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What did the removing of a Jewish man’s sandal by his brother’s widow mean?

Removing a man’s sandal

The Bible explains the act of removing a man’s sandal by his brother’s widow in Deuteronomy.  “Then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house” (ch. 25:9). The action is considered an act of anger by a woman over her dead husband’s brother for failing to obey the levirate law of marriage.

The Levirate law stated

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall … take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her” (v. 5). And the only exceptions to the Levirate law were: the high priest (Lev. 21:13, 14), brothers living in far distances, and the elderly.

Consequently, the dead man’s brother who refused to carry on the responsibly of raising a seed for his brother is perceived as a selfish man (Ruth 4:6). So, when a brother would fail to do his duty, the widow would notify the “elders” or the judicial committee that have authority to handle the case in her city. These elders were generally fully knowledgeable with his situation. Then, the woman would remove the her husband’s brother sandal from his foot.

Jewish tradition

It should be noted that Jewish tradition indicates that the sandal was of the right foot. It should be noted that the act of putting of the shod foot on a land resembled either one’s disdain for it or one’s rightful ownership over it (Ps. 60:8; 108:9). Hence, the removal of the man’s sandal or shoe by his brother’s widow announced the man’s shamefulness. For he openly didn’t want to do what was legally expected of him.

In addition, the women would “spit.” According to Jewish commentators, the woman would generally spit on the ground “before his face” (Deut. 11:25; Joshua 10:8). Certainly, this was an embarrassing act to the man who doesn’t care for his brother’s name (Num. 12:14).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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