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What is yibum?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. Yibum (pronounced YEE-boom) is Positive Mitzvah #216.

B. In the Torah’s terminology, a yavam (pronounced YAH-vahm) is a brother-in-law, and yibum is levirate marriage, or the act of the brother-in-law marrying his widowed sister-in-law. (“Levirate” comes from the Latin levir, or husband’s brother.)

C. Yibum requires the yavam to say “I Do!” should his brother get yanked from this earth without leaving any young. The purpose of yibum is to keep the dead brother’s name alive, a practice initiated by Jacob’s son Judah. Negative Mitzvah #357 forbids any other man to marry the yevamah (that’s the sister-in-law, pronounced yeh-vAH-mah) while she is bound to marry the yavam. If she releases herself from yibum (see below), she is free to marry whom she pleases.

The purpose of yibum is to keep the dead brother’s name alive, a practice initiated by Jacob’s son Judah
How do I do yibum?

1. Don’t

Yibum is defunct today. In the rare case a yibum situation should arise, where a whole battery of qualifying criteria is met, Chalitzah is always done instead (see What is chalitzah?).

2. The Times, They Are A-Changing

As the generations progressed, people became increasingly lustful. And that flies in the face of yibum—this mitzvah is to be done for the sole sake of fulfilling a mitzvah, not for base desires. Because sexuality was becoming the primary motive for yibum, the chalitzah procedure is done instead, to release these brothers-in-law from their Torah obligations.

3. Your Typical Marriage

A “yibumite marriage,” if one were to be done today, would be no different than a standard wedding, complete with Chupah, live band and dozens of cousins who come from the far ends of the earth to gorge themselves on piles of food.

TAGS: yibum

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COMMENTS

Yibum

Posted by: Les, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland on Mar 15, 2006

How would yibum work in a monogamous society if the yavam gets married before his brother dies and then ends up having to marry his dead brothers wife in addition to the one he already has?

Editor's Comment

It wouldn't work... In such a society, the married brother would have to perform chalitzah.

RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Marriage » The Wedding

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Chupah
Wedding canopy. Under this canopy, the groom betroths the bride with the customary ring, and the traditional marriage benedictions are recited.
Yibum
"Levirate marriage." The Biblical commandment which obligates a man to marry his deseased childless brother's widow.
Chalitzah
The ceremony which exempts a man from "Levirate marriage" -- the Biblical obligation to marry his deseased childless brother's widow.