Levirato

The Spanish word levirato and its English counterpart levirate are hardly common words, even among the highly literate. The word designates a practice among the ancient Hebrews: if a married man died before having children, the man’s brother would marry the widow in an effort to continue the dead man’s family line. The term comes from Latin lēvir, meaning ‘husband’s brother,’ a word descended from the synonymous Indo-European root *daiwer-.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Ruebush
    Feb 10, 2016 @ 12:18:36

    I keep seeing the word ‘levitate’. Any connection?

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 10, 2016 @ 16:18:12

      You can even scrape off a couple of bits of the first t in levitate to turn the word into levirate.

      There’s no connection between the two words, with levitate coming from Latin l(a)evis, meaning ‘light [in weight].’

      Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Feb 12, 2016 @ 07:43:54

    Through several relatives and a year in Salt Lake City, I’ve had some exposure to Mormon culture, and I wondered whether levirate marriage was related in any way to their practice of polygamy, or to the practice of “sealing” marriages. (Sealed marriages are for “time and eternity” rather than “until death do us part,” and a man can be sealed to several women.)

    After an hour of so of plowing though some abstruse articles, I have to say I haven’t a clue. But there’s at least one culture where the phrase “levirate marriage” still is used, if only for discussion purposes.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 12, 2016 @ 08:28:53

      It seems like you were onto something, so I’m sorry you spent a fruitless hour pursuing the possible connection between levirate marriage and sealed marriage.

      Your mention of “abstruse articles” and your note that “there’s at least one culture where the phrase levirate marriage’ still is used” reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years, namely an obscure article entitled “Marriage Customs of the Arunta: an Application of Mathematics in Anthropology.” The article appeared in the Fall 1990 issue of the AMATYC [American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges] Review, and it was written by an Austin Community College math teacher named Steven Schwartzman.

      Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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