Marrying For Looks and Money

Almost a decade ago, we noted that at least a couple of the רודפי הפשט take for granted that Jacob fell in love with Rachel due to her beauty. I recently discovered that this assumption appears in the halachic literature as well: Rav Yaakov Reischer invokes it to infer that marrying for looks or money is okay, as long as one is also motivated by loftier intentions:

דאף אבא שאול [שסובר ש “הכונס את יבמתו לשם נוי ולשום אישות ולשום דבר אחר כאילו פוגע בערוה”] לא קאמר אלא היכי דאין כוונתו רק לשם נוי או לשם ממון אבל אם כוונתו גם לשם מצוה ומזה אל תנוח ידו אין קפידא

וראיה ברורה לזה דכה”ג אמרינן כל הנושא אשה לשם ממון או לנוי ה”ל בנים שאינם מהוגנים ואם כן קשה אתה מוציא לעז חס ושלום על יוסף ובנימין שאבינו יעקב נשא אותה בשביל שהיתה יפת תואר ויפה מראה כאשר מוכיח המקראות על זה ויעקב איך עשה כן וכן כל העולם נכשלו בזה כי כולם בני אדם הם נושאים נשים המוצאים חן בעיניהם ונותנין גם כן עיניהם בממון ולא ימצא כלל בנים מהוגנים

אלא ודאי עיקר כמו שכתבנו דבשיתוף אין קפידא …1

I came across this passage in the course of preparing for my weekly parashah lectures for this past פרשת כי תצא; they are available, with accompanying handout, at the Internet Archive, and here is my halachah column for that parashah:

Parashas Ki-Seitzei (25:5) contains the commandment of levirate marriage (yibum): “When brothers dwell together and one of them dies, and he has no child, the wife of the deceased shall not marry outside to a strange man; her brother-in-law shall come to her and take her to himself as a wife, and perform levirate marriage.” If the brother does not wish to do so, the Torah prescribes the chalitzah (removal of the shoe) ceremony instead.

The mishnah explains that originally, when people performed yibum for the sake of the mitzvah, yibum was preferable to chalitzah, but in contemporary times, when people’s intentions are not for the sake of the mitzvah, chalitzah is preferable (Bechoros 13a). The Talmud elaborates that this is the opinion of Abba Shaul, who maintains that yibum performed with base intentions verges on incest (since intimacy with a brother’s wife is normally considered incest, and the prohibition against such intimacy is only lifted in the context of yibum). Other sages, however, disagree, maintaining that yibum is always a mitzvah, regardless of intent (Yevamos 39b). There is considerable dispute among post-Talmudic authorities over which view is normative. In general, the Sephardic tradition allows and encourages yibum, while the Ashkenazic tradition discourages and even forbids it, except in extraordinary and exigent circumstances (see, e.g., Shut. Shevus Yaakov 3:135; Shut. Maharsham 2:109).

In the year 5710 (1950), the Israeli Chief Rabbinate issued an edict, signed by the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi R. Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog and the Sephardic Chief Rabbi R. Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, prohibiting yibum in Israel, in order to promote “national unity” and “the ways of peace”. A year later, R. Ovadia Yosef – only thirty years old at the time – published an uncompromising rebuttal of the edict, arguing that since the Sephardic custom of encouraging yibum as a mitzvah had extensive support in the halachic tradition and was a long-standing, well established tradition, the Rabbinate had absolutely no authority to prohibit it (Shut. Yabia Omer 6:EH:14). In 5734 (1974), R. Ovadia reiterated his staunch rejection of the edict, and gave his imprimatur to a particular individual’s proposal to perform yibum – which, he records, he subsequently did (ibid. 8:EH:26).

  1. שו”ת שבות יעקב חלק ג’ סימן קל”ה []

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