The Very First Agunah Crisis: The Aronson Brothers

The Very First Agunah Crisis: The Aronson Brothers 1

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

Most people do not know this, but there were two brothers, the Aronson brothers, who had caused the very first Agunah Crisis.

And yes, we are naming names.  The Aronson brothers caused an unprecedented Agunah crisis in Judaism, and they came from one of the most prestigious of Jewish families.

They were handsome and of good family lineage. Intelligent. Men of fine character.  Famous.  And, oh yes, single.  Quite single.

In fact, they were the most eligible bachelors imaginable.  Women swooned at the very thought of becoming a spouse to either one of them.  And they entertained no desire to marry any other man.  How could any other man stand up in comparison?

And so, we have the very first Agunah crisis in the annals of Jewish history.

The reader is perplexed.  Agunos!!?  Two single brothers caused an Agunah crisis?  How dare you label this an Agunah crisis!


The identity of the Aronson brothers, for those who have not guessed it yet, is none other than Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon.  And it is not the author who has labelled it an Agunah crisis – it is Chazal. The Chazal is found in Vayikrah Rabbah (20:10).  Chazal there write concerning Nadav and Avihu: Rabbi Levi said, They were overly proud and harbeh nashim hayu yoshvos agunos – Many women sat as Agunos in the hopes of marrying them.  Chazal used that term – yashvu Agunos – a term generally reserved for married women that cannot remarry.

And they were punished for it, with the ultimate penalty.  In other words, according to Rabbi Levi in this Midrash Rabbah, it was not the hubris of the two brothers (even though they had it according to the author of the matanos kehunah), nor was it the negation of the Mitzvah of pru u’rvu that caused them to be punished.  It was the pain that they had caused to women in contributing to the creation of a psychological barrier of these many women to marry others.


But it wasn’t their fault!  How can we blame them?  Nadav and Avihu didn’t “not give them a get!”  They were merely over-picky in not marrying.  It was the women who chose to remain single.  Why should Nadav and Avihu be blamed, and even more so, why should they be punished so severely?

We see from here something extraordinary.

Even being the cause of someone else’s pain when it was someone else’s decision and not one’s own –  is something that is punishable.  This is true when there is a barrier, even a psychological barrier, to getting married.

We are held accountable for repercussions of our decisions and actions – even when the repercussions are indirect – in that they involve the decisions of others beyond our control.  We also see, how serious it is to, in any way, be the indirect cause of someone not being able to marry or remarry.


On the other hand, there is another form of pain too – one that ex-husbands experience more often than ex-wives.  We refer here to the pain of parental alienation.

Parental alienation is a process wherein a child or children become estranged from one parent as the result of the psychological manipulation of the other parent.  In this author’s view, it is often a form of child abuse.

One has to honestly ask, however, does “withholding a get” resolve possibilities of parental alienation or does it help exacerbate them?

A number of years ago, this author met with Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg zt”l as to what can be done to resolve the growing problem of people not receiving a get for many years.  He responded that a major change must be initiated.


There is an interesting debate between Rav Henoch Leibowitz zatzal and Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zatzal in regard to the two wives of Elkana – Pnina and Chana.  The background to the debate is found in Shmuel Aleph (1:1-2:10), and it is also the haftorah that is reas on the first day of Rosh Hashanah – the prequel to the birth of Shmuel haNavi.

Pnina realized that the reason Hashem was withholding children from Chana was because she was not davening to Hashem with the requisite intensity. She took it upon herself, leshaim shamayim, to help Chana intensify her prayers by teasing her that she had no children.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zatzal (Sichos Mussar) points out that the notion of “what goes around comes around” (Middah keneged Middah) regarding causing someone else pain – exists, even when the underlying intention is 100 percent proper.

Rav Henoch Leibowitz zatzal, on the other hand, held that Pnina was only 99.999 percent Lishma, but there was a subtle, infinitesimally small trace of improper motivation in Pnina’s actions. Regardless, we see how serious the issue of causing another pain actually is.

The Very First Agunah Crisis: The Aronson Brothers 2

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