Masechet Yevamot 64a-70b

hero image
04 Jul 2007

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Yevamot 64a-b

A number of Mishnayot here in the sixth perek of Masechet Yevamot focus on the commandment of peru u’revu – the mitzvah of having children. The Mishnah on our daf teaches that this commandment is so important that if a couple has been married for ten years with no children, the husband cannot choose to simply forgo this mitzvah (in the time of the Mishnah he could choose to marry a second wife). The baraita teaches that should he choose to divorce her, he is obligated to pay her ketubah, and she can marry another. Both of these rulings indicate that we do not assume that the onus of responsibility for the lack of children rests with the wife, rather the couple may simply not have been compatible.

From a medical perspective, it is possible that both husband and wife could be physically able to conceive, yet they cannot have children together, that is to say that a variety of issues may keep the woman from becoming pregnant or not allow an embryo to develop after conception. Sometimes the woman’s body may have antibodies that do not allow for a specific man’s semen to survive, which will keep any pregnancy from developing; in other cases the genetic combination of the couple may create conditions that kill the embryo before it advances in its development.

These considerations bring the Ritva to rule that even if the husband has had children from a previous marriage, that in itself does not prove that the husband is healthy and that it is his wife who cannot conceive, for it is possible that she, too, can have children, just not with him. For this reason, in the event of a divorce, such a woman can marry another man, and even if she has no children in the second marriage, she can marry a third time, as well.

Yevamot 65a-b

The Mishnah on our daf continues the discussion of the mitzvah of peru u’revu – literally “to be fruitful and multiply (i.e. the commandment to have children). Here we learn that the opinion of the Tanna Kamma is that only males are obligated in this commandment, although Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka disagrees, pointing to the passage in Sefer Bereshit (1:28) where God blesses both Adam and Eve and commands them to be fruitful and multiply.

In explanation of the Tanna Kamma’s position that women are not obligated in this mitzvah, the Gemara brings Rabbi Eylah quoting Rabbi Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon who argues that the conclusion of the passage referred to above adds ve’kivshuha – “and conquer it.” Thus, the commandment to have offspring includes a mitzvah to conquer and control the world, something that is perceived as being a male oriented endeavor.

To support the ruling that the mitzvah applied only to men, the Gemara relates a story about Rabbi Hiyya‘s wife, Yehudit, who had given birth to two sets of twins – two boys and two girls – and had found the birthing experience to be particularly difficult and painful (the Gemara relates that one set of twins – Yehuda and Chizkiyahu – were born almost two months apart). She went in disguise to her husband, Rabbi Chiya, and asked whether women are obligated in the mitzvah of peru u’revu.  When he ruled that they are not commanded, she drank a potion that made her sterile, so that she would have no more pregnancies. When Rabbi Chiya learned what had happened, he lamented that he would have wanted one more set of children.

In fact, research has found that some women are more likely to give birth to twins than others (this trait often runs in families). Thus, a woman who has already had two sets of twins will likely conceive twins again – a fact that was of particular concern to Rabbi Chiya’s wife, Yehudit, who had found those pregnancies so difficult.

Yevamot 66a-b

One of the topics that was discussed in the sixth perek of Masechet Yevamot was how the relationships that a woman has affect her ability to marry a kohen, and similarly whether she will be able to eat terumah – the tithes that are permitted only to a kohen and to members of his household. Although this topic has little direct connection to Masechet Yevamot, nevertheless, the seventh perek, which begins on our daf, is devoted to clarification of this issue.

The basic rule of thumb with regard to eating terumah is that all members of a Kohen’s household can eat, not only his wife and children, but also his slaves and even animals that he owns (see Vayikra 22:11-13). This is true of animals that are kinyan kaspo – that the kohen has purchased and owns. If, however, the kohen was responsible for the animal, but did not actually own it, then he cannot feed it terumah. Thus, the Gemara on our daf quotes a Mishnah in Terumot (11:9) according to which a kohen who rents an animal from another Jew who is not a kohen will not be allowed to feed it karshinei terumah, even though a Jew who is not a kohen would be allowed to feed karshinei terumah to an animal rented from a kohen.

Karshinim are a type of legume – vicia ervilia – more commonly known as Bitter Vetch. Like most legumes, karshinim have a high nutritional value and can be digested easily by animals. It grows in the winter and spring in lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and in Arab villages it is still grown as animal feed. Although its bitter taste makes it appropriate only for animals, in times of famine or for people who are in dire financial straits it would be prepared for human consumption, as well. Since it can be eaten by people, the obligation of terumot u’ma’asrot – of tithes – applies to it. Still it was usually fed to animals belonging to a kohen.

Yevamot 67a-b

If a kohen marries a woman who is not from a family of kohanim, once she becomes a member of his household she will be permitted to eat terumah in his home. Were he to die, assuming that they had children together, she will continue to eat terumah, since the children allow her to remain in her late husband’s household. If she was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, one opinion in the Mishnah suggests that the family slaves cannot eat terumah, since they are partially owned by the unborn child – who does not have the ability to feed them.

When Rabbi Yishma’el the son of Rabbi Yossi quotes his father as ruling that in such a case a daughter has the ability to allow the slaves to eat, but a son does not, Abayye explains that this is talking about a very specific case, when there is not enough money in the estate for the daughters to be supported if the sons were to take their inheritance. In such a case the sons will receive nothing, and even if the unborn child is a son, he will not have rights to the slave and therefore cannot keep him from eating terumah.

