Perpetuating the Name: The Levirate Marriage
By Dr. Yael Ziegler
Shiur #30: Perpetuating the Name: The Levirate Marriage
Land Purchase and Marriage
And Boaz said, On the day that you purchase the field from the hands of Naomi and from Ruth the Moavite, you hereby purchase the deceaseds wife to establish the name of the deceased upon his inheritance. (Ruth 4:5)
This verse is syntactically awkward. While my translation smoothed out some of the bumpiness of this passage, the direct object of the second appearance of the verb kanita, you hereby purchase, is not at all clear. Is it the deceased wife who has been purchased or the field? And from whom is the field purchased? Is it from Naomi or from Naomi and Ruth the Moavite? Are they joint owners? It certainly complicates matters to suggest that Ruth the Moavite is a partial legal owner of the field!
The translation that I have adopted requires there to be a comma after the words, Ruth the Moavite, and does indeed suggest that Ruth is considered a partial legal owner of the field. However, according to the cantillation marks (used also as punctuation), the major break in the sentence (the etnachta) is placed after the word, Naomi, thereby dividing between Naomi and Ruth. No matter how you understand this, this makes the sentence read awkwardly. The word from (meet) is also particularly difficult. If this word were not present, Boazs speech would simply state that on the day that the goel buys the field from the hand of Naomi, he has also purchased the responsibility to marry Ruth, the wife of the deceased.
Whichever way we read this convoluted sentence, Boazs intent seems clear. The goel cannot agree to purchase the land without assuming the responsibility to marry Ruth the Moavite. This reading is borne out by the events that ensue in this chapter: the goels panicked refusal, the transfer of the goels rights to Boaz, and Boazs purchase of the field alongside his marriage to Ruth. But what are the legal grounds for linking these two separate issues? Perhaps the clumsy syntax reflects the flimsy basis for interweaving these separate matters and the awkwardness of connecting them.
Are there, in fact, any grounds for fusing together the familial obligation to purchase the ancestral inheritance (geula) along with the responsibility to care for (and marry) the widow of the dead brother (quasi-yibbum)?
One possibility is that Boaz links these matters artificially in order to deter the goel from marrying Ruth. This would imply that Boaz himself wishes to marry Ruth, an idea I have consistently avoided. I have instead maintained that Boaz agrees to marry Ruth for purely selfless reasons, having nothing personal to gain. Nevertheless, it is possible that, having encountered Ruths exemplary character, Boaz changes course and aspires to marry Ruth himself.
This may be indicated by two factors. One is that Boaz also refers to Ruth as a Moavite here. Perhaps Boaz intends to remind the goel of the complications of marrying Ruth so that the goel will be dissuaded from marrying her. Second, there is an interesting keri u-ketiv in Boazs proclamation. While he uses the second person to inform the goel that it is his duty to purchase Ruth (kanita), the consonants of the word are written to reflect the first person pronoun (kaniti). Traditional exegesis tends to regard the keri as the simple meaning of the text and the ketiv as a device that allows for a deeper meaning. Perhaps buried at the core of Boazs offer is a personal ambition to marry Ruth himself.
Even if there
are no compelling legal grounds for linking these two obligations, Boazs
stipulation that the goel must also agree to marry Ruth is accepted
without resistance by the elders and those present (including the goel
himself). While this may be due partly to Boazs authoritative status, it seems
likely that the fusion of these duties made sense to the people of
Part of the answer to this question is related to the manner in which this marriage to Ruth is associated with levirate marriage (yibbum). We will explore this topic more fully in our next shiur. For the present, I will note that the most obvious connection between the events of chapter four and the mitzva of yibbum is the stated goal of marrying Ruth: To uphold the name of the deceased upon his inheritance. This phrase, which occurs twice during the course of the legal proceedings in Ruth 4 (verses 5 and 10), echoes the goal of the levirate marriage:
dwell together and one of them dies and has no child, the wife of the deceased
shall not be married outside to a stranger. Her husbands brother (yevamah)
should come to her and take her as a wife and do yibbum with her (ve-yibema).
