What is a Jew? Part 4: Apostates and Levirate Marriage

Rabbi Ethan Tucker

Parashat VaYeishev

Levirate marriage is an ancient institution: when a man’s brother dies childless, he must marry his brother’s widow, have children with her, and thereby redeem his dead brother’s line. But what if the brother was an apostate? If the apostate is Jewish, the bond is present and must be broken with the ceremony of halitzah; if he is a Gentile, the woman is free to marry whomever she wishes. The question, “Is the widow bound to her apostate levir,” essentially becomes equivalent to: “Is the apostate Jewish?” This final part investigates this issue, and ends with concluding thoughts and synthetic models of what it means to be Jewish. (5776)