Religious advocacy group asks Chief Rabbinate to regulate ‘spitting’ rite

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli organization that helps people with religious status issues has called on the Chief Rabbinate to regulate the little known Halitza rite.

Halitza, known as the Jewish “spitting” rite, is required when a woman who is widowed with no children wishes to remarry.  Under Jewish law and Israel’s state law, the deceased husband’s brother must marry the woman, perpetuating his brother’s name with their children, or perform the Halitza rite.

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As part of the ceremony, the woman removes her brother-in-law’s shoe and then spits at him for his decision not to marry her.

About 20 Halitza ceremonies are performed each year, according to ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center. ITIM received phone calls from several women who underwent the ceremony, who complained that they had no representation during the ceremony and that outsiders were invited to witness the event.

“We were more shocked when we discovered that the entire process is unregulated at the rabbinate, and no one is protecting the rights of women at this sensitive moment,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.

On Tuesday, ITIM submitted a proposal to the Chief Rabbinate for regulating Halitza.

The proposed regulations call upon the rabbinical courts to appoint a woman representative who will accompany any woman needing the rite to the rabbinical courts. In addition, it guarantees that the ceremony will be held in private, unless the parties agree to have others present.  It also insures that if a woman needing the rite seeks to bring someone with her, she may do so.