And the eldest son who shall be born will be
established in the name of the deceased brother and his name shall not be
The goal of the levirate marriage is to preserve the name of the deceased man. Because the deceased did not produce an heir, his name is threatened with extinction. In what way does yibbum maintain the name of the dead brother? It may be assumed that the child who is the product of the levirate marriage is simply named for the deceased. Nevertheless, rabbinic exegesis of this passage suggests otherwise. Chazal assume that the goal of the marriage is to provide an heir for the land of the deceased.
The idea that the preservation of a persons name is linked to the maintenance of his inheritance is evident in the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad. In petitioning for inheritance of their fathers land in spite of the fact that they are women, they proffer the following argument: Why should the name of our father be lost from his clan because he has no son? Give us a portion in the midst of our fathers kinsmen! (Bamidbar 27:4).
Halakha maintains that the brother who performs yibbum then becomes the heir of the estate of the deceased. Nevertheless, this approach is difficult textually and logically. Textually, the simple meaning of Devarim 25:6 is that the one who will establish the name of the deceased is the child born to the union between the brother and the widow of the deceased. Logically, the idea that the living brother can maintain the name of his deceased brother by receiving his land is problematic. After all, the brother would receive this portion whether he performs yibbum or not. More to the point, it does not seem that provisions are made for the brother to demarcate his brothers land separately or to maintain any remnant of his brothers distinct portion. If the brother simply absorbs his brothers land into his own, how would this preserve the name of the deceased brother?
Logically, it seems that the best way to preserve the name of the deceased upon his land is by giving the land of the deceased brother to the eldest child born to the levirate marriage. This child can maintain the distinct and separate defined portion of land (rather than allowing it to be swallowed into the ancestral portion of the brother). Textual evidence as well as common sense point to the child born of the yibbum relationship as the significant party who is designated to maintain the name of the deceased. Although this is not the halakhic ruling with regard to yibbum, it is certainly possible that this is the practice with regard to the yibbum-like custom of geula which is implemented in Megillat Ruth.
Boazs goal is to ensure that the name of the deceased does not vanish. It is therefore not sufficient for a relative simply to marry Ruth, nor is it enough merely to redeem Elimelekhs property. Rather, in the spirit of the above reading, an heir must be produced who will be given the rights to Elimelekhs land, thereby assuring that it is not integrated and conflated into another persons ancestral portion. By maintaining the lands distinctive identity, the name of Elimelekh remains for eternity. It may be for this reason that Boaz links together two separate ideas: purchasing the land and marrying Ruth. Only if these two actions are performed by the same person will either of these actions be capable of accomplishing their ultimate aim.
This may deepen our understanding of why the goel categorically refuses to marry Ruth after he has so eagerly agreed to redeem the land. As noted, redemption of the land was an economically sound venture. However, by linking it to the attempt to produce an heir to whom that land will be given, it loses all economic advantage for the goel and his descendants. Instead, this land will never be subsumed within the goels ancestral portion. The child who is born will assume complete ownership of the estate of the deceased. The goel will have extra mouths to feed and will not have gained anything for his investment. Indeed, the goels negative reply is not long in coming.
Marriage to Ruth is not a simple prospect. Her Moavite background, compounded by the presumed economic drawbacks in performing this yibbum-like marriage with no discernable monetary advantage, renders it unlikely that anyone would agree to marry Ruth. Boazs stalwart willingness to marry Ruth is extraordinary and another indication of his admirable character.
Whats in a Name?
