Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yevamot 18 – Bond of yibum

When a brother dies childless, his wife is bound to the other brother: she cannot marry out of the family. The remaining brother either does a yibum (marries her) or gives her a chalitzah (releases her). This bond thus is similar to marriage.

How strong is it? Do we say that it is almost like marriage that already exists? Take, for example, this case: a woman, whose husband died, is awaiting a yibum, but then she dies. Can the brother marry this woman's mother? If the brother and the woman were actually married, then of course he cannot marry also her mother. But they were never married – they were only connected through a yibum-bond.

Rav Huna says that yes, he can marry her mother. There is no strong connection created by the yibum bond. Now the Talmud begins to analyze the statement. Why didn't Rav Huna simply state, “There is no bond!?” – Because if he did that, we might have thought that even while the woman (yevamah) is still alive, he can disregard the bond and marry her mother. This is not so, however: one is forbidden to destroy the potential for the mitzvah of yibum, and that is what he would have done by marrying the mother.

Rav Yehudah disagrees and says that one cannot marry the mother in this situation. Same question: why didn't Rav Yehudah simply state that “there is a bond?!” – He wants to teach us another lesson. If he said, “There is a bond,” we might have thought that it is true only when there is only one remaining brother, and that is why the bond is strong. But should there be many brothers, and the power of the bond be divided among them, then perhaps it would not stop a brother from marrying the woman's mother – so Rav Yehudah had to state this prohibition for all brothers.

Art: Portrait Of The Artists Mother by Franz Marc

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yevamot 17 – A very young brother

The laws of yibum apply only when two brothers live at the same time and one dies childless. However, if the brother is not a contemporary, he cannot do a yibum. How do you mean?

Let us say there are two brothers, Reuven and Shimon, and Reuven dies childless. Shimon should now marry Reuven's wife, but he waits. Meanwhile, a third brother, Levi is born. Now Shimon marries the widow. He has his own wife also, and now he dies – the two wives are looking at Levy. However, Levy cannot marry the first one, because she is his brother's wife, and when Levi was born, Reuven was already not alive. Thus, the first wife goes free and does not need either yibum or chalitzah from Levi. The second wife goes free because of the first one. This is one of the fifteen women of the basic rule, but here we treat it in more details.

How do we know that the above is true? – Because the Torah said, “If two brother live together (in the world)” – which means that the two brothers should be contemporaries, and then the laws of yibum apply. If not, the other brother's wife is always forbidden to the young brother.

Incidentally, this phrase also teaches us that it applies only to brothers of the same father – just like the twelve brothers who were the sons of Jacob and are called brothers – so here too, “brothers” should be from the same father.

Art: Jacob Sending his Son Joseph to Look for his Brothers by Eustache Le Sueur

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Yevamot 15 – Did Beit Shammai do it?

Earlier we learned that a marriage permitted according to Beit Shammai would lead, according to Beit Hillel, to a serious consequence of a child being a mamzer and being forbidden to marry a Jew. The question therefore is, did Beit Shammai actually follow their point of view in practice?

One attempt to decide this is by analyzing the story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri, who said, “How are we do resolve it? Should we simply agree with Beit Shammai? But the child is mamzer according to Beit Hillel! And if we simply agree with Beit Hillel – but the child of the marriage they allow is not fit to marry a Kohen, and soon we will not have priests! Rather, let's do this: in every such case let us do a chalitzhah, but not a yibum. Since we ban yibum, we will never come into problem with Beit Hillel: even if they do halitzah, it is meaningless, and so no harm. And according to Beit Shammai, this will also be acceptable, because they require either a yibum or chalitzah.” However, the Sages never got to vote and put this measure into practice.

Can we deduce from this that Beit Shammai actually acted according to their view? For otherwise, what “previous cases” are we talking about?

Not necessarily! It could be that this measure was not flawless for a different reason. By previous cases we mean the cases of Beit Hillel: the husbands who married their wives following the view of Beit Hillel will now observe their wives getting chalitzah from another man, implying that the husband's marriage was illegal until then! This cannot be, for “All the Torah's ways are pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”

Art: Double portrait of a husband and wife by Wolfgang Heimbach

Yevamot 13 – A mitzvah marriage of Beit Hillel is illegitimate for Beit Shammai

Earlier we learned that if a man is forbidden to marry the wife of his deceased brother, because she is his close relative, all other co-wives of this brother are equally forbidden to the man, and no halitzah or yibum is required.

