Friday, November 21, 2014

Yevamot 47 – Accepting converts

A man came to Rav Yehudah and said, “Even though everybody considers me Jewish, but the truth is that I have converted myself, without the presence of a court of three.” Rav Yehudah asked, “Do you have children?” The man answered “yes.” Rabbi Yehudah then said, “You are believed to disqualify yourself from being Jewish, but not to disqualify your children.”

Why is the man believed about himself? – Because anybody can create a prohibition with his own words, in the situation where he stands to lose. But why is he not believed about his children? After all, a father is believed to tell us which one of this sons is the firstborn!? – Because once we believe him that he is an idolater, then he is no longer qualified to testify on Jewish matters. Others say that the man is believe even about his children, precisly because we would believe him about the firstborn, but he is not believed about his grandchildren.

In general, if one comes and says that he wishes to convert and become Jewish, they tell him that he is joining a persecuted and pursued people, and if he still persists, they begin the process right away. They also tell him about a few of the mitzvot that he will have to keep, and inform of the seriousness of the prohibitions of Shabbat and the like. However, they also tell him about reward in the World to Come. Finally, they inform him that he will have to give charity, and in Israel of the tithes that he will have to give. However, they don't overwhelm him with stringencies, as is learned from the behavior of Naomi toward Ruth, a righteous convert.

Art: Children by Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yevamot 46 – Conversion to Judaism

What is required to become Jewish? – All that is needed is for one to be circumcised, since that is what the Jews did in Egypt, as the verse states, “For all the people that went forth from Egypt were circumcised.” – this is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer.

Rabbi Yehoshua says just the opposite: immersion in a mikvah is the only requirement, since this is all that Jewish women did, when they went out of Egypt. Obviously, they could not be circumcised, but how do we know that they indeed went to the mikvah? – Because if not that, how were they brought into the Divine presence? But, since it is impossible for a woman to be circumcised, how can we learn from that a law for a man? Rabbi Yehoshua says that we indeed can.

However, the Sages maintain that both circumcision and immersion in a mikvah are required. What is their logic? – They agree both with Rabbi Yehoshua and with Rabbi Eliezer and thus come up with both requirements.

Rav Safra tells a story how he was visiting Rabbi Chiya, with yet another Sage, and a convert came to them. He was circumcised but not immersed in a mikveh. Rabbi Chiya told him to wait until tomorrow morning, for then they would administer an immersion for him. We see three things from here: that both circumcision and immersion are required, that this immersion cannot be done at night, and that three people need to be present. Can we also derive that they all need to be Sages? – No, this is just how it happened.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yevamot 45 – A child from a mixed marriage

A child born from a Jewish woman and an idolater is a mamzer, since the Torah said “Do not intermarry with them,” implying that there is no legal significance in such marriage, and as a result the child is a mamzer. However, this is only one point of view.

The opposite point of view is that a mamzer is only born from a union of a married Jewish women and another Jewish man. This disagreement persisted for centuries. Rav, who lived somewhat later, declared this child kosher. A man who was a Sage and whose father was an idolater, said to Rav, “If such a child is kosher, give me your daughter in marriage.” Rav refused, but the man kept insisting. Finally, Rav set his gaze on him, and the man died. The law was established, and there was no counter-example to contest it.

Art: Woman With A Child In A Pantry by Pieter De Hooch

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yevamot 44 – Four brothers

If there were four brothers who were married to four women, not related between themselves, and then all four brothers died, the oldest of the remaining brothers can – if he wishes – take all four as his wives in yibum.

This ruling, however, raises many questions. Since the Torah, in describing yibum, said, “And the Sages of his city will summon him and speak to him,” we understand that they give him an appropriate advice. If he was old and she – young, they would tell him, “What do you have in common with such a young woman? Find somebody more appropriate for your age and don't bring strife in your house.” They would say the same if the ages were reversed.

