Last week, I acquired many of the contents of the former offices of Ezras Torah, which were located for many decades on the upper floors of 235 E. Broadway on the Lower East Side, the same building that held the office of the Agudas Harabbonim of America and Canada.
The highlight of my finds was a chalitzah shoe found in the office of Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (1881-1973), who was the director of Ezras Torah, from 1925 until his death in 1973.
This shoe, which appears to be 100-150 years old, is a fascinating memento from the illustrious career of R. Henkin and particularly the post-war years in which R. Henkin served as the ultimate rabbinic authority in the United States. Already in 1928, R. Henkin published articles on chalitzah in America, which was far from a simple matter since many times, a widow’s brother-in-law lived in Europe and visas were very hard to obtain – even if the brother was willing to come to America for the ceremony.
(In 1922, the Agudas Harabbonim sent a letter to its membership, offering assistance with acquiring temporary visas to the United States so women could obtain a chalitzah and to remarry.)
After the Holocaust, chalitzah complications also arose since many widows had no information on the status or whereabouts of their brothers-in-law. R. Henkin was instrumental in releasing many of these women from their uncertain status – thus permitting them to remarry.
A chalitzah shoe must be made in a very specific fashion to satisfy the multitude of different halachic opinions on the topic. For example, the shoe must be handmade from leather of a kosher animal; the sole must be sewn in from the outside with leather threads; and the straps must be leather as well. The straps are unusually long so they can be wrapped around the leg several times.