Love and the Levirate marriage

I know it may seem like all is quiet on the Shosha front, but in truth in between the demands of life, I am slowly working away on a couple of projects – one of which is a novel with a Levirate marriage (in Hebrew, a yibbum) as the central narrative concern.

Interestingly, the concept of a Levirate marriage can be found in a number of different cultures and religions. In Judaism, the basic obligation of the law is that if a married man dies childless, his brother is required to marry his window and his widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband’s brother – thus ensuring a continuation of the genetic line of the deceased man.

Fortunately, in Judaism there is a get out of jail free card. Performing the ritual of halizah allows either (or both) party to  be released from the obligations of the Levirate marriage. Once halizah occurs, both parties can go off and marry whoever they choose. (Obviously, there’s more to it. Wikipedia has some good overview articles on Levirate marriage, yibbum and halizah if you are interested.)

My story’s coming along nicely – the idea has so much dramatic (and romantic) potential. Doing some research during chol hamoed Pesach – the intermediary days of Passover – I stumbled across a movie on the subject.

Loving Leah follows the story of Jake and Leah. Leah has recently been widowed by her rabbi husband, Benjamin. When Benjamin’s non-observant brother Jake is required to perform the halizah ceremony he backs out – and suddenly Jake and Leah are married.

Loving Leah is a Hallmark movie. I think it’s interesting that Hallmark went with a subject like this, but if you’re looking for sex scenes, you’re going to be disappointed with this film. Nonetheless, it’s cute – so if you are interested in watching it, you will find below a the trailer and the full movie (I’m assuming the full movie is unauthorized, but I have heard rumours that sometimes content providers allow unauthorized sharing and split the profits from advertising revenues. Otherwise it wouldn’t be fair, right?).

For anyone who has any insights on Levirate marriages/yibbum or halizah, please comment below or send me an email, message me on Facebook or tweet me. In my other life I’m doing some academic research for my Masters’ Degree on the subject and I would love to hear from you.

Hope you all had a good Passover – full of liberation and redemption.

Shosha xx


PS. The picture is Rembrandt’s painting of Yehudah (Judah) and Tamar – perhaps the most famous story exemplifying the Levirate marriage. 

3 Replies to “Love and the Levirate marriage”

  1. If anyone is interested, the Netziv has a fascinating explanation of the ceremony of chalitzah. He explains (based upon the Talmud) that “technically” the Mitzvah of Yibbum is for the brother-in-law of the deceased to be physically intimate with the widow a single time. Except that after that single time, the “kiddushin” / marriage of the deceased brother is “transferred” to the Brother and he can now “stay married” to the Widow (keeping in mind that NORMALLY a sister-in-law is prohibited to her brother-in-law as an “ervah” — a VERY forbidden relationship). The Netziv explains that in the case where a Brother of the deceased does not wish to be married to the widow — then “technically” what he should do is be intimate with her a SINGLE TIME — and then give the widow a “Get” (which now dissolves the marriage that was initiated by the deceased). The failure of the Brother to be able to THAT (i.e., a single act of intimacy followed by a divorce) is what leads to the Chalitzah Ceremony… A full explanation is out of scope here — but I will be happy to discuss “off-line”.

      1. You are most welcome and — if you wish — I can provide a more complete discussion on this matter.

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