[b-hebrew] Leviral marriage - prepositions & grammar

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Mon Oct 10 14:56:42 EDT 2005

>>>>> Ruth 4:13 VAYYIQAX BO`AZ ET RWT VATT:HIY-LW = and Boaz took Ruth and 
>>>>> she became to him.
>>>> you know, she did not actually become his wife
>>> WHAT? Of course she did. Look at the next word: Le'i$$ah. Look also at 
>>> vss. 10-11. You might not like the idea of "buying" a wife, but wife she 
>>> was.
>> It's odd to hear such things from you, Yigal. Boaz took Ruth to restore 
>> the seed of Elimelech (4:6). That was a standard procedure regarding a 
>> childless wife of one's brother. It wasn't marriage proper. Buying that 
>> obligation is not prescribed in Torah, but was apparently practiced.
> Come on, Vadim. Gen. 24:67 uses exactly the same terminology to describe 
> Isaac "taking" Rebekah. Was she also "not a real wife"?

This becomes a very interesting question. Why, indeed, Deut25, Ruth4, and 
Gen24 haves l'isha, while, for example, Gen25:1 has simply isha? Both Deut25 
and Gen25 have lkh. Is the difference isha/ l'isha incidental? I don't know.
Some things may be remarked upon, though. Deut25 emphasizes that the brother 
should take l'isha only if brothers lived together. Why the qualification? 
Even a distant brother might equally well restore the seed. Living together 
or not was, as I understand, irrelevant for inheritance. I think, the 
obligation was applicable only for live-ins to avoid the difficult issue of 
marriage. Hebrews were monogamous (yes, I know, Abraham and Jacob...) and I 
don't expect Deut25 to command polygamy. Rather, the leviral marriage was 
"like a marriage": a lonely intercourse to restore the seed, and then 
support of the relatives living together. If a distant brother would have 
entered leviral marriage, that would bring the issue of "marriage or like 
marriage" to the fore. With live-ins, the issue was sidestepped. Just a 

What could be wrong with marrying Rebekka? Isaac, an important son of a 
wealthy man Abraham, married her when he was forty. Likely, she was not his 
first wife; recall how lightly he took her to the tent of his mother. When 
Jacob took Rachel for a second wife, that was also l'isha. Could the writer 
call them "like wives"?

Semantic difference between isha and l'isha might or might not be there.

Using l with isha is irrelevant to hih verb (someone suggested idiomatic 
meaning of hih l, to become). The writer calls Rebekka l'isha whether with 
hih (Gen24:67) or without (Gen25:20).

Could it be simply an idiom 'verb lo l'isha'? Something like, "gave her to 
him for a wife." I can try to see a remote sense in such idiomatic usage: 
lo, 'to him,' is a bit of distancing, and thus 'for a wife' instead of 
'wife,' a parallel bit of distancing. Not quite sure, but possibly something 
along these lines.

Vadim Cherny

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