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According to those that say the Avos kept the Torah beforehand (here), how was Yaakov allowed to marry two sisters?

(Yes, I'm aware that there are many answers)

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10 Answers 10

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Please see Rav Moshe Feinstein's answer here (linked in the other thread).

He says the only reason one may not marry two sisters is the prohibition against קידושין (the preliminary stage of marriage) with two sisters and that קידושין did not apply to non-recipients of the תורה (and still doesn't).

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To me this answer says "The avos kept the whole Torah, but not Kidushin..." Baffles the mind... – avi Jul 23 '11 at 19:28
@avi Kidushin is a complicated topic. This ruling by Rav Moshe is based on some of the technicalities thereof, explained by Ramba"m, which include the fact that the two parts of marriage are qualitatively different. The first is technically a kinyan, which always has different laws for those who received the Torah and those who didn't according to the Torah. So in this instance saying that Ya'akov "kept the Torah" means that he acted as if he was not subject to the laws governing kidushin. – WAF Jul 24 '11 at 14:15

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l answers that the Avos' observance of the entire Torah was a personal stringency, which could not override societal norms that were generally accepted by the descendants of Noach. One of these was not to deceive each other (hence Yaakov could challenge Lavan, "Why did you deceive me?" and Lavan had to find an excuse - Gen. 29:25-26). Since he had promised Rachel that he would marry her, then he was obligated to keep his word, even though circumstances had changed.

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Where do you see in the Torah that Yaakov promised Rachel he would marry her? Furthermore, If one can not deceive, and this would force him to violate a prohibition in the Torah, how did Yaakov take part in deceiving Yitzchak for the blessings? Furthermore, if you are basing yourself on the Medrash, that Rachel had received signs, didn't then Rachel participate in a deception of Yaakov? How come she was not rebuked for that? Lots of questions on this parsha. – RCW Nov 23 '10 at 1:56
That Yaakov promised Rachel he'd marry her is implied by the fact that he gave her signs by which to identify herself on the wedding night; clearly there was an agreement that he would in fact marry her. As for Yaakov deceiving Yitzchak - he did so at his mother's express command; honoring parents was also one of those generally-accepted mitzvos (hence Cham was punished for disrespecting his father - Gen. 9:22ff), so there was an overriding consideration. Similarly, Rachel's deception of Yaakov was in order to save her sister from embarrassment (a form of bloodshed - Bava Metzia 58b). – Alex Nov 23 '10 at 3:42
@ Alex, I definitely remember one of the rishonim (maybe seforno) saying that because of Yaakov's love for Rachel, he made a neder to marry her. I don't remember where, but I'll try to find it. I remember that at the time, I did not learn that the issue was societal norms, but rather a violation of v'halachta bidrachav regarding the middah of emes. – YDK Nov 23 '10 at 6:02
Because the prohibition against marrying two sisters is one of the mitzvos given at Sinai, not earlier. Indeed, Noachide laws about forbidden sexual relations don't include this detail. Nor do we find anywhere in the Torah where they considered it improper to do so. Whereas we do find instances where keeping one's word, obeying one's parents, and not embarrassing someone else (it occurs to me that we do have an actual example of this - Tamar choosing to go to her death by burning rather than shame Yehudah publicly, Gen. 38:25) were observed by the moral non-Jews of that period. – Alex Nov 23 '10 at 23:36
Thank you for your thoughtful answer. – RCW Nov 24 '10 at 3:00

I think I once heard something to the effect that before the Torah was given, it was permitted in chutz laaretz (outside of eretz yisrael / israel); once he came to Israel it was no longer permitted - and that was when Rochel passed away.