Beit Shammai disagree with this basic rule and permit one to marry a co-wife of the deceased brother. This leads to many important consequences, for example, if co-wives performed a halitzah, they are like divorced and cannot marry a Kohen – that is according to Beit Shammai, but for Beit Hillel, who say that the halitzah was not needed in the first place and means nothing even if performed – they can still marry a Kohen.

More importantly, if a brother of the deceased makes a yibum to his co-wife and marries her, following the opinion of Beit Shammai that this allowed, the children of such marriage will be mamzerim according to Beit Hillel, and mamzerim are not allowed to marry a Jew at all, and the child of a mamzer is still a mamzer!

Even though they had such dividing disagreements, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel still maintained a friendly relationship, would intermarry, and relied on each other for purity laws of sacrifices. This is because they trusted each other, so that if a situation that is permitted according to one but forbidden to another arose, they knew that they would be honestly informed.

Art: Group portrait of a husband and wife in a drawing room by Arthur Alfred Davis

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Yevamot 10 – Case number sixteen

Even though Rabbi Yehudah sharply rebuked Levy for his suggestion, the latter insisted on his understanding and added case number sixteen to the list of women who exempt their co-wives from yibum. Here it is.

Let us say one's mother was legally married to his father (a normal case), but after his father's death she “married” his brother (from another woman). The “marriage” of his mother and his brother never took legal effect, because she was previously married to the brother's father. Therefore, if his brother now dies, there isn't even a suggestion that he should marry his mother in yibum.

However, if his father “violated” his mother – that is, lived with her without getting married – then his brother (the son of his father from another woman) can indeed marry his mother. If this brother now dies, our protagonist finds himself in the position of a yibum; but since he cannot marry his mother, she does not get a yibum or chalitzah from him, and his brother's other wives also don't need a yibum or chalitzah. This is exactly the situation of the fifteen cases above, and this is the case number sixteen that Levy wanted to include.

If so, why did Rabbi Yehudah disagree? – Because this scenario involves an “if-he-does” case, a prohibited act of son “marrying” his father's former wife, and Rabbi Yehudah claims that such cases which involve a transgression were not included in the basic rule.

Art: Double portrait of a father and son by Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yevamot 9 – Why only fifteen cases?

Rabbi Yehudah the Prince takes the extra words “to her,” and learns a lesson completely different from our previous one: “to her” refers “to the error (feminine)” that one commits when he worships idols, and the use of the same words connects the two areas of the law and teaches when and what sacrifice one must bring.

Levi asked Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, “Why did the central rule of Yevamot” teach only fifteen cases? It should teach sixteen!” Rabbi Yehudah replied, “It seems like this one has no brains in his head!” But what sixteenth woman could Levy have meant? The Talmud suggest that it may be a daughter of a man who violated a woman and whom his son married – but discards the idea, since this case is actually a disagreement, and the rule of fifteen was unanimous. It also suggests many others, much more involved relationships, but discards them all and explains why Rabbi Yehudah would not agree to any such scenario as a sixteenth case.

Also, the phrase "this one has no brains in his head" implies that the answer should be obvious, and that Levy should have deduced the answer on his own. Thus, the phrase in itself carries additional information, and the Talmud discussed what it might be.

Art: Fisherman and his Daughter by Charles Hawthorne

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Yevamot 8 – Brother's wife or wife's sister?

Earlier we said that if one's brother dies childless, one has to marry his brother's widow, or release her though the procedure of “chalitzah.” What if she happens to also be his wife's sister? That is, what if two brothers were married to two sisters, and one brother died. Normally we would say that a man can't marry his wife's sister while his wife is alive. However, perhaps here, since one prohibition is lifted and he has to marry the widow – then he can do so even though he then will be married to sisters?

Where would we see that “once a prohibition is lifted, other prohibitions are lifted as well?” – In the laws of a metzorah (spiritual leper). Normally, a metzorah is not allowed to visit the Temple. However, in order to purify himself, he needs to. And, once he is on the way to do so, he is allowed to disregard other kinds of impurity, such as last night's seminal emission. Should we apply this principle and permit one to marry any close relative if she happens to be in the “yibum” situation with him? – No! To prevent such possible way of thinking, the Torah added extra words, “to her” – to teach that the wife's sister is prohibited even in the situation of yibum.

Even though the principle of “once a prohibition is lifted, other prohibitions are lifted as well” does not apply here, because of the extra words “to her” and also because of other ways of how this prohibition can be derived, it nevertheless finds applications in other areas.

Art: Portrait of the Shishmariov Sisters by Jules Elie Delauney