Embedded in the Mishna (Yevamot 4:10) in today’s daf (Yevamot 41a) is a fascinating remark reflecting – at least according to some commentaries – a keen interest that married couples not be hesitant, awkward or embarrassed about matters of sexual intimacy. But to explain, a little background is necessary.
The Torah speaks of two stages of marriage: i) Erusin, and ii) Nissu’in, and while a couple are considered to be halachically married following the Erusin ceremony, they did not live together or have sexual relations until the Nissuu’in occurred. Nowadays we perform both ceremonies under the chuppah. However, it was previously customary for there to be a gap of up to a year between Erusin and Nissu’in.
Having explained this, our Mishna wishes to know whether a woman who is married by Erusin alone whose husband then dies must wait three months before marrying (i.e. not through yibum), or before fulfilling yibum (i.e. choosing to be married to her brother-in-law), or before carrying out halitzah (i.e. choosing not to marry her brother-in-law). As explained in our Mishna and previously discussed in our Massechet, the purpose of this delay is to verify whether she was pregnant when her husband died (with the assumption that were this to be so that she would know about it after 3 months) because if she was, she does not fulfil either yibum or chalitzah.
Seemingly based on what I have noted above, a woman who is married by Erusin alone need not wait the three-month period since she and her husband did not live together or have sexual relations together. However, according to Rabbi Yehuda, while this logic may have applied in most communities, it does not apply for those living in Yehuda (Judea) because ‘[in Yehuda, the groom] is familiar with her’ which Rabbi Yehuda explains a little more in Ketubot 12a where we are taught that ‘In Yehuda, at first they would seclude the groom and bride [together] for a brief period before their entry into the wedding canopy, so that he would [grow] accustomed to her [companionship in order to ease the awkwardness when they would consummate the marriage].’
But why was this only the practice in Yehuda? As Rav Rafael Mamo explains in his ‘Shavu V’Achlama’ commentary, those young men living in Yehuda – perhaps due to teachings that were ‘hyper-modest’ – were so hesitant, awkward and embarrassed about matters of sexuality that even after Nissu’in, it would then take them some days to feel comfortable to be sexually intimate with their wives. Given this, and to avoid such tension once the couple moved in together, it was customary for the couple to spend some secluded time together during the Eirusin period (during which, as mentioned above, they were actually technically married) to ease that tension. And given the risk that this may lead to them being sexually intimate during this encounter, Rabbi Yehuda ruled that those from Yehuda also had to wait three months.
Some may question whether there is much we can extrapolate from this teaching given that we now perform both the Erusin and Nissu’in ceremonies under the chuppah. However, what we can learn from here is that efforts should be made, and support should be given, to couples looking for guidance and support about sexual intimacy.