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This sounds like the best answer to me, despite its brevity.. the Law did apply, just not to them because they weren't in Israel yet. :) – avi Jul 24 '11 at 6:22
Btw, you don't have to say 'before the torah was given'.. you can just argue that the rule does not apply outside of Israel. (there are many such mitzvot which we keep outside of Israel for 'chinuch') – avi Jul 24 '11 at 6:23
@avi When you say "which we keep outside of Israel for 'chinuch'", what do you mean? Are you referring to the Ramba"n's famous opinion that mitzvos are only done outside the land so people do not forget how to do them? – WAF Jul 24 '11 at 14:33
@waf yes :) and this comment must be more than 15 chars. – avi Jul 24 '11 at 17:48
Mevakesh, this answer is mentioned in the notes to the Art Scroll Ramban on the posuk in Bereishis ch48 v7 note67. – Raffy Van der Vaart Jul 28 '11 at 18:01

The Michtav MiEliyahu brings a very profound answer. The purpose of Torah is to connect to God. We say that Avos kept the entire Torah yet this is simply not possible. There are many sacrifices they never offered, they did not steal anything so they could engage in the mitzvah of restituting theft, etc. Therefore this must mean that through their exceptionally high level of spirituality they were able to achieve a dveikus with God that someone who kept the whole Torah as we understand it did. At this level Yaakov Avinu, a"h, recognized that it was part of God's plan for history that the 12 tribes come from these 4 particular women. Therefore even though for us such a marriage is forbidden for him it was meritorious because of the ultimate outcome. However, the MM notes that as soon as the 12 tribes were done being born Rachel died. And there was no delay. She died giving birth to Binyamin because once they were all there the special dispensation to marry two sisters no longer applied.

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Garnel, Each time you contribute to the site from a new IP address, the site assumes you're a new user, so there are now a few "Garnel" accounts floating around, each with its own set of answers. Please consider registering your account, so that the site will know it's the same user no matter where you log in from. I'll merge the unregistered accounts in with the registered account when you've done this. – Isaac Moses Jul 26 '11 at 21:02
If I could criticize the holy Rav Dessler, I would say that this answer is so twisted around, it fails to make sense. I would say that everyone understands "keeping the whole Torah" doesn't mean that one has to get divorced, return stolen property, or offer all of the Temple offerings in his lifetime. I would say that whole answer feels incredibly forced. I would say all of that, but since Rav Dessler was so far beyond me, I can't possibly criticize him. (but I can -1 this answer. It just doesn't sit well with me). – user1095 Dec 30 '11 at 11:08
@Will, I personally don't have any problem with criticizing anyone who I think deserves criticism. In this case, though, I suspect it deserves to be directed at Garnel, because if we actually took out Michtav Me'Eliyahu, I suspect we wouldn't find the rationalization in the beginning of this answer that bothers you (and frankly, myself as well when I read it). However, I don't believe that the rest of the answer deserves criticism; it is a common idea that Yaakov and his wives knew that they were founding a nation and were supposed to birth twelve children... – jake Dec 30 '11 at 17:12
...It is not R' Dessler's original idea, but was proposed already centuries before him. It explains a lot of problems in the story of Yaakov and his wives, however unsavory the theory is to the rationalists. That said, feel free to downvote if you think this is an unhelpful answer. But in this case, I think it better to simply upvote the ones you like better, or offer your own answer, which I see you did. – jake Dec 30 '11 at 17:14

I once heard 'outside' a very interesting take on Yaakov marrying two sisters.

As the other answers have mentioned, the avos kept halacha, but voluntarily.

Yaakov loved Rachel, and Rachel loved Yaakov. One can only imagine how much flirting and starry-eyed glances transpired between Yaakov and Rachel, during the seven years that Yaakov worked for Lavan for the privilege of marrying Rachel.

(As an aside, no one need be concerned that it shows lack of respect for the avos to say that Yaakov flirted. He was engaged - he was supposed to look at his betrothed and feel a desire for her!)

So after seven years of yearning for each other, the wedding day comes. Yaakov wakes up in the tent in the morning, and behold! It was Leah!

Rachel has been anxiously awaiting the love of her life for seven years. She would be absolutely devastated if she couldn't marry Yaakov.

If the Torah had already been given, Yaakov wouldn't have any options. (Even divorcing Leah wouldn't help, because the aveirah is to marry two sisters, even one at a time, while the other is still living).

However, because it would hurt Rachel (and Yaakov) so much if they couldn't be together, Yaakov chose to set aside his voluntary observance for her.

This teaches us an important lesson.

Halacha is halacha. We must never compromise our observance of it.

However, sometimes Jews will keep a chumra, at the expense of someone else's feelings.

