Definitions

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

  • Of or pertaining to the levirate: as, levirate marriage; levirate law.
  • n. The institution of marriage between a man and the widow of his brother or nearest kinsman under certain circumstances.

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

Etymologies

From Latin lēvir, husband's brother; see daiwer- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin lēvir ("husband's brother, brother-in-law") + -ate (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • 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).

    Scott Cheshire: Part II: The Good, The Bad, and Bumping Uglies -- Some Thoughts on Masturbation and The Good Book

  • The object of the book has been supposed by some to be to commend the so-called levirate marriage.

    Introduction to the Old Testament

  • 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.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 2: Assizes-Browne

  • 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.).

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 6: Fathers of the Church-Gregory XI

  • As for the levirate, that is another very wide-spread custom which shows an utter disregard of woman's preference and choice.

    Primitive Love and Love-Stories

  • These women, however, were yevamot and therefore each wanted the child in order to be freed of the obligation of yibum (levirate marriage).

    Two Prostitutes as Mothers: Midrash and Aggadah.

  • Judah has now performed the levirate (despite himself) and never cohabits with Tamar again.

    Tamar: Bible.

  • 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.

    Tamar: Bible.

  • 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.

    Tamar: Bible.

  • 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.

    Tamar: Bible.

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