YEVAMOT (Heb. יְבָמוֹת; "Levirate Marriages"), first tractate in the order Nashim, in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. In the Cambridge manuscript it is called Nashim ("Women"), a title which is partly justified by the great variety of laws it contains appertaining to women, far beyond those of levirate marriage with which it primarily deals. The Mishnah of Yevamot consists of 16 chapters.
Chapter 1 enumerates 15 categories of women who, since they are forbidden to marry the levir, thereby exempt their co-wives from levirate marriage or ḥaliẓah. It continues with the enumeration of six other relatives the prohibition of whose marriage with the levir is of more stringent character and the marriage of whose co-wives to the levir is permitted. Chapters 2–6 discuss in detail every other aspect of the obligations and exemptions regarding levirate marriage and ḥaliẓah. Mishnah 6:3, which deals inter alia with the prohibition of the marriage of a kohen to a woman who has been released by ḥaliẓah, serves as a transition point for the discussion of a large variety of laws applying to women and the forbidden degrees of propinquity. The discussion on the stated subject of the tractate is not resumed until chapter 12, although individual mishnayot do deal with this subject. Thus the rest of chapter 6 deals with the women who are permitted to marry priests or a high priest and with the laws of procreation. Chapter 7 deals with the circumstances in which a woman of priestly rank or her slave are deprived of the right to eat terumah, while chapter 8 deals with the opposite, priests who are forbidden to eat terumah though their wives and slaves may do so, leading to a discussion of all those categories of men or women who as a result of personal physical defects or national origin (e.g., Ammonites and Moabites) are forbidden to many Jews. Chapter 9 lists women who are permitted to their husbands but forbidden to their levirs and vice versa, and those permitted and forbidden to both; it concludes with the circumstances under which a woman may eat terumah. Chapter 10 deals with the case of a woman who remarried because of an erroneous report of the death of her husband abroad and with its legal consequences for married life (see Prohibited *Marriage). Chapter 11 deals with the prohibition against marriage with a woman who has been raped or seduced (or her relatives), and the laws appertaining to the marriage of a child of doubtful fatherhood. Chapter 12 lays down the number of judges necessary to constitute the special bet din for ḥaliẓah and the details of the ceremony and its requirements. Chapter 13 deals with me'un (see Child *Marriage) and generally with the laws connected with the marriage of minors. Chapter 14 deals with the laws of the marriage of deaf-mutes and imbeciles with one another and with a normal person. Chapters 15 and 16 deal with the acceptance of evidence of the death of a husband, son, or levir on the part of a woman who returns from abroad; it also deals with other aspects of the evidence needed for presumption of death.
The halakhot of Mishnah Yevamot belong to an early period and include a relatively large number of the disputes of Bet Shammai and Bet *Hillel, and some of them even precede the time of these two schools (see above 15:1 and 2). A substantial section dates from the period before the halakhic differences between the schools were decided. This is implicit in the tradition which praises the fact that "although Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel are in disagreement about rival wives (1:4), sisters (3:1), a doubtfully married woman, etc., yet Bet Shammai did not abstain from marrying women of the families of Bet Hillel, nor did Bet Hillel abstain from marrying women of the families of Bet Shammai. This teaches you that they showed love and friendship toward one another, putting into practice the text [Zech. 8:19]: 'Love ye truth and peace.' Although these forbade and those permitted, they did not refrain from acts requiring ritual purity in the presence of one another, thus fulfilling the text [Prov. 21:2]: 'Every way of a man is right in his eyes; but the Lord weigheth the hearts'" (Tosef. 1:10 and 11). The Mishnah in its present form stems from Judah ha-Nasi, but it contains many anonymous mishnayot belonging to the school of Akiva and his disciples. In particular the formulas of the general statements ("Some are permitted their husbands and forbidden their levirs, permitted their levirs and forbidden their husbands," etc.) in chapter 9 accord with the method and teaching of Akiva (see Epstein, Tannaim, 87).