Since most people will have difficulty supporting four wives, how do they let him do it in this case? – We must answer that we are dealing with a situation where he has the means. But if so, what is the novelty? It is obvious! – The ruling gives him a good advice: he should not take more than four wives, so that he can fulfill marital obligation with each one at least once a month.

If one re-marries his ex-wife, who married someone else in the interim, the child is a mamzer. That is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva, but the Sages say that a mamzer is born only through a liaison with a married woman or a similar serious transgression. All agree, however, that if one divorced a woman and the married any of her forbidden relatives – then the child is indeed a mamzer, because in regard to in-law relationships, a divorcée is like a wife.

Art: Portrait Of A Young Woman In An Interior by Gustave Caillebotte

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Yevamot 41 – Three months

To avoid the problems with the uncertain parenthood that we have mentioned before, the Sages decreed that a woman should wait for three months after her husband's death, before marrying again. Since the Torah said, “... to be a God for you and to your offspring after you,” we see that one of the requirements of the covenant is to clearly distinguish between the offspring of the first husband and of the second one. The decree was extended to all cases of marriages and even betrothals, where childbearing should not be an issue – to prevent confusion.

Rabbi Yehudah disagrees: people won't be confused. So he allows, for example, a betrothed girl, whose groom died, to get married to another right away. Similarly, a woman who was married can get engaged, and then wait three months for the chuppah. The exception is a betrothed girl in the province of Yehudah, where it was known that the grooms may have been too familiar with their brides.

Rabbi Yose goes even further: there is not need to distinguish between the offspring of the first husband and the second one – something that was required by the first teacher – and everybody can get married right away; with the exception of a widow, who needs to wait for thirty days because of mourning obligation.

Art: Portrait of a Bridegroom by Antonius Heusler

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yevamot 38 – Widow's inheritance

A woman whose husband died and who is awaiting a yibum or chalitzah from the husband's brother is in some measure this brother's wife. How do they share in money?

For example, if she gets an inheritance from her father's family, she has full control over it, and can sell it or give it away, and her late husband's brothers cannot get it back. However, what happens if she dies? Since it is uncertain whether she is a wife or not, half of the property that constitutes her inheritance goes to her father's family, but the other half goes to the husband's brothers – that is the opinion of Beit Shammai.

However, Beit Hillel use a different method: in a case of doubt the money remains in the possession of that one who possesses it right now.

For example, her Ketubah - money that she gets upon divorce or the death of the husband - remains in the possession of those who own it - that is, the husband's heirs.

Similarly, the property that she brought in and that was assessed at a certain sum, also called a dowry, remains in the possession of the one who own them. However, who possesses it? Our ruling does not say – and it is in itself a further disagreement: some say it is the husband's heirs, some – that it is the wife's heir, and yet others – that both sides possess it, so they would divide them. These and similar laws are discussed in more detailed in the Talmud sections dealing with inheritance.

Art: Her Future Dowry by Antoine Jean Bail

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yevamot 37 – Yibum with a pregnant widow

The Sages forbade performing either yibum or a chalitzah with a woman for three months after the death of her husband. Here is why. Imagine that one marries the wife of his late brother two months after the brother dies. Imagine also that she gives birth seven months after this. Now we have two possibilities. It could be that this child is the full-term baby of the deceased. In this case yibum was forbidden in the first place, they have transgressed and must bring a sacrifice, and he needs to divorce her, because one cannot live with the wife of this brother who died but left a child.

On the other hand, if it is his child, born after seven months of pregnancy (in the time of the Talmud, the majority of babies were born after nine months, but a minority of healthy babies were born after seven months). Now it transpires that he was correct in doing a yibum, and they can continue living together.

However, we cannot distinguish between the two cases: it may be a child of nine months, which means that the marriage is a transgression, or of seven months, in which case the marriage would be a mitzvah. Since they cannot resolve this uncertainty, he sill must divorce her, and they bring a special sacrifice prescribed for cases of such doubts. But the child is not a mamzer in either case: either it is a child of the late brother or of the alive one, and in both cases it is legitimate.

Art: Mother and Child by Cornelis C. Zwaan