The ultimate goal of the Megilla is to restore the name to those
whose name is threatened with erasure. We have noted quite often the
significance of names in this story. Midrashim abound which direct us to
seek the meaning underlying the names in this story. More
significantly, I have frequently illustrated that the potential loss of the name
is a major theme in the Megilla. The narrative opens with the deaths of
Machlon and Khilyon, whose names signify their inevitable erasure and
destruction. This is followed by Naomis bitter declaration of the loss of her
own name (Ruth 1:20), Ruths
initial anonymity in
Boaz, the champion of the story, restores names in the narrative. This is due in part to the fact that Boaz himself has an inheritance (Ruth 2:3) and, consequently, a name (Ruth 2:1). Perhaps for this reason, it is the mere mention of Boazs name which initially restores Naomis hope in her future (Ruth 2:19): And [Ruth] said, The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz. Boaz provides Ruth with the means to pronounce her own name (Ruth 3:9). Moreover, Boazs initiative to restore the names of the dead (Ruth 4:5, 10) should not surprise us in the least. In the final analysis, Boaz facilitates the rehabilitation of Ruths name as well as the names of Naomi and the deceased members of her family. Significantly, Boazs official proclamation of purchase of the land explicitly mentions the names of each member of Elimelekhs family, including the sons, who have not been mentioned since their deaths in Ruth 1:5:
And Boaz said to the elders and the entire nation, You are witnesses today that I hereby purchase all that belongs to Elimelekh and all that belongs to Khilyon and Machlon from the hands of Naomi. And also Ruth the Moavite, the wife of Machlon, I hereby purchase as a wife to establish the name of the deceased upon his inheritance and the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brethren and from the gates of his place. You are witnesses today. (Ruth 4:9-10)
The word name (shem) is, in fact, one of the key words of
chapter four, appearing a pivotal seven times. The blessing of the union of Boaz
and Ruth contains the cryptic wish, And call a name in
The womens public blessing of Naomi after
the birth of Ruths child also refers to name-giving. They confer the elliptical
blessing upon Naomi, And his name shall be called in
Some scholars have suggested that the
intent is that the childs name will be famous, while others
similarly suggest that it means that the childs name will be celebrated. Nevertheless, once
again it seems to me that the implication is that the very act of naming the
child is itself the goal. It matters not what the name is; the purpose of the
narrative is to ensure that the child will have a name, an identity, and a
destiny. Thus, the women excitedly bless Naomi: The child will be given a
The final appearance of the key word shem is the actual naming of the child (Ruth 4:17). This child, born to restore the name of the family whose name is threatened with extinction, is given a name by the neighbors, by general society. In this way, Megillat Ruth ends with societys acknowledgement of the importance of each individual acquiring a name. The act of naming the child is followed by a genealogical list, extending back ten generations all the way to Yehudas son Peretz. This impressive list of names suggests that the birth of this child has restored the link between the generations, rejuvenating a chain that consists of individuals with names, identities, and a shared destiny.
Finally, in keeping with the broader context of Megillat Ruth, we must recall that the book of Shofetim concludes with an abundance of unnamed individuals. I have frequently suggested that the prevailing anonymity which characterizes this period depicts a society where individuals have lost their name along with their destiny. In this vein, the act of establishing a name in Megillat Ruth is especially significant. Boazs ability to facilitate the reacquisition of ones name paves the way towards restoration of names in society at large, thereby repairing society and enabling the nation to reacquire its destiny. When people have no name, they forget their fundamental objectives, personal and national. The restoration of names and identity for the Israelite nation can enable them to realize their true national destiny: promulgating Gods name.
Boaz does not merely make it possible to
reacquire names during his era. He also produces David from
This series of shiurim is dedicated to the memory of my mother Naomi Ruth zl bat Aharon Simcha, a woman defined by Naomis unwavering commitment to family and continuity, and Ruths selflessness and kindness.
I welcome all comments and questions: [email protected]
 Like the word makhera (which appears in Ruth 4:3; see shiur #29), the word kanita should probably be understood not as a past tense verb (you purchased), but as a formal (perhaps legal) instantaneous perfect (you hereby purchase).
 If the referent is the field, the verse would require a comma dividing the sentence after the words Ruth the Moavite, the wife of the deceased. It would then read, On the day that you purchase the field from the hands of Naomi and from Ruth the Moavite, the wife of the deceased, you have purchased it. In this reading, the word kanita (you have purchased it) stands alone, with the meaning that the goel has bought the land. This reading seems unlikely because then there is no clear connection between buying the land and marrying Ruth. Moreover, the verse becomes almost tautological: On the day that you purchase the field you have purchased it. Finally, if this is simply referring to the buying of the field, what causes the goel to panic and hastily renege on his previous agreement?
