Someone who is in mourning cannot get married during the first thirty days of his aveilut (mourning). If someone’s wife passes away, however, he must wait until the three holidays of Pesah, Shavuot and Sukkot have passed before he can remarry. The baraita offers two exceptions to this rule:
Someone who has no children can remarry immediately in order to fulfill the commandment of pru u’revu – be fruitful and multiply.
Someone who has small children that he cannot care for on his own may also remarry immediately.
To support the idea that exceptions to this rule exist, the Gemara tells of Yosef HaKohen whose wife passed away, leaving him to raise small children. Immediately following the burial – while still in the cemetery – he turned to his late wife’s sister and asked her to care for the orphans. Nevertheless, the Gemara records that he did not consummate the marriage until a significant period of time had passed.
Tosafot suggest three possible explanations in an attempt to explain this unique law:
The Sages felt it inappropriate to forget one’s wife so quickly.
When being intimate with his new wife, memories of his first wife would be bound to intrude, which the Sages viewed as morally inappropriate.
Remarrying so quickly would lead the husband to mention to his new wife the activities of his first wife, which would not be beneficial to the building a solid marriage.
Interestingly, Rabbeinu Yehonatan and other rishonim rule that this restriction on marriage for a significant period of time applies only to men; when a woman’s husband passes away, she is permitted to get married immediately. Among the reasons offered for this is that ordinarily – certainly in traditional societies – it is the man who approaches the woman to begin the relationship. Therefore, if a widow is approached by someone who is interested in marrying her, it is important that she not be put into a situation in which she will be forced to postpone that option for a significant amount of time.