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Venice 1572: A ruling about the mitzvah of yibbum in Italy

Rabbi Shmuel Yehudah Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Venice, signed his psak regarding the mitzvah of yibbum–Levirate Marriage: In a place where the custom is not to do yibbum, like in Ashkenaz, we do not allow someone to marry his childless brother’s widow.  In a place where there is no set custom, one is allowed to do yibbum, taking into consideration that the intention is l’sheim Shamayaim.

This psak was written regarding the case of Yossef the Pole from Italy, who wanted to marry his widowed sister-in-law, and the rav of Venice allowed him, in his ruling to do so.  

One wonders, since Yosef was from Poland, which implies that he is originally an Ashkenazi, the psak should have been just the opposite, he should not have been allowed to marry his sister-in-law. It seems that since he emigrated from Poland, settled in Italy, and accepted the customs of Italy, therefore he was allowed to marry her.

PS. The rav of Venice is the father of R. Shaul the King of Poland for one night, see Kankan issue 7.

Source: Tolados Gedolei Yisrael U’Geonei Italyah, page 337.


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