1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ḥaliṣah

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ḤALIṢAH (Hebrew, חליצה “untying”), the ceremony by which a Jewish widow releases her brother-in-law from the obligation to marry her in accordance with Deuteronomy xxv. 5-10, and obtains her own freedom to remarry. By the law of Moses it became obligatory upon the brother of a man dying childless to take his widow as wife. If he refused, “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.” By Rabbinical law the ceremony was later made more complex. The parties appear before a court of three elders with two assessors. The place is usually the synagogue house, or that of the Rabbi, sometimes that of the widow. After inquiry as to the relationship of the parties and their status (for if either be a minor or deformed, ḥaliṣah cannot take place), the shoe is produced. It is usually the property of the community and made entirely of leather from the skin of a “clean” animal. It is of two pieces, the upper part and the sole, sewn together with leathern threads. It has three small straps in front, and two white straps to bind it on the leg. After it is strapped on, the man must walk four cubits in the presence of the court. The widow then loosens and removes the shoe, throwing it some distance, and spits on the ground, repeating thrice the Biblical formula “So shall it be done,” &c. Ḥaliṣah, which is still common among orthodox Jews, must not take place on the Sabbath, a holiday, or the eve of either, or in the evening. To prevent brothers-in-law from extorting money from a widow as a price for releasing her from perpetual widowhood, Jewish law obliges all brothers at the time of a marriage to sign a document pledging themselves to submit to ḥaliṣah without payment. (Compare Levirate).