According to the Torah, when a man dies it is his sons who will receive the inheritance from him, while the daughters will receive nothing. Only if there are no sons and there are daughters will the daughters receive the inheritance. However, the Sages established a clause in the ketubah (the marriage contract) guaranteeing that the daughters will be supported by the estate until they either marry or reach maturity. Given the fact that the ketubah is viewed by the halakha as a promissory note, it has the status of a bill or obligation and it must be paid out before the sons collect their share of the inheritance. Thus, if there are limited funds, it is the daughters who will be supported, while the sons will not receive even minimal support from the estate. Even so, there remains a possibility that the sons will sell the property of the estate, and since on a biblical level it belongs to them the sale will take effect, depriving the daughters of their means of support.

Yevamot 68a-b

In our study in this perek of women eating terumah thanks to their marriage to a kohen, we have not yet discussed what level of marriage will allow them to do so. We have already learned that a Jewish marriage takes place in two stages – kiddushin (bethrothal) and nissu’in (marriage) – both of which are performed in a single ceremony today. In the time of the Mishnah these two events were usually separated by a year of preparation for the wedding.

Once nissu’in has taken place, the married woman can certainly begin eating terumah, for she is a member of the kohen’s household. What about after kiddushin?

The Mishnah (67b) teaches that kiddushin will not give such a woman the right to eat terumah, even though it will cause the daughter of a kohen to lose the right to eat terumah, if she gets engaged to someone who is not a kohen. Our Gemara explains that this is because the kiddushin should really be enough, but there is a rabbinic ordinance here – mishum d’Ulla– because of what Ulla said.

Ulla’s rule is that we must be concerned that the young bride who – according to prevalent custom of the time – was still living at home might take the terumah and share it with other members of her family who do not have the right to be eating terumah. Even though this is the reason most often quoted, the Gemara in Masechet Ketubot (57b) offers a second reason, as well – mishum simpon – that we fear that some undiscovered fault or blemish will be discovered in the bride that will cause the husband to have the marriage annulled. Were that to happen, we would find out retroactively that no betrothal had truly taken place, and that she had no right to have eaten the terumah.

Yevamot 69a-b

As we have learned, if a kohen marries a woman who is not from a family of kohanim, once she becomes a member of his household she will be permitted to eat terumah in his home. Conversely, if a woman from a family of kohanim marries an ordinary Jew, once she joins his household, she no longer is permitted to eat terumah.

What happens if the marriage ends?

In both such cases, once the husband dies or divorces his wife, she returns to her father’s house, and once again follows the rules that apply in that household. The exception will be if she has had children with her husband. In such a case, the child will keep her in her husband’s family’s home, and a woman married to a kohen would continue to eat terumah, while the daughter of a kohen married to an ordinary Jew would not be able to do so (see Vayikra 22:13).

The Gemara on our daf quotes a baraita that offers the following ruling. If the daughter of a kohen marries an ordinary Jew, and he dies with no children, the widow can begin eating terumah immediately. That is to say, we are not concerned with the possibility that she is pregnant with a child, something that would keep her from returning to her father’s household. Rav Chisda explains that this is true for forty days because we can work with the assumption that either she is not pregnant or else the embryo is not considered to be significant for the first 40 days.

The Rabbinic ruling that an embryo is not given halakhic significance for the first 40 days coincides with the stage of development when the embryo loses its similarity to embryos of other animals to the extent that the tail disappears and the human head, hands and legs begin to form. Although at that point the embryo is still small and undeveloped, still it is clearly recognizable as a human form.

Yevamot 70a-b

The seventh perek of Masechet Yevamot taught about how the relationships that a woman has affect her ability to marry a kohen, and specifically whether she will be able to eat terumah – the tithes that are permitted only to a kohen and to members of his household. The eighth perek, which begins on our daf (=page), continues the discussion of terumah, and teaches about cases where a kohen may not be allowed to eat terumah, and yet his wife will be able to do so because of their marriage.

One example of such a case is an arel – an uncircumcised kohen – who cannot eat terumah himself, even though a woman who marries him will be permitted to eat terumah, by virtue of the fact that she has married a kohen. After all, a kohen who is uncircumcised is still a full kohen, he just needs to brit milah – without which he cannot eat terumah. According to the Gemara, the source for the halakha that an arel cannot eat terumah is the word parallels between terumah and the Passover sacrifice where it is clearly stated that an arel cannot participate (see Shmot 12:48).

Rashi explains that the arel being discussed by the Mishnah is someone who does not undergo circumcision because he had brothers who died after they had a brit milah. In such a case we rule that the person should not be circumcised lest he suffer the same fate as his brothers. Rabbeinu Tam argues that such a person is, essentially, free from the obligation of circumcision, and therefore cannot be considered an arel. According to this line of reasoning, an uncircumcised kohen who is not obligated in the mitzvah of brit milah, would be allowed to eat terumah. Rabbeinu Tam explains that we must be talking about a case where the kohen is simply afraid of the procedure and refused to have a brit. Only in such a case would he lose the ability to eat terumah.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.