The Tosefta has 14 chapters. The Mishnah to chapter 9, which, as stated, is from the school of Akiva, has no parallel in the Tosefta, but the contents of Tosefta Yevamot parallels and supplements the Mishnah to a great extent, even though the order differs. Of Mishnah 6:6, which discusses the precept to be fruitful and multiply, Ben Azzai says in Tosefta 8:4, "Anyone not engaged in procreation is considered by Scripture as diminishing the image (of the Creator) since it says [Gen. 9:6–7]: 'for in the image of God made He man. And you, be ye fruitful and multiply.' Eleazar said to him: 'Words are beautiful when they come from one who performs them. Some preach well and practice well, Ben Azzai [who was celibate] preaches well but does not practice well." Ben Azzai retorted: 'I cannot help it, my soul is in love with Torah; the world can be carried on by others'" (see also Yev. 63b). The Mishnah also lays down that if a man married and lived with his wife ten years but she has no children, he may not abstain from procreation (ibid.); the Tosefta (8:4) adds that the period of residence outside Ereẓ Israel is not counted. A baraita, reflecting the state of the halakhah before it was decided in accordance with Bet Hillel, is cited in Tosefta 1:13 to the effect that whoever wishes to follow the stricter practices of both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel, of him the Bible says (Eccles. 2:14): "the fool walketh in darkness,' while he who follows the lenient practices of both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel is wicked; but one must follow either both the leniencies and stringencies of Bet Shammai or of Bet Hillel."
The themes of tractate Yevamot are considered the most difficult of the Talmud. One of the halakhot that emerge from this tractate is that the sages were exceptionally lenient in problems of *agunah (88a). They permitted a wife whose husband had disappeared to remarry on the testimony of a single witness, of a woman, and the like; and even on the basis of a mere rumor of her husband's death, the woman is permitted to remarry (16:6 and 7). A great variety of cases are quoted to give examples of the application of these halakhot in practice (see Yev. 120ff.). The tractate discusses the problem of proselytization and the indispensability of circumcision and ritual bathing (46a–b) as part of its rite. According to one view "Proselytes are hurtful to Israel as a sore on the skin" (109b). Similarly opinions differ on whether proselytes for the sake of marriage or to "enjoy the royal bounty" should be accepted. The halakhah accepts them as proselytes (24b). Praise of family life is implicit in the statement: "A Jew who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness" (62b). On the other hand the lives of a number of sages who suffered severely from their wives are described, and to them is applied the verse (Eccles. 7:26): "And I find more bitter than death the woman" (63a–b). As evidence for these ideas, verses are cited from Ben Sira (26:3f.): "a good wife is a good gift… an evil wife is as leprosy to her husband" (see ed. Segal, p. 156ff.). Among the maxims quoted, the following are worthy of mention: "It is religious duty to obey the sages" (20a); "a judge should always imagine that a sword is lying between his thighs and Gehenna is open beneath him" (109b); and "scholars increase peace in the world" (122b). A parallel to iv Maccabees 2:10 – " For the law ranks above affection to parents" – is the statement: "Since one might have assumed that honoring father and mother should supersede the Sabbath, therefore it is stated (Lev. 19:3) 'Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father, and ye shall keep my Sabbaths,' all of you have the duty to honor Me" (5bff.).
There is not much aggadah in the Jerusalem Talmud to Yevamot. The statement that R. Ḥiyya b. Ashi was quick to mate his ass soon after it had given birth reveals the knowledge of natural processes on the part of the sages; that such mating is most desirable is also mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny (see S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950), 186f.). A statement of great importance (12:1, 12c) is: "Were the prophet Elijah to come and say [that] *ḥaliẓah can be performed with a shoe, he would be obeyed, that it cannot be performed with a sandal, he would not be obeyed, since the majority is accustomed to perform ḥaliẓah with a sandal, and custom takes precedence over the halakhah" (cf. tb, Yev. 102a). In a similar vein it states (tj, 7:2, 8a): "Any halakhah about which the bet din vacillates and the law is unknown, go and see how people act and act accordingly", Yevamot was translated into English by I.W. Slotki in the Soncino edition of the Talmud (1936).
H. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Nashim (1954), 7–16; A. Weiss, Al ha-Mishnah (1969), 44–46; Epstein, Tannaim, 87ff.
[Yitzhak Dov Gilat]