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Rabbi Dan Dorsch

I just finished Mashechet Yevamot for Daf Yomi.  Sort of.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that this was the first tractate where I skipped around the bit: for three reasons.
Looking back at when I began Daf Yomi during the pandemic, I realize now that I had more free time to study Talmud.  Closing the door to our makeshift home office upstairs and having an hour to study was wonderful.  I loved spending so much time with my wife and kids.  But the break was heavenly.  I don’t have that same time anymore.
As prudish as I already am, the subject matter of Yevamot made me very uncomfortable.  Yevamot, talks about the subject of levirate marriages.  Levirate marriage occurs when a man dies without heirs and his brother is then required to marry his sister in law to produce an heir.  Half of the tracrate sounds like an episode of HBO’s Big Love.  The rest is a completely incestuous family tree.  We read about what kind of sexual relationships disqualify the daughter of a priest from taking teruma.  Rabbis are borderline talking about their favorite sex positions.  Anyone who says that the Talmud is boring probably needs to spend five good minutes looking over Yevamot.
I also struggled with the material because yibum, levirate marriage, hasn’t been in practice for a very long time.  Not even in the bible itself.  Take a look at the end of the Book of Ruth.  Ruth’s husband dies in Moab.  She returns poor and destitute with Naomi to Canaan.  No kinsman comes and marries away to help her deceased husband produce an heir.  It’s only when she gleans in poverty that she is discovered by Boaz, who wants to marry her.  He then realizes that he is not the closest eligible kinsman for levirate marriage, and approaches a closer kinsman to perform a ritual of rejection.  Then, in what was once a ceremony of shame at refusing to honor one’s yibum obligation (it involves spitting into a shoe), Boaz claims ownership over Ruth in a pro forma ritual to remove any obstacles to the marriage.  They wish each other a mazel tov and move on. 
So why do the rabbis spend so much time talking about it?  The end of the tractate, perhaps, reveals the answer.  Yevamot ends with a famous quote: Rabbi Elazar says in the name of Rabbi Chanina that it is the preoccupation of sages to bring peace to the world. 
Here, the Arukh HaNer suggests what levirate marriage, in principle, is truly about: about bringing peace to a family in their time of need, and about continuing a deceased brother’s family name.  
The sages understood how keeping a memory alive can bring peace to a family: down to the nitty gritty details.  Literally, 120+ folio of Talmud worth.
As one who has seen joy when peace is brought to a family, I find this is always worth discussing.
Wed, September 28 2022 3 Tishrei 5783