Yevamot, Chapter Eleven, Mishnah Four

 

Introduction

This mishnah deals with the complex situation where a mother’s son gets mixed up with her daughter-in-law’s son.  Afterwards each woman has another son, such that it is unclear who is whose brother and who is whose father’s brother.  I will try to use names to make the situation clearer.  Sarah is the mother and Rebekah is the daughter-in-law.  They give birth each to one son, Joe and Stanley, but they don’t know whose child is whose.  They each also give birth to another son, Sarah to Moshe and Rebekah to Eli.  Joe and Stanley might be Eli’s brother or his uncle.  Joe and Stanley might be Moshe’s brother or his nephew.  Our mishnah deals with cases of potential yibbum involving these four men.

 

Mishnah Four

1)                     If the child of a woman was mixed up with the child of her daughter-in-law and the mixed-up children grew up and married women and then died, the [other] sons of the daughter-in-law perform halitzah but may not contract yibbum, for it is uncertain whether she is the wife of his brother or the wife of his father’s brother.  

a)                                 The [other] sons of the older woman either perform halitzah or yibbum, since the only doubt is whether she is the wife of his brother or the wife of his brother’s son.  

2)                     If the not-mixed-up sons died—then [with respect to the widows of the sons of the older woman] the mixed-up sons perform halitzah and may not have yibbum, since it is uncertain whether she is the wife of his brother or the wife of his father’s brother; 

a)                                 [With respect to the widows] of the sons of the daughter-in-law one performs halitzah and the other [may] have yibbum.

 

Explanation

Section one:  If Joe and Stanley each married a woman and then died without children, their wives become liable for yibbum or halitzah with either Moshe or Eli.  Eli, Rebekah’s son, must perform halitzah for each woman for each might be the widow of his brother.  He cannot have yibbum with either for either might be his father’s brother’s wife and it is forbidden to have relations with one’s father’s brother’s wife. 

After Eli has performed halitzah with both women, Moshe, Sarah’s son, may either have halitzah or yibbum with either.  He may have yibbum with either for if she is his brother’s wife, then the yibbum is valid.  If she is his wife of his brother’s son, he is still permitted to marry her for it is permitted to marry the wife of one’s brother’s son.  This mishnah is based on the fact that it is permitted to marry one’s nephew’s wife but not one’s uncle’s wife.

Section two:  In this case, Moshe and Eli die and each woman becomes liable for halitzah to Joe and Stanley.   Both Joe and Stanley must perform halitzah for Moshe’s wife, lest she be their dead brother’s wife.  They may not have yibbum with her lest she be the wife of their father’s brother.  With Eli’s wife one must have halitzah, lest she be his brother’s widow but then the other may have yibbum.  Yibbum in this case is permitted because even if she is not his dead brother’s wife she is his brother’s son’s wife and it is permitted, as we learned above, to have relations with one’s brother’s son’s wife.

In summary, if there is the possibility that the woman is his father’s brother’s wife, he may not have yibbum with her.  If there is a possibility that she is his brother’s son’s wife he may have yibbum since this is permitted.  

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