Back in April, I was walking downtown on Main Street and happened to step into the local Hallmark shop. As part of an Easter sale, a friendly clerk presented a basket filled with plastic Easter eggs and told me to choose one. Each egg, she said, contained a sale coupon for a certain percentage off any item in the store.
It was my lucky day, and I got a forty-percent off coupon. Hurray! I chose to buy a Hallmark movie I’d had my eye on for a while because it looked like it had an interesting and fun premise.
Loving Leah is a sweet, silly, and romantic Hallmark movie about a modern-day Levirate marriage between Leah, a widowed Orthodox Jew from New York City and her brother-in-law Jake, a successful doctor and non-practicing Jew from Washington, D. C.
My Bible dictionary describes Levirate marriage as:
The custom of a widow marrying her deceased husband’s brother or sometimes a near heir. The word has nothing to do with the name Levi or the biblical Levites but is so called because of the Latin levir, meaning “husband’s brother,” connected with the English suffix -ate, thus constituting levirate. This system of marriage is designated in Deuteronomy 25:5–10 (see also Genesis 38:8), is spoken of in Matthew 22:23–33; it also forms a major aspect of the story of Ruth (Ruth 4:1–12).
When Leah’s husband Benjamin, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Benjamin’s brother Jake is told by the Jewish elders that he is expected to marry his brother’s childless widow Leah in order to fulfill an ancient Jewish law. However, Jake can be released from this obligation if he and Leah perform the ceremony described in Deuteronomy 25:7–10:
And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.
Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;
Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.
And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.
Having been estranged from his brother for many years and feeling remorseful about it, Jake can’t bring himself to go through a ceremony in which he must essentially deny his brother’s existence, so he suggests to Leah that they get married and maintain a platonic relationship. Because Leah has dreams of her own that she wants to pursue, she agrees to Jake’s proposed plan. Naturally, because this is a Hallmark movie, the story is about the way Jake and Leah’s pretend marriage becomes real as they come to respect and appreciate each other.
Part of the appeal of this movie, for me, is seeing the way that genuine religious believers, such as Orthodox Jews, try to incorporate ancient religious traditions—which had legitimate purposes in those times—into the modern-day world in a relevant way.