 The use of different prepositions with regard to the purchase of the field from the hand (mi-yad) of Naomi and from (meet) Ruth suggests that they are not equal custodians over the field. On the basis of this textual anomaly, some scholars suggest that Naomi is the actual owner of the field while Ruth has a legal interest in the transaction. See Murray D. Gow, Ruth Quoque A Coquette? (Ruth IV 5), The Bible Translator (1990), p. 309. Interestingly, the Targum translates the verse using the identical prepositional phrase (min yada, from the hand) with regard to both women.
 This is precisely what the Malbim (Ruth 4:5) claims with regard to this verse. He maintains that both Naomi and Ruth received one portion of Elimelekhs field as part of their ketuva. While Naomis portion is available for conventional purchase, Ruths portion is only acquired through a yibbum-like act of marriage. It is this which proves difficult for the goel, as Ruths portion was designated to perpetuate the name of the deceased and would not be associated with the goels name. The Malbim does not fully elaborate on what he means by this last idea.
 The Greek translation seems to read the word kanita as containing the hidden third person direct object, as in, you hereby purchase her. While this is not indicated in the keri of the word, it yields a meaning similar to that of my translation.
 As noted in shiur #25, Rashi (Ruth 3:9) suggested that Ruth had already linked these two issues in chapter three: For you are a redeemer To redeem the inheritance of my husband, as it says (Vayikra 25:25): The nearest redeemer shall come and redeem And I and my mother-in-law need to sell our inheritance. And now it is upon you to buy; buy also me along with [the inheritance] so that the name of the deceased will be recalled upon his inheritance, for when I come to the fields, [people] will say, This is the wife of Machlon! See also Rashi, Ruth 4:10.
 We have previously discussed this phenomenon, in which Massoretic tradition has indicated that a word is read differently than the manner in which it is written (see shiur #21). This phenomenon is often treated by medieval exegetes as an exegetical device that maintains both a surface meaning (keri) and a deeper meaning (ketiv). See, for example, the Abravanels introduction to the book of Yirmiyahu, which contains a lengthy excurses on this phenomenon. Academic scholarship assumes that there is only one original reading and therefore concentrates its efforts on ascertaining the correct reading. For a thorough scholarly treatment of the keri and ketiv in our verse, which also contains a survey of different academic approaches, see Frederic W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (1996), pp. 216-229.
 I have chosen to translate the verse according to its plain meaning (peshuto shel mikra). Although Chazal offer a different reading of this verse, which contains significantly different halakhic implications, they are the first to admit that their reading of the verse deviates from its plain meaning (see Yevamot 24a).
 See II Shemuel 18:18; Yeshayahu 56:5.
 Rashi offers an interesting suggestion in his comment on Ruth 3:9 (see footnote #6 above).
 See the discussion of this assumption in Yevamot 24a. Rashbam and Ibn Caspi (Devarim 25:6) maintain that this is the simple meaning of the verse. Ramban (Bereishit 38:8; Devarim 25:6) disagrees. As proof, he cites the fact that the name of the son born to Ruth and Boaz is Oved, and not Machlon. To support his contention, Ibn Caspi claims that Ruth actually named her son Machlon, but the neighbors called him Oved!
 The centrality of the inheritance for the maintenance of the name is not evident in the passage in Devarim. It is, however, quite clearly linked in Megillat Ruth, in which Boaz twice states that the goal is to uphold the name of the deceased upon his inheritance (Ruth 4:5, 10). Rashi on Devarim 25:6 offers the following explanation: He shall be established in the name of the [deceased] brother The one who performs yibbum with his wife shall take the inheritance of the deceased along with the estate of his father. See also Targum Yonatan on Devarim 25:5-6. In this vein, Yevamot 17b maintains that only brothers who share in their fathers ancestral inheritance are considered brothers for the purpose of levirate marriage.
 Yevamot 24a does not reference the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad, but instead adduces Bereishit 48:6 as a proof text for this connection.
