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He was required (De 25:5-10; Mt 22:24) "to perform the duty of a husband’s brother" (yibbemah); that is, if his brother, living with him on the paternal estate, died without male issue, he should take the widow to wife, and "raise up seed unto his brother," the firstborn of the new marriage inheriting the deceased brother’s estate. Refusal of the duty was possible, but entailed public ceremonial disgrace and lasting reproach. This provision for a specific case modified the general law which forbade the marriage of a sister-in-law (Le 18:16,18). It was a patriarchal custom (Ge 38; Judah and Tamar), and is alluded to in Ru 1:11-13. A related custom is found in Ru 4:1, Boaz playing; however, the part, not of levir ("brother-in-law"), but of go`el ("redeemer"). It was at least theoretically in force in our Lord’s time (Mt 22:23-28; the question of the Sadducees concerning the resurrection). For the origin and object of this custom see Family; Marriage.
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