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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah | 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Marriage Between People from Families with Occurrences of a Serious Disease - Part I - Based on Amud Ha’y’mini, siman 33
[This article, written in the 50’s, discusses a case of a couple contemplating marriage, where each came from a family with two occurrences of the same severe disease. We do not know what the disease was, but by context, we can presume that it was an uncommon one. Otherwise, two occurrences in the extended family would not be significant. The last decades have seen an explosion of knowledge about the genetic factor in illness and the likelihood of a disease occurring in a family with a history of the disease. It is likely that, had Rav Yisraeli’s response been written today, it would have incorporated medical research. However, there are still diseases which appear to have a connection between family history and chance of occurrence, but more exact information is unavailable. The following ideas still apply to those cases.]
The Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 2:7) says that a person should not marry a woman from a family of lepers or other serious disease in a case where the disease has occurred three times in her family, which creates a chazaka. The Rif (on Yevamot 64b) explains that after two occurrences, it is permitted to marry into the family because we assume that “two times is just by chance.” At first glance, then, there is no problem in our case. Since in each family there are only two occurrences, each one is considered by chance and we need not take note of either family history. However, the Ba’er Heitev (ad loc.:15) questions the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling based on the Shulchan Aruch’s own ruling regarding determining a family history of babies dying as a result of circumcision. There it is enough that the sons of two sisters died in order to forbid a brit on their cousin. As the gemara (ibid.) equates the halacha regarding these two issues, we appear to have a contradiction. The Pitchei Teshuva (ad loc.) distinguishes between the context by a brit, where the family history is with the mother’s sister’s children and the context of the lepers where “the family,” implying the more extended family, is mentioned. By close relatives, it is similar to the case of a woman’s own children dying, where two occurrences is enough, whereas, by the more extended family, only three occurrences are significant enough. Thus, if in our case, we are talking about the illness in a parent and a sibling, that is even closer than two siblings, and there should be a prohibition.
However, we could make just the opposite claim. If only one side has the apparent tendency toward the disease, then the “healthy” family should avoid marrying in and should find a family without such a high likelihood of problem. But if both families have the problem, then each has the problem no matter whom they marry. But on second thought, this does not seem to be the case. Two occurrences do not indicate a certainty that a given child from this proposed match will have the disease. It only indicates a higher likelihood than we are happy with. But if both sides share the same disease, then there is an even greater likelihood that the joint children will have the disease, and we should not condone that increased risk. Additionally, we should note that it is evident from the sources [beyond our scope] that, in general, two occurrences create a safek (doubt) whether there is a chazaka. We deal with this doubt in the manner appropriate for the specific context (in this case, we are extra careful regarding danger). Thus, it is possible that the two cases indicate a trend in one family but are coincidence in the other. Therefore, how can one side take the risk of marrying into a family that has a more severe problem than they?
[We continue next week.]
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