His Brother’s Widow

Copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

“It’s within your right to marry me as Jacob’s brother.”

“I’m sorry, Bilhah but I don’t want to go through with it.”

“But it’s your duty as the surviving brother, Reuben.”

“Marriage ought to be a choice not a duty.”

“Why are you refusing to marry me?”

“I’m not in love with you, Bilhah.”

“What does love have to do with it?”

“As far as I’m concerned it has everything to do with it.”

“So, you refuse to perform levirate marriage?” 

“Yes. I want to perform halitzah.”

“Very well.” She pulled off his shoe and spat on the ground in front of him. 

100 Words

I think I should share a little background information about this fascinating Jewish custom. Levirate marriage is when a surviving brother marries the widow of his brother if the latter died without fathering any children. The idea was to have the surviving brother produce an heir to perpetuate the name of his dead brother, so that it would not “be blotted out of Israel.”

However, if the brother-in-law decided that he didn’t want to marry the childless widow, he could perform halitzah which is the “taking off the shoe”. The widow takes off his shoe in the presence of the elders. The taking off of the shoe is a symbol of mourning since the man failed to perform levirate marriage and this meant that his brother was now irrevocably dead.

After taking off the shoe, the childless widow spits on the ground in front of him as an act of contempt, declaring that “thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house” (Deuteronomy 25:9). From then on, she is free to marry whomever she chooses. I think the levirate marriage is less common now. Apparently, it became secondary in preference to halizah by some of the rabbis because of the brother-in-law’s questionable intentions.

This post is for the Friday’s Fictioneers hosted by  Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  You can find this week’s prompt Here. To read other stories or to participate, click Here.

Source: My Jewish Learning

36 thoughts on “His Brother’s Widow

    1. The levirate marriage is when the brother-in-law marries his brother’s widow to produce an heir to perpetuate the name of his dead brother, so that it would not “be blotted out of Israel.” If the man refuses to marry the widow, he can perform the halitzah, which is“taking off the shoe” The widow takes off the shoe in front of the elders and then, she spits on the ground in contempt of her brother-in-law because he failed to fulfill his obligation to her and to his brother. The taking off of the shoe is an act of mourning because as a result of the brother-in-law not going through with the levirate marriage, it meant that his brother was now irrevocably dead. The spitting on the ground is an act of contempt the widows feels towards her brother-in-law.

      I apologize for not explaining about the customs mentioned in my story. I have revised the post to include some background information.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. In Biblical times, the Levirate marriage was an obligation. I don’t think the practice is common today. I believe it’s rare. And if both people don’t wish to go through with this type of marriage arrangement, they could they can cancel the process through chalitzah which is another name for Halizah, the removal of the brother-in-law’s shoe.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Rochelle,

      Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed my story. Yes, the story of Ruth is such a beautiful one. Boaz is one of my favorite people in the Bible. His and Ruth’s story is also one of my favorites.



    1. Yes, the marriage between Boaz and Ruth was a levirate one. Theirs was one of love, thankfully. Thanks, Dora 🙂 Am happy you liked the story. I actually began it a while back and thought the photo prompt was the perfect one to use it for.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. bearmkwa

    I have heard of the custom… I’ve even seen such a marriage within my lifetime. I was just a little girl, too young, but it stuck with me so much that when I was dating my husband, I seriously looked at his brothers. Weird.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. bearmkwa

        What’s even worse is that with their heads summer shaved and from the rear I’ve often confused the one for my hubby… At least back then. On the riding mower, with protective gear…. Well, the one bro got hugged and ear kissed….we still laugh about it. Lol!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You were very brave setting out to give us a flavour of levirate marriage! I think there was much more expectation that you got married and then love grew in the days when such marriages were the norm, so I’m with Bilhah on this one.
    Interestingly, I know several people in ‘arranged’ marriages. They all agree that it works very well.
    Well written; your characters’ feelings came cross.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I have heard of arranged marriages working out very well. It’s wonderful when the couple ends up falling in love. In the levirate marriage, love can grow and the couple enjoy a lifetime of happiness. Ruth and Boaz, is an example of such a couple. Their marriage worked. Thank you so much 🙂 I’m happy that I was able to bring out the characters’ feelings.

      Liked by 1 person

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