Friday, September 09, 2011

Abarbanel on Yehuda and Tamar's "yibbum"

Summary: As described in this earlier post, Don Yitzchak Abravanel asks some incisive questions about the nature of the apparent yibbum by Yehuda and Tamar. Here, he resolves those questions. It was certainly not a complete yibbum, for yibbum is for brothers, not fathers. (And he explains why.) Tamar took the steps necessary, but it was certainly not Yehuda's intent. And this particular joining does not form the pattern for subsequent yibbum.

Post: I am not really adding any of my own thoughts within these posts. I plan on saving my own take for a separate post. Here, I just want to present Abarbanel. So read the earlier post, where he sets up the question, and then read this post, which contains Abarbanel's answer to doubt 19.

"And indeed, why does yibbum apply only by a brother, and not by a father, as in the case of Yehuda and Tamar? Behold, if yibbum was by Yehuda just like brit milah by Avraham, that he performed a precept as Hashem commanded him, it would be, without a doubt, appropriate and obligatory to follow in his ways. But Yehuda performed, and arranged, the matter of yibbum by his own accord, opinion, counsel, and details, and as will come after this. And even though he arranged that the closest of the relatives would perform yibbum, it was not because of this obligatory to do this. For if, according to the decree of the Divine commandment was for brothers alone, all the more so that Yehudah as well would only command regarding yibbum for the brother. For it is stated (in parashat Vayeshev, Bereshit 38:8) 'Go in unto thy brother's wife, and perform yibbum unto her, and raise up seed to thy brother'. And although he slept with his daughter-in-law, it is known that this was not willfully, and this was not with the intention of yibbum, but rather he thought she was a prostitute, while she did what she did with intent and will. But the action {in toto}wasn't willful, as the Ramban writes.

Behold, if so, we cannot take a proof regarding yibbum from Yehudah will his daughter-in-law, since what was done was like a shegaga which went out from before the ruler. And He, as well, only commanded yibbum by brothers and not by anyone else. And this is what they said {in Vayeshev, 38:26} 'And he knew her again no more.' And if what he did with her was a matter of complete yibbum, according to its custom and purpose, why should he separate from her? Rather, he saw that it was an erroneous action, for yibbum is only for brothers, and for none other. And so is it fitting, for it is more frequently found that brothers share features in such a way that, when one of them dies, the second one can marry his wife and she will desire him, since he is so similar to the deceased. Meanwhile, while those features might be found in the father, at the time his son dies, in most instances he will be old, full of years, and satiated with ire, and his soul bitter regarding his son -- and how can he marry his {son's} wife and to father a child from her? Also, brothers are more similar to each other that any of them is similar to the father, since their substance {chomer} is from a single mother. And therefore, the first ones said that two waters which are drawn are more similar to each other than they are similar to the spring from which they were drawn. And behold, the father has completed putting forth his branches, and finished his fruit with the children he has fathered. And he does not have to put forth a single branch two times. and this is as is explained in the reason for yibbum and its concerns. {In a subsequent section, which I am not presently translating.} Behold, it is explained that we have no doubt arising from the incident with Yehuda, and so, the 19th doubt is resolved."

Abarbanel's resolution to doubt #20, about the nature of the apparent yibbum by Boaz and Ruth, in a separate post.

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