Duty Of The Surviving Brother
By James Donahue
There was an Old Testament law that protected many widows following the death of their husbands, especially
if they were childless. If there was a brother, it was his duty to then take the woman as his wife and do his best to impregnate
Deuteronemy 25:5 reads: "If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the widow
of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her
as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her."
The law appears to set a few boundaries. First of all, it only applies if the brothers are living
together and only one of them has a wife. Also that married couple has not produced a son. It then becomes the duty of the
brother to try to get the woman impregnated with a male child. If successful, verse 6 reads: "And it shall be that the firstborn
son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel."
Now living up to a law like that might be difficult for the brother. We all experience an attraction
to certain people of the opposite sex, but not to others. In my own case, while I liked the woman my brother married, she
was not a woman I would have ever wanted to be married to. Nor he to the woman I married. So taking the dead brother's wife
into his bed might not be something a man would be happy about. Unless he secretly lusted after her. Then could we think that
the premature death of the brother might be something the police should be looking into.
So suppose the brother complies with the law and agrees to bed the widow until a male child is produced.
But girl babies keep popping out. Does this mean the man is bound to remain with this woman for the rest of his life? What
if he was already married to another woman? There appears to be no clause in the law covering that problem. Must the brother
be a bigamast?
There is a punishment outlined in the following verses for non compliance. Verses 7-10: "But it the
man does not want to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate of the elders" and file a complaint.
The elders then "speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, 'I do not want to take her,' then his brother's wife sall come
to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and say 'So shall it be done to the
man who will not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, 'The house of him who had his sandal
Wow! That's a really severe punishment for a man not willing to have intercourse with his dead brother's
widow. We have to wonder how many men are walking around in Israel with only one sandal.