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What is chalitzah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


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A. Chalitzah (pronounced khah-LEE-tzah) means "detachment" or "removal" in Hebrew. It is the shoe-removal ceremony relieving a brother-in-law of his obligation to marry his widowed sister-in-law.

B. As explained (see What is yibum?), Yibum is not done today; chalitzah is the accepted alternative. But even chalitzah is quite rare, as the widowed sister-in-law and her brother-in-law must meet certain Halachic criteria before chalitzah can be considered.

C. Chalitzah involves a competent rabbinical court, the presence of the brother-in-law and the widow, two witnesses, certain Hebrew texts to be recited, and a really wild-looking leather shoe. All these are blended into a standardized ceremony, after which both parties are free to marry whomever they choose.

Chalitzah is quite rare, as the widowed sister-in-law and her brother-in-law must meet certain halachic criteria before chalitzah can be considered
How is chalitzah done?

1. Prepare to Qualify

The first step is an exhaustive examination of the obscure Halachot of chalitzah by competent authorities. They then are applied to the case at hand: do the parties meet the halachic criteria for chalitzah candidates? These

2. The Big Ceremony...

...actually isn't big at all. Probably doesn't take more than a few minutes. The widow and her brother-in-law gather on the premises while the officiating rabbinical team looks on. The brother-in-law sports a boot-like shoe that looks like something a Viking would wear--it has a noticeably clunky heel and long, crisscrossing laces. He wears it on his right foot. The widow reads selected verses from the Torah and other sources, all in Hebrew. These ceremonially describe the brother-in-law's reluctance to perpetuate his brother's name. When she's done, she performs the core of the ceremony: she unties the shoe's laces, completely removes the shoe from her brother-in-law's foot, pointedly tosses it onto the floor, and spits visibly in his direction. Immediately after the above, those immediately present recite a particular Hebrew statement, and the ceremony is complete.

TAGS: chalitzah


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Laws governing the Jewish way of life.
"Levirate marriage." The Biblical commandment which obligates a man to marry his deseased childless brother's widow.
The ceremony which exempts a man from "Levirate marriage" -- the Biblical obligation to marry his deseased childless brother's widow.