Monday, June 04, 2007


The Gemora cites a braisa: (Three were two brothers, Reuven and Shimon that were married to two sisters, Rochel and Leah. Reuven died childless, leaving his wife Rochel to fall for yibum to Shimon. Shimon cannot perform a yibum at this time for Rochel is his wife’s sister.) If Shimon went ahead and cohabitated with Rochel (while his wife was still alive), he has violated two prohibitions; his brother’s wife and his wife’s sister. These are the words of Rabbi Yosi. Rabbi Shimon said: He is only liable for the prohibition against taking one’s brother’s wife.

Rashi specifically mentions that this dispute is referring to a case where he cohabitated with her while his wife was still alive. The Rashba and other Rishonim explain that Rashi is coming to exclude the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel, who understands this sugya as referring to a case where his wife had already died (like the case of the Mishna).

All the Rishonim ask on Rabbeinu Chananel: How can he possible learn that these Tannaim are discussing a case where his wife had already died and nevertheless, there should still be a prohibition against taking one’s wife’s sister? There is no argument to the halacha that a wife’s sister is permitted after one’s wife has already died.

Reb Avrohom Erlanger in Birchas Avrohom attempts to answer this question. He prefaces his remarks by saying that what he is about to say is a novel idea, but we must at least attempt to explain the viewpoint of Rabbeinu Chananel.

Let us examine the permissibility of the wife’s sister after the wife dies. Is the name of the initial prohibition “a wife’s sister, while the wife is alive”? (It would not be called a prohibition that is dependent on time, i.e. the lifespan of his wife because the prohibition is only until then.) Or perhaps the prohibition of a wife’s sister is forever, similar to any other ervah; the Torah reveals to us that the death of the wife permits her sister to be taken by the husband?

A possible difference in halacha between these two possibilities would be in a case when we are uncertain if the wife died. Would there be a chazakah that the wife’s sister is still forbidden to him? Reb Elchonon Wasserman states that the principle of chazakah can only be applicable if the original prohibition was forever and the uncertainty is regarding a change in the status.

Although the simple explanation would be that the wife’s sister prohibition is initially only relevant during the lifespan of his wife; if we learn differently, we can explain the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel.

He maintains that the prohibition of a wife’s sister is forever, but there is a halacha that the death of the wife is a matir, permits her to be taken by the husband.

Reb Shimon Shkop states that in order for one prohibition to take effect on an existing prohibition, it must have halachic ramifications. Perhaps we can say similarly regarding the permission emerging form the death of the wife. If her death will result in a permission for the sister to be taken by the husband, the death will permit her; however, if the wife’s death will not bring about such a consequence because she will anyways be forbidden to the husband on account of being his brother’s wife, the death of the wife will not remove the wife’s sister prohibition, and she will still be forbidden to the husband on account of being a wife’s sister as well.


Pilpul said...

Isn't there a similar discussion regarding the heter of an eishes ish, is the husband's death a matir or the issur is not here anymore because there is no husband?

Avromi said...

Yes, Reb Elchonon discusses that as well, so does Reb Aharon Kotler in a shiur - is the misah of the baal matir or is it the fact that he is not around anymore, so memeila there is no issur?

Big Moish said...

I remember from my Yeshiva days something to do with eishes Eliyohu; perhaps she is mutar because Eliyohu is not around, or is she assur because he never died.

Avromi said...

Your memory is correct: Reb Elchonon in siman 28 asks on the Maharai who rules that eishes Eliyohu is permitted because it says eishes reyehu v'lo eishes malach, and he is spiritual and not physical. He asks: Even if you'll say that she's not eishes reyehu, where did the issur of eishes ish go, once she's assur, she should remain in that state? This kasha is based on the death of a husband being a matir.