We’re up to the Mishnah at the bottom of דף מ״ג עמוּד ב, which begins:
אַרְבָּעָה אַחִין נְשׂוּאִין אַרְבַּע נָשִׁים וָמֵתוּ, אִם רָצָה הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁבָּהֶם לְיַיבֵּם אֶת כּוּלָּן — הָרְשׁוּת בְּיָדוֹ
The literal translation is: Four brothers are married to four wives, and they die; if the eldest among them wishes to make יִבּוּם on all of them, permission in his his hand. That obviously requires further explanation in understanding who died. At a minimum two have to die, leaving two brothers remaining, one of whom is older. Or as the note in ArtScroll suggests there were six or more brothers and four of them died without children. In any event, the eldest surviving brother is taking on alot of responsibility.
The Mishnah continues: מִי שֶׁהָיָה נָשׂוּי לִשְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים וּמֵת — בִּיאָתָהּ אוֹ חֲלִיצָתָהּ שֶׁל אַחַת מֵהֶן פּוֹטֶרֶת צָרָתָהּ. This seems to be the straightforward case spelling out that only one widow of the deceased has to be taken by one of the brothers in יִבּוּם or released through חַלִיצָה, and the צָרָה or co-wife goes free.
And lastly, הָיְתָה אַחַת כְּשֵׁרָה וְאַחַת פְּסוּלָה, אִם הָיָה חוֹלֵץ — חוֹלֵץ לַפְּסוּלָה, וְאִם הָיָה מְיַיבֵּם — מְיַיבֵּם לַכְּשֵׁרָה. As an example, a man has two wives, one who was previously divorced (a גְרוּשָׁה) and the other is “regular” (the nissuah). He dies childless, and both of his wives fall to his brother. If he (the יָבָם) decides to do חַלִיצָה, he should do so to the גְרוּשָׁה because she is already אָסוּר to כֹּהַנִים. You get the sense that we’re trying to preserve the marriage pool for כֹּהַנִים. If however the יָבָם decides to do יִבּוּם, he should do so with the non-divorcee (the כְּשֵׁרָה).
The Gemara following the Mishnah asks the obvious question we alluded to above: אַרְבָּעָה אַחִין סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ? אֶלָּא אֵימָא: אַרְבָּעָה מֵאַחִין, and answers that this was a set of more than four brothers, among whom four died. The Gemara seems rather incredulous about this:
הָרְשׁוּת בְּיָדוֹ. וְשָׁבְקִי לֵיהּ? וְהָתַנְיָא: ״וְקָרְאוּ לוֹ זִקְנֵי עִירוֹ״ — הֵן וְלֹא שְׁלוּחָן. ״וְדִבְּרוּ אֵלָיו״ — מְלַמֵּד שֶׁמַּשִּׂיאִין לוֹ עֵצָה הוֹגֶנֶת לוֹ. Really? We leave it up to a surviving brother if he wants to take on four widows for יִבּוּם? And Rashi editorializes: ושבקינן ליה – בתמיה ובמה יפרנס כולן – can he really support all of them? The Gemara then cites the middle of the פְּסוּקִים dealing with the decision that reads: וְקָֽרְאוּ־ל֥וֹ זִקְנֵי־עִיר֖וֹ וְדִבְּר֣וּ אֵלָ֑יו וְעָמַ֣ד וְאָמַ֔ר לֹ֥א חָפַ֖צְתִּי לְקַחְתָּֽהּ. We’re focusing here not on the cawe where he says he doesn’t want to take on the responsibility of יִבּוּם, but just the opposite! He actually seems to be going overboard, so the Gemara says the Elders give the יָבָם whatever individualized guidance or advice is apropos to the situation.
שֶׁאִם הָיָה הוּא יֶלֶד וְהִיא זְקֵנָה, הוּא זָקֵן וְהִיא יַלְדָּה, אוֹמְרִין לוֹ: מָה לְךָ אֵצֶל יַלְדָּה, מָה לְךָ אֵצֶל זְקֵנָה? כְּלָךְ אֵצֶל שֶׁכְּמוֹתְךָ, וְאַל תָּשִׂים קְטָטָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ. The Gemara now gives an example of appropriate advice (I was going to pun about a “Dear Abaye” column, but thought better of it.) If he was a young man and she an elderly woman, or if he was an elderly man and she a young woman, they say to him: What do you want with a young woman when you are elderly? Or: What do you want with an elderly woman when you are young? Stick with a woman of a similar age, and don’t stir the pot that could be caused by marrying a woman of a significantly different age. From the baraisa it is apparent that if performing יִבּוּם will ultimately lead to contention between the couple, it is preferable to perform חַלִיצָה.
But taking on four widows as in the case in our Mishnah? Isn’t that a bit much?
לָא צְרִיכָא, דְּאֶפְשָׁר לֵיהּ. אִי הָכִי, אֲפִילּוּ טוּבָא נָמֵי! עֵצָה טוֹבָה קָא מַשְׁמַע לַן: אַרְבַּע — אִין, טְפֵי — לָא, כִּי הֵיכִי דְּנִמְטְיֵיהּ עוֹנָה בְּחֹדֶשׁ
Well apparently this brother is wealthy enough to provide for all of them, as Rashi notes: דאפשר ליה – שעשיר הוא ויכול לזונן. Therefore the Elders had to give him the advice that in the event there were more than four widows to take on, even if he were wealthy enough to provide for their material needs, he should limit it to four. Why? As Rashi explains: עונה של ת”ח מערב שבת לערב שבת וזהו אשר פריו יתן בעתו בכתובות (דף סב:) דמטי לכל חדא עונה בחדש. Let’s assume the יָבָם is a Torah scholar, and he’s occupied during the week with learning. Friday night is “Mitzvah Night”, which means that if you do the math, each of the widows would have intercourse once a month. Given the biology of reproductive periodicity, more wives resulting in each having less frequent intercourse makes it challenging to fulfill the mitzvah of פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ inherent in the marriage contract.
