For the week ending 6 December 2014 / 14 Kislev 5775

Yevamot 65 - 71

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The limits of polygamy
  • Who is charged with the mitzvah of procreation
  • Which slaves of a kohen may eat terumah
  • The husband's rights to his wife's property
  • The limit on the Israelite wife of a kohen eating terumah
  • The role of an unborn child in determining terumah rights
  • The yibum of a nine-year old yavam
  • Which relationships disqualify the daughter of a kohen from eating terumah
  • The invalid marriages of a minor or mentally deficient
  • Doubtful status of the child born to an arusah
  • The child of a kohen who enables his Israelite mother to eat terumah
  • Kohanim and their slaves who are not eligible for eating terumah
  • The uncircumcised child's effect on his father's ability to offer a Pesach sacrifice
  • How the command of circumcision to Avraham differed from that given to Yehoshua

Obligation or Opportunity

  • Yevamot 65b

"You are not obligated by the Torah in the mitzvah of having children," Rabbi Nachman told the woman who sought to end her marriage because of her husband's impotence, "and if you nevertheless insist on doing so you will forfeit the ketubah payment due you."

Rabbi Nachman's warning was based on the ruling in the mishna that only men are obligated in the mitzvah of bringing children into the world. The reason given by Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon is that when Adam was commanded to have children he was told that the purpose of procreation was "to fill the earth and conquer it" (Bereishet 1:28). Since it is only the nature of man to militantly conquer, it was he who was charged with this responsibility rather than the woman.

The woman in our story did not relent. "Don't I need someone to support me in my old age and to care for my burial when I die?" she asked. Rabbi Nachman consented to her argument and ruled that she was entitled to a divorce and ketubah payment.

Although it appears from the gemara that a woman has no obligation of procreation, a conflicting indication arises from another gemara (Kiddushin 41a) where mention is made of the mitzvah for a woman to marry. The commentaries there raise the question as to why she has a mitzvah to marry if she has no obligation for procreation. One of them, Rabbeinu Nissim, suggests that although she is not obligated, her participation is considered a mitzvah because of her essential role.

The solution is challenged by another commentary from our gemara which indicates that if not for the woman's claim for the opportunity of children supporting her in her old age, her auxiliary role in procreation would not have sufficed to win her case.

An alternative solution to the above-mentioned conflict is that although there is no obligation for a woman to bring children into the world, only a great merit, there is an obligation for her to get married if she wishes male companionship. This is why the gemara in Kiddushin refers to her getting married as a mitzvah.

What the Sages Say

"It is permissible to tell a lie for the sake of maintaining peace."

  • Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon
"It is even a mitzvah to do so."
  • Rabbi Natan - Yevamot 65b

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