Thursday, September 08, 2011

Abarbanel asks about yibum, Yehuda, and Boaz

וקשרתם לאות על רגליך?ש
Summary: Abarbanel's 19th doubt in Ki Seitzei is about the incident with Yehudah and Tamar, and how that meshes (or does not) with the laws of yibbum. Yehuda was a father to the deceased, not a brother! And how come halacha does not recognize this as effective, patterned after Yehuda. Abarbenel's 20th doubt is about the yibbum described in sefer Rut. Was he a brother or a distant relative? Where was the spitting for Ploni Almoni? This all seems to contradict the laws of yibbum and chalitza.

Post: There is a humorous saying that many people went off the derech because of the Abarbanel. They start to read his commentary on Shabbos afternoon, and only get through the lengthy questions before the chulent hits. They never get to the answers, and so are left with just the questions.

Yet, the lengthy questions themselves do a lot of establishing work. They show how Abarbanel views the text, and where the difficulties lie. He might contrast one apparent view of a pasuk with contradictory evidence. He frames the narrative, or laws, in a particular way, which one adopts prior to solving the difficulties. (Indeed, see in his answer how he refers to points already established in his question section.)  How one resolves those difficulties is another matter. Abarbanel presents his resolution. And one can attempt to resolve it in another way, either by questioning his axioms or satisfying all of his constraints.

Regardless, the questions themselves made for a lengthy enough post, so I am leaving the post at just that.

In the 19th doubt and 20th doubt, Abarbanel explores the nature of the halachic, or perhaps customary, yibbum which occurs in parashat Vayeshev and in sefer Rut, in light of the laws of Yibbum described in this parasha, parashat Ki Teitzei.

"The 19th doubt is in the precept of yibbum. For if it was as Chazal said in Bereishit Rabba (parasha 65) that Yehuda initiated the precept of yibbum, why didn't the Torah command the precept in the same situation in which Yehuda performed it? For behold, Yehuda performed yibbum upon his daughter-in-law, and this informs that it applies as well in the other relatives, and amongst them the father {of the deceased}. Thus, the precept of yibbum is not only in brothers. And we have received, in the first perek of Yevamot, that yibum for a brother is an obligation and a great mitzvah, and for the father, it is a great sin. And this is a great difficulty, for just as the precept of circumcision we received from Avraham and the Jews established and received that precept in the same manner that Avraham performed it, so would it be fitting for the precept of yibbum which was received from Yehuda, who initiated it, so shall we do and hear, just as Yehuda did, no more and no less.

The 20th doubt is in the matter of Boaz and Ruth the Moabite, for we find the precept of yibbum by them, and the precept of chalitza by the closer redeemer, and this is not done according to the commandment of the Torah. Whether this is because Boaz was not the brother to Machlon but rather his relative, as well as because there was a closer redeemer than he; and also when he said {Ruth 4:3} 'the parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's... Naomi is selling...' he does not call him ach in its specific meaning {of male sibling}, but rather that he is his relative. And this is as the verse stated (Ruth 2:1), 'And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of valour, of the family of Elimelech, and his name was Boaz.' And she as well said 'The man is nigh of kin unto us, one of our near kinsmen.' Not that he was a brother. And also, if it were admitted that he were a{n actual} brother to Elimelech, how could he perform yibbum on the wife of Machlon, his brother's son? Also, in the matter of chalitzah, Ruth did not come to the gate to say 'he does not desire to perform yibbum on me," and to remove his sandal and to spit before him. Behold, if so, neither the yibbum nor the chalitzah were in accordance with Torah law and its commandments, neither by Yehudah who was before the Torah and its mitzvot, nor by Boaz who was after the giving of the Torah."

That was the question. What about his (rather lengthy) answer? I will save that for subsequent posts. If you would like to read it inside, it starts on this page in Abravanel.

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