Blog Yomi – Yevamos #19

Particularly when the Daf seems convoluted or complex, it helps to have a reminder that these cases of יְבָמָה were very real, and occurred in the not-so-distant past. I thought you might like to read this excerpt from a personal perspective by Rabbi Jonathan Snowbell, titled “Perhaps the Last Yibbum in History“:

“My grandmother, Hannah Bahar, was a yevamah. My grandfather, Sallah Bahar, was a yavam.

The Barren One

My grandmother was born in Baghdad around 1908. Her parents were Hacham Ya’akov and Rahel Gubbay. She was one of ten children. When my grandmother was only seven, her father passed away. A year later her family moved to Bombay, India. She went to school in Bombay until the age of seventeen. My grandfather was born in Baghdad in 1905. His parents were Yehezkel and Chatoon Bahar. He was one of eight children. He had three older brothers: Gurgi, Abdula, and Shaul. His family also moved to Bombay.
Wedding
At the age of seventeen, Hannah Gubbay married Gurgi Bahar. Tragically, the marriage did not last long. After less than two years of marriage, Gurgi died. There were no children. This brought great shame to Hannah, who was known as ‘the barren one.’

The Commandment of Yibbum

As Jewish law dictates, when a married man dies without children, one of the brothers of the deceased is obligated to take the wife of his brother as his wife. This is called the mitzvah of yibbum. If none of the brothers chooses to marry the deceased brother’s wife, she must be freed to marry other men through the process called halitza. In Ashkenazi circles it became the practice to prefer or even only to permit halitza because of the concern that the involved parties might not be capable of fulfilling the mitzvah with the proper intentions (see discussion in the Shulhan Arukh Even Ha’ezer 168:1).

However, Sephardic or Edot Mizrah circles had a different practice, adhering to the original Torah law of preferring yibbum, and this was so in Hannah’s case. ‘Granny,’ as many of her grandchildren lovingly called her, later related that her family did not even entertain the possibility of doing halitza because it would have been a big embarrassment.

Gurgi’s brother Abdula was willing to take Hannah as his wife, but he already had one wife, and Hannah, with the support of her mother Rahel, was not interested in being anyone’s second wife. However, one of Gurgi’s other brothers, Sallah, was unmarried, and he too was prepared to take Hannah as his wife. To this Hannah agreed. And so in 1926, Sallah performed the mitzvah of yibbum by taking Hannah, his deceased brother’s wife, to be his yevamah and wife. At the end of 1927 Hannah, previously known as ‘the barren one,’ gave birth to a son.”

We begin today’s Daf with the Mishnah on דף כ׳ עמוּד א:

כְּלָל אָמְרוּ בִּיבָמָה: כֹּל שֶׁהִיא אִיסּוּר עֶרְוָה — לֹא חוֹלֶצֶת וְלֹא מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת. אִיסּוּר מִצְוָה וְאִיסּוּר קְדוּשָּׁה — חוֹלֶצֶת וְלֹא מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת.

אֲחוֹתָהּ שֶׁהִיא יְבִמְתָּהּ — חוֹלֶצֶת אוֹ מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת.

אִיסּוּר מִצְוָה — שְׁנִיּוֹת מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים. אִיסּוּר קְדוּשָּׁה — אַלְמָנָה לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל, גְּרוּשָׁה וַחֲלוּצָה לְכֹהֵן הֶדְיוֹט, מַמְזֶרֶת וּנְתִינָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנָתִין וּמַמְזֵר

The Mishnah states that there are some general principles about יבָמָה operative here based on three categories in halacha:

#1: לֹא חוֹלֶצֶת וְלֹא מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת – Let’s take the example when the deceased in question was a man who was married to his niece. The niece falls to her father who does not make חַלִיצָה or יִבּוּם because she is an עֶרְוָה to him. Not only is the עֶרְוָה exempt, but the צָרַת עֶרְוָה is פָּטוּר.

