Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yevamot 24 – He does not know whom he married

If a man betrothed one of two sisters but does not know which of them he betrothed – he needs to give a divorce (Get) to each one. He cannot live with any one of them – because perhaps he betrothed the other one, and this one is prohibited to him as his wife's sister.

If he dies before divorcing, his brother performs a chalitzah with both – on the eventuality that each can be his brother's wife.

If he had two brothers, then one of them must do a chalitzah with one, but the other brother can marry the other sister. This is permitted according to both possibilities: if her sister, who got the chalitzah, was really the wife – then the bond is now dissolved, and he can marry the other sister. And if her sister was not the true wife, then the chalitzah meant nothing, and the brother is now marrying his deceased brother's wife, that is, doing a yibum.

However, they cannot both marry, each one to a sister. The one who marries the true wife is doing a yibum, and that is fine. But the other one – he is marrying a women to whom there is a yibum-bond, something we discussed earlier. Still, if they don't consult and just go ahead and marry, they can stay married – because each one can claim that he did the yibum, and it is the other brother who was in violation, and now anyway, the yibum bond is no longer there.

The eldest brother is the one who should do the yibum, but if the younger one has preceded him – he has acquired the mitzvah.

Art: The Cameron Sisters by Stephen Catterson Smith

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yevamot 23 – When is a child considered Jewish?

Earlier we mentioned that a child born to a slave women or a non-Jewish woman is not considered Jewish, so that many of the family laws don't apply. For example, the child is not included in the laws of inheritance, and if that child is a daughter, then the man's son can marry her after she converts. The Sages later forbade this marriage, to avoid confusion.

How do we know this rule? – The Torah said, “Do not intermarry with them... for he will turn your children away from Me and they will serve other gods.” Why did the Torah say “he” and not “she” or “they”? Because the relationship is not equal. He (the non-Jewish husband of your Jewish daughter) will lead your Jewish children astray, hence, this is still your child. But she (the non-Jewish wife of your Jewish son) will not lead your Jewish children astray – because they are not considered Jewish, that is, they are not “your” children for the Jewish law.

Can we deduce that in the opposite case, when a non-Jew marries a Jewish woman, the child is completely kosher? – Not quite. He is not an illegitimate child, that is, he is not a mamzer, but he is blemished: if the child is a daughter, she cannot marry a Kohen.

Art: The most devoted of her slaves by Briton Rivière

Monday, October 27, 2014

Yevamot 22 – Any child

Any child that a man has relieves his wife from the mitzvah of yibum or chalitzah, which she would otherwise have to do in the event of her husband's death. The Torah said that only when “and one of them dies childless” does the mitzvah of yibum apply.

What did the teacher mean by “any child?" He could have said it shorter, "A child." – Even a mamzer – a son born from a woman married to another. But how do we know that? Maybe the Torah discusses only a legitimate son? – From the words “And he has no son,” - “U ben ein lo”. The word “ein” can be understood as “ain”, which would mean an eye, telling us to look into the matter and discover any existing son. For example, if he has a daughter, she also exempts her mother from yibum. The exception to this case is a child born from a slave or a non-Jewish woman, who is not considered the man's offspring for the purposes of Jewish law.

In a similar vein, “any brother” to whom the mitzvah of yibum applies also includes a mamzer. He is also a real brother for burial – so that if the father is a Kohen, and this son of his dies, then other brothers are permitted to go to the cemetery for his burial. This brother also inherits together with the other brothers, and he is liable for cursing his father.

The last point needs explanation. The Torah said “Do not curse a prince (and anyone in general) in your people,” so this prohibition only applies to people who observe Torah laws and do “the conduct of your people.” This father sired a mamzer, and he is not doing the right thing, so the son should not be liable for cursing him!? – The father repented. But the mamzer is alive, so the repentance cannot work! – No, it can, because at least now the father behaves properly.

Art: Portrait Of A Father And Son by Florentine School

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