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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Women and Men

 

7.  Widows

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Widows

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

The Lord declares that he is a mighty and awesome God who does justice for orphans and widows.[1] Anyone who denies justice to a widow, an orphan or a resident alien is cursed.[2] Anyone who afflicts a widow or orphan shall be killed by God’s sword, and his wives shall become widows and his children, orphans.[3] It is forbidden to take a widow’s garment in pledge. The Israelites are to leave behind in the field any sheaf forgotten during the harvest, any olives left after the tree is beaten and any grapes not gathered so that the widow, the orphan and the resident alien may take them for themselves.[4]

 

If two brothers live together and one of them dies, the surviving brother is to have sexual intercourse with his brother’s widow and take her as his wife. Their firstborn child shall bear the name of the dead brother so that his name shall not be wiped out. (Editor’s note: This is called “levirate marriage” or, in Hebrew, yibbum.) If the surviving brother does not want to marry his brother’s widow, she is to report that to the city elders. If they cannot convince him to marry her, then the widow shall, in the presence of the elders, pull off his sandal, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to a man that will not build up his brother’s house.” From that time on, his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.” (Editor’s note: This is known as the ritual of halitzah.)

 

 

Widows

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

The ketubah (marriage contract), which a man must write upon getting married, provides for payment of money to the woman in case of divorce or the death of the husband.[5] The minimum amount is 200 denar (zuz) (equivalent to 25 denar (zuz) of pure silver) for a virgin bride and 100 denar (zuz) (equivalent to 12-1/2 denar (zuz) of pure silver) if the bride is not a virgin. A zuz is the weight of 96 barleycorns.[6] The man may specify more than the minimum amount in the ketubah.[7]

 

If a man dies leaving behind more than one widow, the amount of the ketubah is paid in the order that they were married to the man; the first one married gets paid, then the second and so on. This is the procedure even if there is not enough to pay each wife the full amount.[8]

 

When a man dies, his heirs are required to support his widow until she collects the amount if her ketubah. The heirs may stop paying for her maintenance as soon as she makes the claim for the amount of her ketubah in court.[9] A widow must serve the children who are the heirs of her dead husband in the same ways she had been required to serve her husband except for pouring drinks for them, making their beds and washing their faces, hands and feet.[10]

 

A woman must wait 90 days after her the death of her husband to become betrothed or married to another man. This is in case she is pregnant, so that the identity of the father is known.[11]

 

Widows, like orphans, should be treated very gently, spoken to softly and never harshly. Their financial interests must always be placed above one's own.[12] A widow should not have a dog because it will cause people to suspect that she is having sexual intercourse with the animal.[13]

 

When a man without descendants dies, any woman who is married or betrothed to him is required by the Torah to marry his brother by the same father. Their firstborn child shall bear the name of the dead brother so that his name shall not be wiped out.[14] This is called levirate marriage (yibbum in Hebrew).[15] The woman and her deceased husband's brother are to go before judges who will advise them whether to have a levirate marriage or to be released from this requirement through the ceremony of halitzah. Halitzah might be better, for example, if one is young and the other is old.[16] Levirate marriage and halitzah are described in detail here.

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

 

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

    

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Deut 10:17-18

[2] Deut 27:19

[3] Ex 22:22-24

[4] Deut 24:17-22

[5] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y); Chapter 10, sec 10 (pages 124-126M 64-65Y); Chapter 16, sec 3 (pages 198M 99Y)

[6] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y); Chapter 10, sec 9 (pages 118M 64Y)

[7] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y)

[8] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 17, sec 1 (pages 216-218M 108Y)

[9] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 18, sec 1 (pages 230-232M 101Y)

[10] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 18, sec 7 (pages 234M 116Y)

[11] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 2 on Divorce, Gerushin; Chapter 11, sec 18 (pages 202-200M 244-245Y)

[12] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De'ot Ethics, Chapter 6, sec 10 (pages 55b-56aF 132-136M)

[13] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 22, sec 16 (pages 276M 144Y)

[14] Deut 25:5-10

[15] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 3 on Levirate Marriage and Halitzah, Yibbum v'Chalitzah; Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 12M 265Y); sec 3 (pages 12M 265Y)

[16] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 3 on Levirate Marriage and Halitzah, Yibbum v'Chalitzah; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 56M 283Y)