#2: חוֹלֶצֶת וְלֹא מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת – We’re going to see that this category includes אִיסּוּר מִצְוָה which is דִין דְרַבָּנָן where the Rabbis made certain עַרָיוֹת permissible in the Torah as forbidden. For example, a grandmother or granddaughter is not identified in the Torah as off limits for intercourse, but they are אָסוּר מִדְרַבָּנָן. The other header in this category is אִיסּוּר קְדוּשָּׁה, which encompasses חַייְבֵי לַאוִין such as אַלְמָנָה to the כּהן גדוֹל or גרוּשׁה וחלוּצה to the כּהן הדיוֹט,

#3: חוֹלֶצֶת אוֹ מִתְיַיבֶּמֶת – This is a bit more intricate, so we’re going to illustrate it with the case from our picture book on page 128 titled אחותה של ערוה כשהיא יבמתה או חלצת או מתייבמתכגון כלתו

  1. There are three brothers, Reuven, Shimon, and Levi.
  2. There are two sisters, Machla and Noa, unrelated to the brothers.
  3. Reuven has a son, Chanoch, who marries Machla.
  4. Chanoch dies.
  5. The widowed Machla marries Shimon.
  6. Noa marries Levi, so that two brothers are now married to two sisters
  7. Shimon and Levi die, and their two widows Machla and Noa fall in front of Reuven.
  8. Machla is אָסוּר to Reuven because she is כַּלָתוֹ – his daughter-in-law. Therefore there is no זִיקָה between either Machla or Noa with regard to Reuven.
  9. Reuven has the option to do either יִבּוּם or חַלִיצָה with Noa, his daughter-in-law.

כַּלָתוֹ is one of the examples that Rashi gives, and the other is חַמוֹתו or mother-in-law: אחותה – של ערוה כשהיא יבמתה כגון שנפלו שתי אחיות משני אחין האחת אסורה משום ערוה כגון שהיא כלתו או חמותו. The latter example is on page 129 in our picture book, אחותה של ערוה כשהיא יבמתה או חלצת או מתייבמתכגון חמותו

  1. There are three brothers, Reuven, Shimon, and Levi.
  2. There are two sisters, Machla and Noa, unrelated to the brothers.
  3. Noa marries and has a daughter, then Noa’s husband dies.
  4. Noa’s daughter marries Reuven.
  5. Noa marries Shimon.
  6. Machla marries Levi.
  7. Shimon and Levi die (hey, it could happen), so Machla and Noa fall in front of Reuven.
  8. Noa is אָסוּר to Reuven because she is חַמוֹתו – his mother-in-law. Therefore there is no זִיקָה between either Machla or Noa with regard to Reuven.
  9. Reuven has the option to do either יִבּוּם or חַלִיצָה with Machla, his mother-in-law.

The Mishnah proceeds: אִיסּוּר מִצְוָה — שְׁנִיּוֹת מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים. אִיסּוּר קְדוּשָּׁה — אַלְמָנָה לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל, גְּרוּשָׁה וַחֲלוּצָה לְכֹהֵן הֶדְיוֹט, מַמְזֶרֶת וּנְתִינָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנָתִין וּמַמְזֵר

These are “secondary” גְזֵירוֹת or decrees that the רַבָּנָן made, as Rashi notes: שניות – שניות לעריות שגזרו סופרים עליהם ובגמ’ מפרש לה. We’re going to discuss these categories in more detail tomorrow, so we’ll take the opportunity to Zoom ahead here. Furthermore, the subjects at hand tend to get rather dry that is, until the Daf comes to the subject of acquired male infertility. First the subject itself, and then I’ll ask you to indulge me in some side commentary.

On דף כ׳ עמוּד ב the Gemara raises an objection from Rava:

מֵתִיב רָבָא: פְּצוּעַ דַּכָּא, וּכְרוּת שפְכָה, סְרִיס אָדָם, וְהַזָּקֵן — אוֹ חוֹלְצִין אוֹ מְיַיבְּמִין. כֵּיצַד? מֵתוּ, וְלָהֶם אַחִים וְלָהֶם נָשִׁים, וְעָמְדוּ אַחִין וְעָשׂוּ מַאֲמָר בִּנְשׁוֹתֵיהֶן, וְנָתְנוּ גֵּט, וְחָלְצוּ — מַה שֶּׁעָשׂוּ עָשׂוּ. וְאִם בָּעֲלוּ — קָנוּ

As elaborated by Sefaria: “A man with crushed testicles or with other wounds to his genitals or one whose penis has been severed, one who is a eunuch caused by man and not from birth or by disease, or an elderly man, all of whom are incapable of fathering children, one either performs chalitza or yibum. How so? If any of these infertile men died, and they had brothers and they also had wives, and they then died childless, and the brothers proceeded to perform yibum with their wives, or gave them a get, or performed chalitza, whatever they did is done; i.e., their act was effective. And if any one of the brothers engaged in intercourse with the widow of one of those infertile men, he thereby acquired the woman as a wife according to the laws of yibum.”

