from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. The practice of marrying the widow of one's childless brother to maintain his line, as required by ancient Hebrew law.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- adj. Having to do with one's husband's brother.
- n. A marriage between a widow and her deceased husband's brother or, sometimes, heir.
- n. The institution of levirate marriage.
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- adj. Of, pertaining to, or in accordance with, a law of the ancient Israelites and other tribes and races, according to which a woman, whose husband died without issue, was married to the husband's brother.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. The institution of marriage between a man and the widow of his brother or nearest kinsman under certain circumstances.
- Of or pertaining to the levirate: as, levirate marriage; levirate law.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. the biblical institution whereby a man must marry the widow of his childless brother in order to maintain the brother's line
This is referred to as a levirate marriage, and it's still in healthy practice today (see HBO's Deadwood, again, not exactly the same thing).
The object of the book has been supposed by some to be to commend the so-called levirate marriage.
Another form of Hebrew marriage was the so-called levirate type (from the Lat. levir, i.e. brother-in-law), i.e. the marriage between a widow, whose husband had died childless, and her brother-in-law.
A woman whose husband died without issue was bound by law to be married to her husband's brother, and the fist-born son of such a so-called levirate marriage was reckoned and registered as the son of the deceased brother (Deut., xxv, 5 sqq.).
As for the levirate, that is another very wide-spread custom which shows an utter disregard of woman's preference and choice.
These women, however, were yevamot and therefore each wanted the child in order to be freed of the obligation of yibum (levirate marriage).
Judah has now performed the levirate (despite himself) and never cohabits with Tamar again.
According to Near Eastern custom, known from Middle Assyrian laws, if a man has no son over ten years old, he could perform the levirate obligation himself; if he does not, the woman is declared a “widow,” free to marry again.
A father-in-law may not sleep with his daughter-in-law (Lev 18: 15), just as a brother-in-law may not sleep with his sister-in-law (Lev 18: 16), but in-law incest rules are suspended for the purpose of the levirate.
His cryptic phrase, zadekah mimmeni, is often translated “she is more in the right than I” (Gen 38: 26), a recognition not only of her innocence, but also of his wrongdoing in not freeing her or performing the levirate.