Oftentimes, instead of writing a commentary to the Mishna and Gemara, I simply just try and listen to the emotions that emerge from what has already been said in the Mishna and Gemara – and this is what I’d like to do in terms of the Mishna (Yevamot 13:12) found in today’s daf (Yevamot 111b).
We are taught: הַיְּבָמָה שֶׁאָמְרָה בְּתוֹךְ שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם ״לֹא נִבְעַלְתִּי״ כּוֹפִין אוֹתוֹ שֶׁיַּחְלוֹץ לָהּ – ‘If a yevama said within thirty days of her marriage: [My Yavam] has not engaged in sexual intercourse with me, the court forces him to perform halitzah with her.’
To understand the emotions of this Mishna, it is important to remember that the Yevama is a woman who was previously married to a man with whom she did not yet have children, and who – upon the death of her husband – has consented to fulfil the mitzvah of yibum with her brother-in-law for a variety of reasons including her interest in having a child with him. Beyond this, it may be presumed that she agreed to yibum because she was interested in the comfort and companionship afforded in a marriage.
Of course, as I have repeatedly explained in my commentary to Massechet Yevamot, the mitzvah of Yibum is fraught with moral and ethical challenges. Nevertheless, as this woman began her ‘Chapter 2’ with her Yavam, we imagine that this new relationship was filled with hopes that it would provide her with personal support, emotional comfort, and also the possibility of children.
This now brings us back to our Mishna because, upon moving together, and notwithstanding her interest in intimacy, her Yavam chooses not to be sexually intimate with her. Of course, he may well be going through his own emotional trauma following the loss of his brother. Nevertheless, after agreeing to realise this relationship and after expectantly waiting for intimacy, the woman makes it clear that she did not enter into this relationship for such an outcome.
On numerous occasions in my commentary on daf yomi I have repeatedly emphasised how efforts should be made, and support should be given, to couples looking for guidance and support about sexual intimacy. At the same time, what I haven’t mentioned is the cost of not doing so; and in cases such as the one addressed by our Mishna, the cost is the end of the relationship.
And this is why those teaching brides (kallot) and grooms (chattanim) need to be clear and explicit about how to negotiate physical expectations for the maintenance of a healthy physical relationship, while also being clear and explicit that couples, when experiencing mismatches in expectations, should seek professional guidance before it is too late.