 Mishna Yevamot 4:7; Yevamot 24a; Rambam, Hilkhot Nachalot 3:7.
Interestingly, in Bava Batra 12b, there is an argument regarding
whether the yavam is meant to receive both pieces of land contiguously
(like the bekhor). The conclusion is that it is not in his rights to
demand this. In other words, the yavam inherits two distinct pieces of
land, in contrast to a bekhor who receives a double portion.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the brother is charged with maintaining
the distinctive land of the deceased. I am grateful to Rabbi Dr.
While this is not the halakha in regard to the mitzva of yibbum,
the peshat of Devarim 25:6 suggests that his idea may underlie the
original concept of yibbum. Given that our scenario is at best an echo of
the mitzva of yibbum, it is certainly conceivable that the
inheritance of Machlon will be given to the son of Ruths forthcoming marriage,
in keeping with the peshat of Devarim 25:6. See
Because the marriage to Ruth is not actual yibbum, as we will prove in
the next shiur, the
 These passages (Ruth 4:5, 10) are the only places in the Tanakh where the verb kana, to purchase, is used to refer to the taking of a wife. This seems designed to create a further link between the purchase of the land and the marriage to Ruth. Later in the chapter, when Boaz actually marries Ruth, the more common word, lakach, is used (Ruth 4:13).
 Shiur # 7 developed this topic at length.
 Naomis declaration that she has lost her name seems to derive from two correlative losses: that of her land and that of her children. From the economic perspective, Naomis sale of her inheritance means that she has lost her identity alongside her ability to support herself. Moreover, the death of Naomis children and the termination of her continuity also mean the loss of her name. This explains the goals of chapter four, which involve the restoration of Naomis land and progeny, thereby restoring her name and that of her family.
 See shiurim # 13, 18.
 This is ostensibly as punishment for refusing to uphold the name of the deceased. See shiur # 28.
 In response to Ruths mention of Boazs name, Naomi declares for the first time her acknowledgement that someone may redeem her: The man is close to us; he is of our redeemers (Ruth 2:20). See shiur #19.
 See shiurim # 18, 24.
 Rashi says that it means that Boazs name will be great.
 Indeed, in many congregations, the naming of a child is preceded precisely by this phrase, va-yikarei shemo be-Yisrael.
 See e.g. Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (1988), p. 271.
See Edward F. Campbell Jr., Ruth (Anchor Bible, 1975), p. 163. The phrase
which generally connotes celebration of a name is usually preceded by the
preposition be and generally used with respect to God (as in to call in
Gods name, kara be-shem Hashem). See e.g. Bereishit 12:8;
Shemot 34:5. Nevertheless, sometimes the phrase appears without a
preposition, with the meaning to celebrate (e.g. Devarim 32:3;
 See shiurim # 2, 3, 13, 24.
In shiur #19, I suggested that Naomis ability to regard Ruth as a
subject who has both a name and an identity is triggered by Boaz, who models
this behavior. The people of
 The intertwining of the themes of peoples names and Gods name is especially prominent in the Exodus narrative. There too the text indicates that without ones own name, one cannot truly know Gods name. It transpires that one cannot fulfill ones duty to promulgate Gods name if one does not know ones own name.
Perhaps this is the reason that the witnesses bless the union of Boaz and Ruth
with the words, And call a name in
 The Tanakh highlights the greatness of the name of Davids son, Shelomo (I Melakhim 1:47; 5:11). Significantly, Shelomos name is said to be great in order to make Gods name great (I Melakhim 10:1).
 See also e.g. I Melakhim 5:19; 8:16-20. David is aware of the obligation to promote Gods name from the very beginning. This is his primary aim during his battle with Golyat (I Shemuel 17:45). We also see this in Davids concern with the ark, which is said to bear Gods name (II Shemuel 6:2). See also II Shemuel 6:18; 22:50.
 While the simple meaning of this rather convoluted verse may be that God establishes the nation to establish for Himself a name (e.g. Radak ad loc.), another reading of the verse yields the possibility that God has conferred a name upon His nation.