(yabham, "brother-in-law"; epigambreuo; Late Latin levir):
He was required (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Matthew 22:24) "to perform the duty of a husband's brother" (yibbemah); that is, if his brother, living with him on the paternal estate, died without male issue, he should take the widow to wife, and "raise up seed unto his brother," the firstborn of the new marriage inheriting the deceased brother's estate. Refusal of the duty was possible, but entailed public ceremonial disgrace and lasting reproach. This provision for a specific case modified the general law which forbade the marriage of a sister-in-law (Leviticus 18:16,18). It was a patriarchal custom (Genesis 38; Judah and Tamar), and is alluded to in Ruth 1:11-13. A related custom is found in Ruth 4:1, Boaz playing; however, the part, not of levir ("brother-in-law"), but of go`el ("redeemer"). It was at least theoretically in force in our Lord's time (Matthew 22:23-28; the question of the Sadducees concerning the resurrection). For the origin and object of this custom see FAMILY; MARRIAGE.
Philip Wendell Crannell
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