I heard on the radio of a woman whose husband died and the dead man’s family did not want to give the woman Halitzah because of a financial dispute. What exactly is this halitzah?
The enlightened public in Israel arouses laughter and amazement. On one hand they abandon personal laws to the Chief Rabbinate, which publicly states that it is obligated to religious Halacha determined in the early centuries CE, and on the other hand, when the Rabbinate does what it is supposed to, they arise against it instead of against themselves.
The act of halitzah, which seems to the modern man an outdated and despicable act, continues to be practiced in the State of Israel, which pretends to be enlightened, and with the secular public’s blessing. It is appropriate to explain the full halitzah ceremony so the Israeli society may internalize the meaning of a rabbinate in charge of personal laws. Perhaps this will help terminate this detestable institution.
A woman whose husband died without their having children must, in order to remarry, perform halitzah on her husband’s brother (her brother-in-law, called in Halacha the yavam) in the following ceremony:
The widow and her brother-in-law must stand before 5 judges. The widow has been warned not to eat or drink on the day of the halitzah ceremony so that the spit which comes from her mouth will not be the product of food.
The brother-in-law, barefoot, rinses his right foot and puts on the shoe that he was given as a present by the judges, without socks.
The shoe must be fully leather, including the stitching (preferably from a kosher animal). The laces are white and the shoe black. After the brother-in-law dons the shoe and ties it well, following an exacting Halachic procedure of tying, he must walk two meters before the judges. Afterwards he leans against a pillar or wall and places his foot on the floor. The widow reads the verse “My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name in Israel for his brother, he will not perform the duty of a levir,” and he answers, “I do not want to marry her.” The widow approaches her brother-in-law and while standing bent over (not sitting) she loosens the ties of her brother-in-law’s shoe with her right hand only, with no help from her left, and takes the shoe off his foot with her right hand. She throws it far off. Then she gathers a great deal of spit in her mouth and spits at the floor near her brother-in-law so that the judges can see the spit coming out of her mouth. The widow reads the following verse: “Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house, and he shall go in Israel by the name of “the family of the unsandled one.” The brother-in-law returns the shoe to the judges and they close the ceremony with the blessing, “May it be His will that the daughters of Israel may not come to need halitzah or levirate marriages.” (The verses cited are from Deuteronomy 25:9-7. The halitzah ceremony is from the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 169.)