The mishnah on Yevamot 41a-b discusses how long a widow or divorcee must wait to remarry after the end of her marriage. As a reminder, the mishnah there offers three progressively more lenient rabbinic positions:
- A yevama may neither perform halitzah nor enter into levirate marriage until she has waited three months. And similarly, all other women may not be betrothed and may not marry until they have waited three months.
- Rabbi Yehuda says: The women who were married may be betrothed, and the women who were betrothed may marry.
- Rabbi Yosei says: All of the women may be betrothed within three months even if they were previously married, except for a widow (due to the mourning period).
The first two opinions are concerned with figuring out if the woman is pregnant by her first marriage, so that everyone will know who the father is if the woman gives birth early in her second marriage. The third opinion, that of Rabbi Yosei, introduces another concern: a widow’s halakhic obligation to mourn her deceased husband. Today’s daf explores this third opinion in more depth — why would the obligation to mourn interfere with the ability to get betrothed?
To examine this question, the Gemara cites two earlier traditions:
During the week in which Tisha B’Av occurs, it is prohibited to cut hair and to launder clothes, but on Thursday it is permitted in deference to Shabbat. And it is taught in a beraita: Prior to this time the public reduce their activities, from business transactions, from building and planting, and they may betroth women but may not marry, and they may not make a betrothal feast.
The second tradition is clear that one can get betrothed during the period of public mourning before Tisha B’Av as long as one does not make a feast to celebrate, which would be out of step with the mournful mood of the season. What does the first tradition — about hair cutting and laundry — add to the discussion?
Rav Hisda explains: A fortiori (kal v’homer) when it is prohibited to launder clothes, it is permitted to be betrothed, so then, when it is permitted to launder clothes, isn’t it logical that it is permitted to be betrothed?
Rav Hisda here is challenging Rabbi Yosei’s position in the mishnah. After all, from the earlier traditions, it seems that the prohibition against doing laundry is more serious than that against getting betrothed. In the case of our widow then, if a woman is permitted to do laundry while mourning her husband, shouldn’t she also be permitted to get betrothed?!
After some more back and forth, Rav Ashi ultimately rejects Rav Hisda’s challenge:
New mourning is different from old mourning. And the mourning of the public is different from the private mourning of the individual.
Rav Hisda’s argument is based on a comparison between the laws of mourning a spouse and the laws of mourning for the destruction of the Temple annually in the month of Av. A community mourning a collective trauma is different from an individual mourning a loved one. And mourning an historical event is different from mourning a fresh loss. However much we may as a community mourn the destruction of the Temple, the loss of a spouse is more immediate, more acute and creates greater disruption in the bereaved’s everyday life. The reality is that new mourning for the loss of a loved one just can’t be compared to mourning for historical events, even if both have similar rituals and obligations. Analogies are all well and good, but we need to think critically about when they make sense.
Read all of Yevamot 43 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on April 19th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.