Today I’m going to switch things up a bit and give you Rabbi Stern’s Zoom video shiur first as the core of the Daf, supplementing it with several observations.
We’re dwelling heavily on the nature of the shoe used for חַלִיצָה, and a concise resource in that regard is the Jewish Encyclopedia. From it we are reminded that the shoe, which is usually the property of the community, is brought forth and examined as to its cleanliness and construction, in accordance with the precepts of the law.
The חַלִיצָה shoe is made entirely of leather, usually from the skin of a clean animal. It consists of two pieces, the upper part and the sole, sewed together with leather threads. Three small straps are attached to the front of the shoe, each of which has a knot (“ḥumrata”) at the top to fit a hole made on the other side of the shoe. Two white leather straps are attached to either side of the shoe, by which it is fastened to the leg.
The חַלִיצָה shoe resembles a shoe that was common at the time of the Gemara, and is similar to ancient Roman shoes. In the 19th century, the חַלִיצָה shoe was described as a shoe made of corduan leather. The upper and the sole were sewn with a white leather strap, and straps were attached to each side of the shoe, also white and of unequal length. The shoe also had three wide straps with incisions on the right and three somewhat narrower straps with buttons on the left. When putting on the shoe, these three buttons were attached to the foot, then the long white strap was looped three times around the calf and tied with the short white strap to form a loose loop, which was then loosened during the ritual.
The yavam must have his primary foot (usually the right), on which the shoe is placed, washed very scrupulously, and after he has strapped it on he must walk four cubits in the presence of the judges. The complete Seder Hachalitza is found in the back of Shulchan Oruch Even Ha’ezer, and nicely summarized here by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber.
The Gemara addresses what to do in the case that the yavam is an amputee, or has other alterations in anatomy that might call for customization of how the חַלִיצָה shoe is applied. Again, I’ll leave you to review Rabbi Stern’s video to work through those particulars.
You may have noticed that the leather straps of the חַלִיצָה shoe are mindful of the leather straps of the תְּפִילִין. If you”re wondering about that, you might enjoy this post from Chabakuk Elisha on Chalitza & Tefillin. I’ll excerpt key parts for you:
“In Sefer Bereishis when Avraham Avinu defeated the five kings, Avraham was offered the spoils of war by the King of Sodom. Avraham, though, rejected the offer and instead said, “Not even one shoe-strap will I take.” That is to say: Wealth and power are not the focus of life – you keep it; you are concerned with things like power and money. They are your gods. My G-d will send me all the wealth I need. Avraham merely requests the lives of his family members, and to recover what was invested in the battle. Chazal tell us that in the merit of the leather “straps” that Avraham refused to take, Avraham merited the mitzvos of tefillin straps and chalitza straps …
So, here we see the connection between tefillin straps and shoe straps. Just as a widow is able to go from a state of restriction in her choice of marriage partners to total freedom of choice through the straps of chalitza, Avraham Avinu was able to go from subservience to money to total independence of man by not accepting the booty from the King of Sodom and thus merit the straps of tefillin.”
Clearly there is tremendous symbolism operative in the חַלִיצָה process, with the construction, placement, removal, and flinging of the shoe all meant to convey the willful decision of the yavam not to marry his sister-in-law, and the emancipation proclamation of the yevama. The context of this is explored in a jewel of a book by Edna Nahshon, who adds cultural and anthropological tones to the discussion.
Lorne Rozovsky echoed this theme in an article titled Jews and Shoes published on chabad.org. He writes:
“The widow declares that her brother-in-law refuses to marry her, and he confirms it as directed in Deuteronomy (25:7 and 9). She then places her left hand on his calf, undoes the laces with her right hand, removes the shoe from his foot, throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din then recites the formula releasing all obligations.
The shoe is a symbol of the transaction. This tradition is part of the color and romance of Jewish tradition and life. It is also part of the spiritual tradition. The Kabbalists describe the body as “the shoe of the soul.” Just as shoes protect feet from the dirt, so too does the soul require the body as a shoe to protect it during its journey in the physical world.”
I’ll finish with one interesting historical tidbit that the Gemara mentions in one of its digressions signaled by a “תָּא שְׁמַע” at the bottom of דף ק״ג עמוּד א. It involves an incident between a Jewish heroine named Yael and an evil man named Sisera (סִיסְרָא), and is somewhat mindful of Esther and her role in Jewish history. While the Gemara cites it for an anatomy lesson, I relate it here because it champions the ultimate power of women.
The key reference to Yael is in the book of שׁוֹפְטִים:
וְהִנֵּ֣ה בָרָק֮ רֹדֵ֣ף אֶת־סִֽיסְרָא֒ וַתֵּצֵ֤א יָעֵל֙ לִקְרָאת֔וֹ וַתֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ לֵ֣ךְ וְאַרְאֶ֔ךָּ אֶת־הָאִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֣ה מְבַקֵּ֑שׁ וַיָּבֹ֣א אֵלֶ֔יהָ וְהִנֵּ֤ה סִֽיסְרָא֙ נֹפֵ֣ל מֵ֔ת וְהַיָּתֵ֖ד בְּרַקָּתֽוֹ׃
וַיַּכְנַ֤ע אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא אֵ֖ת יָבִ֣ין מֶֽלֶךְ־כְּנָ֑עַן לִפְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
וַתֵּ֜לֶךְ יַ֤ד בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ הָל֣וֹךְ וְקָשָׁ֔ה עַ֖ל יָבִ֣ין מֶלֶךְ־כְּנָ֑עַן עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר הִכְרִ֔יתוּ אֵ֖ת יָבִ֥ין מֶלֶךְ־כְּנָֽעַן׃
This is followed by a song written by the נְבִיאָה Devorah in tribute to her:
Extolled above women be Yael,
Extolled above women in the tent.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
She brought him cream in a lordly dish.
She stretched forth her hand to the nail,
Her right hand to the workman’s hammer,
And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,
She crashed through and transfixed his temples.
For more information about the fascinating role of Yael, a righteous convert in the mold of רוּת, please read the entry on her in the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.