Definition of levirate in English:



  • A custom of the ancient Hebrews and other peoples by which a man may be obliged to marry his brother's widow.

    [as modifier] ‘levirate marriages’
    • ‘Such societies may also practice the levirate (widows marrying brothers or cousins of their deceased spouse).’
    • ‘The institution of the levirate marriage made it possible that her fertility could build up the ‘house’ of her husband's family, while the birth of a child would provide the bond which would give her a secure place within the household.’
    • ‘Clearly for her, the institution of the levirate was of no help, since she would not be able to bear a son for her dead husband's household.’
    • ‘The firstborn child of this levirate marriage is considered the deceased's child.’


Early 18th century: from Latin levir brother-in-law + -ate.