The Torah’s model of yibum, which our Massechet has discussed at length, involves a woman marrying her deceased husband’s brother in the case where she and her late husband did not have a child. In doing so, a family connection is maintained, along with the possibly of a child being born that can continue the name, and the memory, of the deceased man.
At the same time, it should be noted that our Massechet has also made regular reference to the Biblical prohibition of a man marrying the sister of his wife (see Vayikra 18:18) while, at the same time, emphasising that this is forbidden all the while that the wife is alive.
Early on in today’s daf (Yevamot 55a) we find a discussion about the details of this prohibition, and though not said explicitly, it may be inferred by our regular reference to this law that if a man’s wife dies, then the choice for him and his sister-in-law to marry is somewhat like – although admittedly not the same as – yibum, because here too a choice is being made to maintain a family connection to a spouse who has died.
With this in mind, and given that we commemorated Yom HaShoah just a few days ago, I would like to share the details of a case discussed in the responsa of Rav Yonatan Steif (No. 21) where testimony was given to the Beit Din in Budapest, where he presided, about a woman concerning whom all the evidence suggests that she was sent to death in the Holocaust. After the war her sister, unable to find any other partner and clearly still aching from the loss of her sister, wished to marry her brother-in-law – the husband of her sister. And based on the evidence given to the Beit Din, they concluded that it can be presumed that the woman had been murdered by the Nazi’s and that the marriage between her sister and her husband can occur.
As mentioned this is not the classic case of yibum. But the fact that Massechet Yevamot makes regular reference to the rule about a man marrying the sister of his wife suggests that, in some instances, this was desired, and in cases such as the one mentioned above, it seems that its goal was similar to that of the classic yibum arrangement of maintaining a family connection and keeping the memory of a deceased sibling alive.