the son of Rabbi Osh'aya Halevi said to a certain wealthy man "your daughter is betrothed to me" without specifying the name of the daughter or which of the daughter's he intended to betroth. Rabbeinu Tam ruled that the man's daughter is halachically married, and although he had more than one daughter, the oldest one was considered the betrothed one because of the verse above “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older."

Rabbeinu Tam is basing an issue of whether a woman is halachically married on the practice and words of Lavan Ha'arami!

The Rashbam as well in Masechet Bava Batra[4], in the course of his explanation on the gemara that deals with the different order the Torah lists the daughters of Tzelofchad in Sefer Bamidbar, explains that when the Torah refers to their marriages it lists them in the order of their ages since they married in the order of oldest to youngest in fulfillment of Lavan's words quoted above.

The Bach as well in his commentary on the Tur[5] infers that this is a binding halachic ruling that the siblings, both men and women should me married in chronological order of birth and the younger should not precede the older.

The purpose of this dvar Torah is not to explore the halachic rulings on this important and sometimes sensitive issue and it is important to be aware that this ruling is subject to difference of opinions amongst the Poskim. Suffices to mention that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l ruled that this law only applies to a case when two siblings are already engaged, in which case there is an obligation to have the older sibling's wedding first. However it does not at all restrict the younger sibling to date or get engaged before the older one.

The point of interest here is the source of this Minhag or Law. Is Lavan Ha'arami its authoritative basis and source?

B.  Chanukah

  1. There is a famous Gemara that discusses the obligation of candle lighting on Chanuka:

"The Sages taught in a baraita:

The basic mitzva of Hanukkah is "ner ish ubeito" - each day to have a light kindled by a person, the head of the household, for himself and his household.

And the mehadrin, i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, kindle a light for each and every one in the household.

And the mehadrin min hamehadrin, who are even more meticulous, adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to the nature of that adjustment. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, he kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, he kindles eight lights."[6]

According to the Gemara, there are three possible options to fulfill the Mitzvah of Chanuka. The first two are quite straightforward; however regarding the third option, mehadrin min hamehadrin, there is a well-known dispute between the Tosfot and Rambam.

Tosfot[7] says that the third level of mehadrin min hamehadrin, is in fact an addition to the first level of "ner ish ubeito" - one candle per household every night, so that on the final night there will be a total of eight candles lit (according to Beit Hillel), no matter how many people in the household.

Rambam however understands that the third level is an addition to the second level and therefore if the mehadrin (second level) light a candle per person every night, then the mehadrin min hamehadrin add an additional candle per person every night, so that on the final night there will be candles lit corresponding the amount of people in the house multiplied by eight.

These are the words of the Rambam:

"How many lamps should one light on Chanukah? It is a commandment that one light be kindled in each and every house whether it be a household with many people or a house with a single person. (Ner ish ubeito)

One who enhances the commandment should light lamps according to the number of people of the house - a lamp for each and every person, whether they are men or women. (Mehadrin)

One who enhances [it] further than this and performs the commandment in the choicest manner lights a lamp for each person on the first night and continues to add one lamp on each and every night.(Mehadrin min hamehadrin)"[8]

To make it perfectly clear the Rambam, in the next halacha, gives an example:

How is this? If the people of the household were ten: On the first night, one lights ten lamps; on the second night, twenty; on the third night, thirty; until it comes out that he lights eighty lamps on the eighth night.

It is interesting to note that according to all of the options mentioned by the Rambam, there is no need or place for a conventional Chanukia with eight branches excepting for a family of eight members doing mehadrin, the second level.

After the Rambam's lengthy explanation of these options, including an example, in the very next halacha he seems to dismiss them all:

"It is common custom in all of our cities in Spain that a single candle is lit for all the members of the household on the first night. We proceed to add a new candle on each and every night, until on the eighth night eight candles are lit. [This practice is followed] regardless of whether there are many members of the household or only one man [is lighting candles]."

This custom in Spain is precisely the fulfillment of mehadrin min hamehadrin according to Tosfot's understanding as explained above. Clearly the custom in Spain was simply to have a regular Chanukia in each household and light it in the traditional way. Not only that, but this custom is not in alignment with any of the three options as explained above by the Rambam himself![9]  The question therefore is: why does the Rambam overrule his own explanation and ruling based on the original words of Chazal themselves in the Braita?


One would expect that Rav Yosef Caro in the Shulchan Arukh, when codifying this halacha, would similarly layout the three options mentioned by the Gemara, and side with either the Rambam or the custom in Spain and Tosfot regarding mehadrin min hamehadrin. This is all the more so true in light of the fact that the Shulchen Arukh first stresses the importance of being careful with the Mitzvah of lighting Chanuka candles, so much so that a poor person must either borrow oil or sell the coat on their back to buy oil to light candles, and therefore it would be important to offer the more basic option for the poor person or anyone else who would like to choose so. Surprisingly though, the Shulchan Arukh states as follows:

"One needs to be very diligent in kindling the Hanukkah lights. Even a poor man living off charity must lend or sell his clothes, and buy oil to kindle with."

