Tzarat Ervah

Yevamot (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

The new seder, seder Nashim, begins with Masechet Yevamot. If a women’s husband dies without having any children and the deceased has brothers from a common father, then they are obligated to perform either yibum or chalitzah (see Devarim 25:5-10). The former is where the brother effectively marries the widow, while the later is a process through which the widow is then able to remarry outside the family. One must note that ordinarily one’s brother’s wife is a forbidden relationship. It is only in the context of yibum that this union is permitted. We will learn about both of these throughout the course of the masechet.

There are situations where a brother may be exempt from yibum or chalitza. One such case is if the brother (yabam) is related to the widow (yevamah) in a way such that yibum would constitute a biblically forbidden relationship, or more specifically, an issur ervah(see Yevamot 3b). The first Mishnah lists those cases where the widow would be forbidden to theyabam but was not forbidden to the deceased. The Mishnah teaches that not only is the yevamah exempt from yibum and chalitzah but the other wives (tzarot) as well. The Gemara (3b) derives this exemption from pesukim

The Grach (Chidushim 76) inspects this exemption that applies to the tzarah. How do we understand the exemption that applies to the tzarah? Is it that the ervah exempts that tzarah? Or is it that the tzarah exempts herself by virtue of being defined as a tzarat ervah? In other words, the name tzarat ervah carries its own status of an ervah that exempts her from yibum.

The Grach uses this distinction to explain a Tosfot who he understands maintains the latter understanding. One is not allowed to marry his wife’s sister, even after he has divorced his wife. If however his wife dies, then he is allowed to marry his deceased wife’s sister. TheMishnah (3:7) records a case of three brothers (Reuven, Shimon and Levi), where Reuvenand Shimon marry two sisters (Leah and Rachel) and Levi marries and unrelated woman (Sarah). Reuven dies and Levi performs yibum to Leah. Shimon’s wife Rachel then dies and then Levi’s dies. Even though Rachel died prior to Levi, meaning at the time of the second yibum one might think the Leah is permitted to Shimon, since there was a point when Leah was prohibited (after Reuven’s death and prior Rachel’s) Leahremains prohibited (keivan de’ne’esrah). 

The Tosfot there questions this Mishnah. There is a debate whether “nisuin mapilin” (13a) – at the time of marriage do we view it as if there is an obligation of yibum. The practical difference is in a situation of where one’s brother has two wives, one of which an issur ervah. If the ervah dies prior to the brother dying, is the tzarah exempt? If we say “nisuin mapilin” then the tzarah is exempt since at the time of marriage she was a tzarat ervah. Now according to that opinion, the Mishnah could have taught that the first person to die in the chain of events was Rachel since, due to nisuin mapilin, Leah is already assur.

The Tosfot answer that nisuin mapilin only helps with a tzarat ervah. That is, if she was a tzarat ervah at some point during the marriage, she is exempt even if at the time of yibum the ervah is not one of the widows. Nisuin mapilin however does not work to make it as if the requirement of yibum has now occurred; as if Leah requires yibum in the life of Rachel.

The Grach explains that for an ervah, for the principle of keivan de’ne’esrah to exempt her, she would need to be prohibited at the actual time when yibum is required. For the tzara, at the time when both the ervah and the tzarah are married, according to those that maintain nisuin mapilin, the tzarah get the status of tzarat ervah that carries a status of ervah and ultimately exempts her even if she is the lone widow at the time of yibum.1

1 According to this, the Grach explains that in a cases of two wives, where one was an ervah but ceased being so during the marriage, at the time of *yibum,*the tzarah would be exempt (as explained) and  the original ervah could have yibumperformed to her were it not for the fact that she now is a tzarat ervah.


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