Let’s back it up a minute. Why the focus on פְּצוּעַ דַּכָּא, וּכְרוּת שפְכָה? Because we might have thought there would be a prohibition on these men from being מְקַיֵים a mitzvah, stemming from the פָּסוּק in ספר דברים which states: לֹֽא־יָבֹ֧א פְצֽוּעַ־דַּכָּ֛א וּכְר֥וּת שפְכָ֖ה בִּקְהַ֥ל יְהֹוָֽה. Rashi explains, פצוע דכא means one whose stones have been bruised (פצוע) or crushed (דכא). What are the chances of a man acquiring crushed stones or bruised balls?

As you may know, I’m finishing up my semi-annual sabbatical month on Clearwater Beach in spring training baseball fandom. While the Gemara didn’t know from Abner Doubleday, it had the type of cases in mind depicted in this sports medicine video. “He certainly crushed that ball” usually refers to a batter hitting a long home run, but there are two צְדָדִים to every story, and we’re talking about a hitter doing damage not for the inside out, but from the outside in. Specifically, in this case, to the catcher’s balls which can result in פְּצוּעַ דַּכָּא or כְרוּת שפְכָה. (Hey, it can happen!)

Now for the part that I find particularly interesting. If the raison d’etre of making יִבּוּם is that the יָבָם is potentially perpetuating the name of his brother who died childless, what purpose would there be in having an infertile יָבָם make יִבּוּם to the widow? There’s seemingly no possible way that he could seal the deal!

There is a considerable amount of discussion in the latter half of Rabbi Stern’s video revolving around עַשֵׂה דוֹחֶה לֹא תַעַשֵׂה, and when he gets to the 40:00 mark he says: “I’m waiting for someone to ask me a bomb kasheh“. To me the bomb kasheh is how we can have an infertile man do יִבּוּם. But what Rabbi Stern is alluding to is the situation where only one act of בִּיאָה (intercourse) is allowed … and the distinction between בִּיאָה for קִנְיֶן to satisfy an עַשֵׂה, versus unlimited בִּיאָה through the state of the יְבָמָה becoming his אִשְׁתּוֹ.

That becomes an important distinction between the mitzvah of conventional yibum with אֵשֶׁת אַח, where the intent is for the couple to remain a couple through בִּיאָה, versus יִבּוּם that comes about through עַשֵׂה דוֹחֶה לֹא תַעַשֵׂה which by comparison finds the parties involves “victims of circumstance”. If you are inclined to read more about this, Rabbi Stern suggests you give תוֹספוֹת a look in your spare time:

אטו ביאה שניה – לאו דוקא נקט ביאה שניה דהא אפילו גמר ביאה ראשונה אסור דיבמה נקנית בהעראה והו”מ למימר גזירה אטו גמר ביאה ואין להתיר ביאה שניה מטעם דנעשית אשתו לכל דבר דאינה נעשית כאשתו אלא היכא דשרי ליה בלא דחייה אבל חייבי לאוין אפילו ביאה ראשונה לא שריא אלא משום דאתי עשה ודחי לא תעשה וביאה שניה דלית בה עשה לא דחיא אע”ג דבפרק הבא על יבמתו (לקמן יבמות סא.) לא מצריך קרא אלא לאירס ואח”כ נתמנה להיות כהן גדול אבל נשאה קודם שנתמנה משמע דלא צריך קרא שיכול לקיימה משום דנשאה בהיתר התם נמי משום דבהיתר בלא שום דחיית איסור נשאה אבל הכא ביאה ראשונה לא שריא אלא משום דאתי עשה ודחי לא תעשה ביאה דמצוה דחיא דלאו מצוה לא דחיא

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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