"How many lights should one kindle? On the first night, he kindles one [light]. From then on he continues to add one each night, until on the last night they are eight. And even if the household members are many, they should not kindle more. "[10]

Rav Yosef Caro apparently ignores completely the Gemara and the original ruling of Chazal regarding two more modest options for candle lighting and matter of fact only offers option three as understood by the Tosfot and practiced in Spain. The Mishna Berura comments on these words and says that this is the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin, and one who cannot afford it may do the simplest level of ner ish ubeito, however it seems very peculiar that it is not clearly mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh. [11]

C.  Minhagim

The solution to all the above quandaries may lie in understanding the source of authority of Rabbinic laws and customs in general. We tend to perceive that the longstanding underlying obligation to follow these laws stems from their original source and its strength and validity. Rav Kook however writes[12] that this is not the case.

"You should know that we lovingly fulfill the customs of Israel that we know were not commanded by any prophecy, and all because of our love and honor of our nation.

And the mitzvoth of Chazal that we observe, their fundamental basis of obligation, is the "acceptance of the entire Nation"…and even though They (Chazal) attached and related their laws to pesukim in the Torah, still, their clear foundation is the acceptance of the Nation." 

This too is to be seen in the Gemara in Masechet Pesachim[13] :

"The residents of Beit She’an were accustomed not to travel from Tyre to market day in Sidon on Shabbat eve. In deference to Shabbat, they adopted a stringency and would not interrupt their Shabbat preparations even for a short sea voyage. Their children came before Rabbi Yoḥanan to request that he repeal this custom. They said to him: Due to their wealth, it was possible for our fathers to earn a living without traveling to the market on Friday; however, it is not possible for us to do so. He said to them: Your fathers already accepted this virtuous custom upon themselves, and it remains in effect for you, as it is stated: “My son, hear your father’s rebuke and do not abandon your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8)."

The verse quoted by Rabbi Yohanan to obligate them to obey their family custom is explained by Rashi on Proverbs as follows:

"Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father: What the Holy One, blessed be He, gave Moses in writing and orally.

your mother: HebImecha - like Umatcha -  your nation, the nation of Israel, as in (Ezek. 19:2): “What a lioness was your mother [meaning your nation]!” These are the words of the Scribes, which they innovated and added and made safeguards for the Torah."[14]

The implication of this understanding would explain how the Rambam, despite his understanding of the original text concerning Chanukah, was "forced' to concede that it is irrelevant in light of the fact that Am Yisrael no longer practice any of the options mentioned in the Gemara. What is therefore halachically binding is the acceptance and practice of the Nation and not the original law.

Simirlarly, Rav Yosef Caro omitted the first two levels of candle lighting from the laws of Chanukah based on this understanding that they became halachically obsolete as result of the full acceptance of "the whole of the Nation" of mehadrin min hamehadrin. It might therefore be possible that one who lights anything less than mehadrin min hamehadrin would not be fulfilling the mitzvah.

The question of the source of being sensitive to older siblings in matters of shiduchim and weddings becomes of little importance as we look to the behavior of Am Yisrael regarding this issue and not to lavan Ha'arami. True that he was the one to mention it first, but our adherence to this practice hinges on the historical attitude of the nation to this, and not at all to the wisdom of Lavan. This would also explain the ambivalence of most of the Poskim to this law/custom, as apparently it was not widely accepted by Am Yisrael at all. 


[1] Thanks to my colleague Dr Judith Fogel who introduced and discussed this topic with me in the Beit Midrash of Midreshet Harova this week. What follows is a non-practical halacha discussion. Regarding the halachic issues that might arise, please write me or consult your Rabbi.    

[2] Breishit 29:26.

[3] Kiddushin 52:a. D"h Vehilchata.

[4] Bava Batra 120'a D'h Lehalan.

[5] Bach, Yorah De'ah 244 D"h Uma Shecatav.

[6] Shabbat 21'b.

[7] Shabbat ibid D"h Vehamehadrin.

[8] Rambam, Hilchot Megilah 4'1.

[9] See Lechem Mishna on the Rambam Who asks this question.

[10] Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 671:1-2.

[11] See Rav Shach, Avi Ezri, on Rambam, Hilchot Megilah 4'1.

[12] Eder Hayakar, Pgs 38-40.

[13] 50b (Translation

[14] Rashi Proverbs 1;8.


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