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" The plight of agunot–women whose husbands cannot or will not grant them a "get," a Jewish divorce–is fairly well known because it affects thousands of women. Each year halitza only affects about one or two Jewish women in the United States and between 15 and 20 in Israel, estimates the Rabbinate.
Although Jewish law requires all widows in this position to do halitza, some cases fall through the cracks and the ceremony isn’t performed, said Rivka Lubitch, a rabbinical court advocate whose articles often challenge the rabbinic status quo.
Even in cases of goodwill, halitza is fraught with anxiety.
In a 2009 article on the subject, Lubitch described the case of a 60-year-old woman whose first husband had died 40 years earlier, and who had married and divorced in the interim.
In the ceremony, which is meant to be public, the woman kneels before her brother-in-law and removes a special handmade shoe from his foot.
She is then required to spit on the ground next to him and recite several verses.
"We took it slowly, but eventually I found myself coming out of the darkness," Sarah, who lives in central Israel and requested anonymity, recalled recently.
To prevent such forced marriages–which reportedly still occur, though very rarely, in highly traditional Sephardic Jewish communities–most rabbis strongly encourage halitza, in which a man’s brother relinquishes all claims to his sister-in-law.JERUSALEM (WOMENSENEWS)–Sarah (a pseudonym), was in her mid-20s when her husband died in an accident.Once her grief had begun to subside, one of Sarah’s friends introduced her to her brother."Since the halitza ceremony requires a husband to wear a shoe and to walk a few steps, a man without legs cannot carry out the halitza ceremony," Lubitch wrote."We might assume that the woman is allowed to marry without halitza. She’s stuck." The woman was spared only because a rabbi was able to determine that the brother-in-law was impotent, and therefore could not fulfill his conjugal obligation under yibbum to bring children into the world.
Marrying a deceased husband’s brother through yibbum was a strategy designed to control fertility, sexuality and the family’s assets, whether they be progeny, money or business ties.