Now the Gemara elaborates on the middle case in the Mishnah: מִי שֶׁהָיָה נָשׂוּי לִשְׁתֵּי נָשִׁים וּמֵת — בִּיאָתָהּ אוֹ חֲלִיצָתָהּ שֶׁל אַחַת מֵהֶן פּוֹטֶרֶת צָרָתָהּ. The Gemara asks, why can’t he do יִבּוּם to both of them?
מִי שֶׁהָיָה נָשׂוּי וְכוּ׳. וּנְיַיבֵּם לְתַרְוַיְיהוּ! אָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אָמַר קְרָא: ״אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִבְנֶה אֶת בֵּית אָחִיו״, בַּיִת אֶחָד הוּא בּוֹנֶה, וְאֵין בּוֹנֵה שְׁנֵי בָתִּים
Because, to paraphrase Jake’s wife in Hester Street, you can’t dance with one tuchas at two weddings.
Good advice, but what about doing חַלִיצָה with both widows? וְנַחְלוֹץ לְתַרְוַיְיהוּ?! אָמַר מָר זוּטְרָא בַּר טוֹבִיָּה, אָמַר קְרָא: ״בֵּית חֲלוּץ הַנַּעַל״, בַּיִת אֶחָד הוּא חוֹלֵץ, וְאֵין חוֹלֵץ שְׁנֵי בָתִּים. Because the פָּסוּק says בַּיִת in the singular. All well and good that you can’t do יִבּוּם to both or חַלִיצָה to both. But what about יִבּוּם to one and חַלִיצָה to the other? Nope – you get to choose one or the other: וּנְיַיבֵּם לַחֲדָא וְנַחְלוֹץ לַחֲדָא! אָמַר קְרָא: ״אִם לֹא יַחְפּוֹץ״, הָא חָפֵץ — יְיַבֵּם. כּל הָעוֹלֶה לְיִבּוּם — עוֹלֶה לַחֲלִיצָה, כֹּל שֶׁאֵין עוֹלֶה לְיִיבּוּם — אֵין עוֹלֶה לַחֲלִיצָה
Or … we only let you choose one because of appearance’s sake. If you do one and then the other, people might think that either one by itself isn’t a sufficient action. Therefore we have you do just one or the other. וְעוֹד, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמְרוּ: בַּיִת מִקְצָתוֹ בָּנוּי וּמִקְצָתוֹ חָלוּץ. וְיֹאמְרוּ! אִי דִּמְיַיבֵּם וַהֲדַר חָלֵיץ — הָכִי נָמֵי. אֶלָּא, [דִּלְמָא] חָלֵיץ וַהֲדַר מְיַיבֵּם, וְקָם לֵיהּ בְּ״לֹא יִבְנֶה״
But wouldn’t it make life simpler if we said that the whole concept of יִבּוּם applies only when one woman falls in front of him? Maybe in the case of multiples falling, יִבּוּם doesn’t take effect? וְאֵימָא: כִּי אִיכָּא חֲדָא — תִּתְקַיֵּים מִצְוַת יִבּוּם, כִּי אִיכָּא תַּרְתֵּי — לֹא תִּתְקַיֵּים מִצְוַת יִבּוּם
But if that were true, then all the domino effects that were set in motion when more than one woman was in the picture would not apply, and alas – our famous picture book would turn into a slim pamphlet.
We’re now up to the Mishnah toward the bottom of דף מ״ד עמוּד א and the delicate subject of מַמְזֵר. It is entrenched in our culture to the point of being the subject of an opera that debuted in the U.K. in 2018.
As Rabbi Stern notes at the 18:00 minute mark of his video, there is a huge מַחְלוֹקֶת among tana’im as to exactly who is a מַמְזֵר (no jokes, please). There are three primary classifications, one using a relatively strict definition, one relatively lenient, and of course a third classification in between the two:
- Strict = רַבּי עַקִיבָא, encompassing a larger number of illicit relations, says a mamzer is the product of violating chayvei lavin. For example, the child of a כֹּהֵן and a גְרוּשָׁה.
- The חַכָמִים, and specifically Rav Shimon HaTimni, says not from chayvei lavin, but from chayvei kriysus, such as a child who is the product of a man having intercourse with his sister.
- Lenient = רַב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, who says that only a child that is the product of a union that is chayvei misas beis din is considered to be a מַמְזֵר. As an example, the child of a union between a man and his mother or mother-in-law.
The Mishnah begins:
הַמַּחְזִיר גְּרוּשָׁתוֹ, וְהַנּוֹשֵׂא חֲלוּצָתוֹ, וְהַנּוֹשֵׂא קְרוֹבַת חֲלוּצָתוֹ — יוֹצִיא, וְהַוָּלָד מַמְזֵר, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא
With regard to one who remarries his divorcée after she had been married to another man from whom she was then widowed or divorced, or one who marries the woman with whom he performed חַלִיצָה, or one who marries a relative of his chalutza, since all such marriages are forbidden he must divorce her, and the offspring born from such unions is a mamzer; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. The Sages were clearly on to something here. The divorce rate in America in 2022 was between 40 and 50% for first time marriages, rising to 67% for second time marriages. And that isn’t even necessarily factoring in our case, where the wife was married to another man before they re-married in which case we might suspect the failure rate is even higher. Apparently rebounding is good in basketball, but in marriage? Not so much.
There’s plenty more after this, but I’ve got to go, so you’re on your own to finish the video. And if you happen to have some extra time on your hands, here’s some bonus footage on today’s Daf from R’ Eli Stefansky.