Question: What are Jewish women permitted to have a maximum of 3 times only, according to Halacha?
Answer: ( No, it’s not what you were thinking!) – the answer is: husbands (deceased)
Just when you thought that there could be no more requirements of Jewish Religious Laws, restricting the rights of women, of which you were not aware – a new one emerges. Well, the law itself is not new, but it’s existence remained known to very few, I would say the very unfortunate few, to whom it applied.
I learned of it through a recent article in Ha’aretz, written by Irit Rosenblum. She revealed that a woman, whose second husband had recently died in a motorcycle accident, could expect the Rabbinate to add to her anguish at some time in the future. As Rosenblum points out, the young lady was married “according to the laws of Moses and Israel” and could be denied the right to re-marry under those very same laws. The restriction is apparently defined both in the Babylonian Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, and is part of the law of Israel to this day.
Not having been an avid reader of these publications in the past I felt an obligation to check on this bizarre piece of information for myself. After finding the relevant Tractate ( Yebamoth 64B) I glanced through a few other pages. I decided that it is just as well that I had not looked before, since the wealth of material for a non-believer, such as myself, could saturate the blogosphere for years to come.
Mind you, it isn’t all negative. The warning not to marry someone known to be a leper, or to suffer from fits and seizures, is not without practical merit. There is also a limitation placed on sisters of a bereaved mother whose son died following the ritual circumcision. Should this happen to the son of another sister, then all other sisters are forbidden to allow their sons to be circumcised. I doubt that the Rabbis knew of the existence of the condition of haemophilia, in which the blood does not clot, or that it could be inherited. Nevertheless, the advice was fortuitous.
As far as the particular issue of re-marriage is concerned, the law is fairly clear: “If a woman was married to one husband who died, and to a second one who also died, she must not be married to a third.” Of course, the Rabbis could not agree absolutely, so there is another interpretation from Rabbi Gamaliel, who was obviously more liberal in his outlook than the others. He opined that: “She may be married to a third, but she may not be married to a fourth.” So, there being no advance on three, that was set as the maximum. But the disagreement on numbers exists to this day and the current prevailing view, attributed to Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, is that a woman is deemed to be “fatal”after the loss of just two husbands.
To marry such a “fatal wife” is considered a life threatening situation for the husband. The assumption being that she might have killed the first two (or three) either actively, or passively, by placing a curse on them. And you thought witchcraft was outdated?
Naturally, the situation does not apply in reverse. A man is entitled to any number of dead wives, without limitations on marrying again (other than the trepidation of prospective brides).
Whatever the outcome of this case may be, note that the Rabbinate has total control over the implementation of this law, as it does over so many laws controlling the rights and freedoms of the individual, especially women. And it matters not whether those individuals are Jewish, non-Jewish or even Atheists.
In the area of fundamentalist religious interpretation no-one can teach us anything.
Not even Iran!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
- Mediation, Marriage, Divorce, and Agunah/Martin Rosenfeld (jewishdivorceinformation.wordpress.com)
- Orthodox Rabbi Officiates Same-Sex Wedding (lezgetreal.com) (Oops!)