That is not correct. Another's feelings are more important than your unnecessary stringencies.

Or, as one of my teachers would say "don't be frum on the other guy's cheshbon".

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Would Jacob avoid all this problem by cohabiting instead of marrying? I mean sugar babies life style kind of thing? – Jim Thio Feb 28 '12 at 14:24

Cut and Paste from an answer I gave at the other thread:

With regards to the questions and contradictions between the laws in the Torah and the actions of the Avot, R' Chaim Volozhin, in Nefesh Hachaim Sha'ar 1 Chapter 21, says that when our sages say the Avot kept the whole Torah (in this he included Amram as well, not just Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov), they didn't do so because they were commanded to do so. If they were commanded to do so, they would never violate any of the commandments of Torah. Rather they understood with the great Tikkunim that are accomplished by doing the Mitzvos, and the destruction the would be caused by them not fulfilling the Mitzvos. So they always made sure to do the actions that they understood that their souls would cause Tikkunim.

Therefore, when for example, Ya'akov Avinu saw that his soul could accomplish amazing Tikkunim in this world by marrying two sisters (since he understood that it was specifically through them that the Jewish nation would be brought into this world), he worked hard to make sure this happened. So too, Amram married his aunt so since he understood that doing this would bring Moshe Rabbeinu into this world.

And that's one of the reasons why the Torah wasn't given to the Avos, since if they already had the Torah, it wouldn't matter if they realized that great Tikkunim could be accomplished by going against the Torah, they would not be able to do so.

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Who is Avos? How can someone obey Torah before it's given? – Jim Thio Feb 28 '12 at 14:15
@JimThio: Avot/Avos means forefathers. The Talmud tells us that the Torah preceded the creation of the world, and was used as a blueprint to create the world. The Torah was in heaven (i.e. spiritual worlds) until the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Avot had access to the Spiritual Torah and kept it. For example, Noach was told to take a pair of non-kosher animals and 7 pairs of kosher animals. How did he know which animals were kosher and which ones weren't? He had access to the Torah. – Menachem Feb 28 '12 at 15:00

Ger shnisgayeir kekatan shenolad dami (Yeb. 97b). (A convert is like a newly-born baby.)

This means that when somebody converts, it is as if they are born anew, and that their biological parents are not their halakhic parents. This means that they were not sisters, and there would not be a problem in the first place for Jacob to be married to both of them. IIRC, I heard this from one of the Roshei Yeshivah of RIETS.

A practical ramification of this, I believe, is that converts are not obligated in Kibbud Horim to the same extent that people born initially Jewish are.

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Not only that, but very technically speaking, a Gentile brother and sister who both convert to Judaism, would be allowed to marry each other. This is highly discouraged for a number of reasons (not the least of which being...eecccch!) , but a purely academic read of the halacha involving gerim suggests that such a union is permissible. – user1095 Dec 30 '11 at 10:45

The Rashba explains:

With regards to the issue of Yaakov marrying two sisters, you should know that the Torah rests on three pillars - time, place and items. Time - not on all days is doing work forbidden like Shabbos and Yom Tov, or is eating chametz forbidden like Pesach, or are obligated in the having of a succah and a lulav like Succos. Place - not all places are obligated in the separation of Terumah and Ma'aser and the forbidding of tevel like Eretz Yisrael, or obligated in the bringing of offerings like the Beis Hamikdash. Items - not just any plant can be used in place of the lulav and esrog, and not just any animal can be offered as are cows, sheep and doves, and not everyone is fitting to perform the sacrifices as is a Kohen.

I cannot explain more than this, but an intelligent person will understand my words.

What the Rashba means is that Yaakov was able to ascertain with his great wisdom that according to the time and the place and the items (the two sisters), he was not forbidden to marry them.

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mocdeg answered on another question over here:

One of the answers is that Rachel and Leah were born to Lavan from two different wives and therefore not prohibited to Yaakov.

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Rabbi Eli Mansour explains that there is a special kabbalistic tikkun that had to be made by Yaakov marrying the two sisters.

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lo.yodeya.com/2010/04/guidelines-referring-and-quoting.html is no longer policy but still sage advice: don't just link, summarize. – msh210 Nov 28 '11 at 16:32

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