My review of Koren Yevamot - published in the Jewish Press

Review of Koren Talmud Bavli Noé, Vol.14: Yevamot Part 1, Hebrew/English, by Adin Steinsaltz

Some who learn Talmud prefer swimming across the surface of that great sea of learning. Others prefer diving deeply into the oceans to explore the depths of the Talmudic waters.

The Talmud tractate of Yevamot can be learned in many ways. It has one hundred and twenty folio pages deriving out of a mere three verses in the Torah: "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her" (Deut. 25:5).

The subsequent verses instruct, "And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate unto the elders, and say: 'My husband's brother refuses to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother unto me'. Then the elders of the city shall call him, and speak to him; and if he stand, and say: 'I like not to take her'; then will his brother's wife draw near to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say: 'So shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house'" (ibid. 7-9).

From this skimpy few verses of scripture the Talmud builds and elaborate structures of laws and cases regarding two societal practices, the levirate marriage and ritual of Halizah.

The Talmud raises with a barrage of questions and issues about the case of a woman whose husband died without children and who must marry his brother. What if the brother is willing to marry the woman but the woman is his wife's sister, or his own daughter or granddaughter? What if the surviving brother was born after his older childless brother died?

More questions. What if the deceased brother has more than one surviving brother? What if two, three or more brothers were married to just as many sisters and one or more of the brothers died without a child? What maintenance and conjugal duties must the levir-brother provide to his deceased brother's wife while she makes up her mind about what to do?

Furthermore, what if the living brother is illegitimate by birth of suffers from a disease? If the wife decides on Halizah then what kind of shoe must she remove from the levir's foot? And what if the brother is an amputee and has no feet on which to put a shoe?

The Koren edition provides numerous charts and graphics (as shown in the image in this review) and its cultural and historical notes to explain the complicated texts, along with clear presentations of the standard medieval commentaries and the insights of the great Rabbi Steinsalz.

The timing of the publication of this volume coincides perfectly with the scheduled Daf Yomi study of the tractate by thousands of dedicated Talmud students throughout the world. The versatility of the volumes is amazing. The Koren Yevamot enables students plowing rapidly through the texts on a daily schedule to more quickly to understand, for instance, some of the most complex familial relationship questions posed by the texts.

The illustrative and explanatory devices that Koren provides throughout the tractate will assist the student who dwells at length on the pages of the volume to plumb the depths of each line of each discussion.

Sure, there will always be a debate over what style of learning is best. Also I am certain, whether the rapid schedule of learning built into the Daf Yomi program is your goal or whether you side with those Talmudists who insist that deeper study is preferred, the Koren edition will serve you well as you practice your tireless dedication to Torah learning. With the help of the Koren edition, all Jews will be better served when they turn to Yevamot, often considered to be the most difficult of all of the tractates of the Talmud.

Notes and Graphics from the Koren Edition

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy is author of "God's Favorite Prayers" and many other Judaica scholarly books in print and at Amazon in Kindle eBook format. His popular topical Talmudic blog can be found at Tzvee.blogspot.com

Originally blogged 11/30/2014

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