ב׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ה (November 24, 2014)

Yevamot 51a-b: Responding to the Widow

The fifth perek of Massekhet Yevamot focuses on one main topic – the relationship between the various responses that the surviving brother (the yavam) can perform with the widow (the yevama). There are four possible responses, two of them taught by the Torah and two suggested by of the Mishna:
bi’ah (sexual relations), which would complete the process of yibum, so that the two would now be married
halitza, the ceremonial rejection of yibum, which would free the widow to marry anyone she wants
ma’amar, in which case the yavam offers a ring (or another object of value) to the yevama, mimicking a marriage ceremony. In such a case they have fulfilled yibum on a Rabbinic level
get (a divorce document), which would preclude the possibility of fulfilling yibum. Even though on a biblical level a get has no meaning in this relationship, the Sages treat the divorce as having enough power to force the yavam and yevama to choose the option of halitza.

What if two or more of these responses are performed by the yavam? What carries more weight – the power of bi’ah and ma’amar to create the relationship, or the power of halitza and get to break off or forestall a relationship?

Once either of the two Biblical responses has been performed, there is little question about what has taken place. Yibum creates a full and complete relationship of marriage; halitza severs any relationship, allowing the widow freedom to marry outside her first husband’s family. The question is of importance with regard to the two Rabbinic responses – ma’amar and get. Here we find differences of opinion. Does the ma’amar of the Sages establish a full relationship, similar to normal kiddushin? Does it create a partial relationship? Or, perhaps, it does not create any relationship, and its purpose is merely to signify which brother intends to perform yibum at some later time. These are the issues with which our perek grapples.