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Introduction to the Levirate Union
Posted In: Religion Articles  3/5/12
By: Yona Williams

Throughout time and across cultures, there has been a range of concepts regarding different ways of getting married. One method was called a Levirate marriage, which allowed the brother of a deceased man to marry his brother's widow, and the widow would be able to marry her deceased husband's brother as a way to procreate. In this article, you will encounter both religious and cultural groups that recognize this type of union.

Usually, societies with a strong clan structure have been known to embrace the practice of a Levirate marriage. There were some cultures that believed it was forbidden to marry outside of their own clan. Around the world, this view was held amongst a variety of different groups. Another version of this type of marriage practice is called widow inheritance, where the deceased husband's kin can decide whom the widow could marry next.

In the Bible, the Levirate marriage law appears in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It stated that if a man died, and his wife had not yet given birth to a child, then she could go to his brother and demand he marry her and give her a child. Their offspring would inherit the property of the dead husband. It was a measure put into place to ensure the woman's right to have children, as well as to keep property within the family.

When a Levirate marriage is successful, a widow and her children are protected. They are guaranteed to have a male provide for their part of the family. The practice is seen in societies that see the woman as dependent on the male – in patriarchal societies. Ancient societies, such as the Israelites and people in the Near East, found the practice rather important to their culture. Having a child meant that the inheritance of land could take place. Families enjoyed security and status because of their children. The Levirate marriage meant that if a man died without having any children – his family line would continue.

The different cultures and religions from around the world that do or have followed the practice of a Levirate marriage includes:

Judaism

According to Deuteronomy 25:5-6, a levirate marriage is a mandate founding the Hebrew Bible that makes a brother marry the widow of his childless deceased brother. The first child is treated as the firstborn of the deceased brother. The genetic father does not have any claim to the inheritance of the child, who is treated as if he was born to the deceased father. Because of this, some men refused to abide by the mandate. The halizah (mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:9-10) is a provision for men who do not wish to carry out the practice. A woman must spit in his face and take one of his shoes. Others in town must always call him 'the one without a shoe'. While the provision is for the man, there is no way out for the woman, according to the Books of Moses.


 

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