My weekly halachah column:
In Megilas Rus (4:7), it is recorded that: “Formerly, this was done in cases of redemption and exchange transactions to validate any matter: One would draw off his shoe (na’alo), and give it to the other. This was the process of ratification in Israel.”1
While many have understood this verse as referring to the chalitzah ceremony described in parashas Ki-Seitzei (Antiquities of the Jews; cf. Abarbanel Devarim 25:5), this interpretation has almost no adherents within the rabbinic tradition, which understands the verse as describing a form of kinyan (a formal action that ratifies a transaction) called chalipin or kinyan sudar, and includes a debate over who gave his shoe to whom (unlike with chalitzah, where the Biblical text is explicit that it is the woman who removes the man’s shoe):
The verse is interpreted: “Redemption”; that is a sale. … “Substitution”; that is the transaction of exchange. …
With regard to the phrase “To confirm all matters; a man drew off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor,” the baraisa asks: Who gave the shoe to whom? Boaz gave his shoe to the redeemer, the closest relative of Elimelech, who had the right of first refusal to the land that Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, was planning to sell. The redeemer was transferring that right to the land to Boaz, who was acquiring it by means of his shoe. Rabbi Yehuda says: The redeemer gave his shoe to Boaz. (Bava Metzia 47a).
The halachah follows the former view.
Since the chalipin ceremony is described only in Rus but not in the Pentateuch, there is considerable dispute over whether it is a Biblical law or a rabbinic institution (see S’dei Chemed volume 2 pp. 406-07).
One notable exception to the traditional rabbinic consensus that the ceremony described here has nothing to do with chalitzah is Chizkuni, who explains (“according to the plain meaning of the text”) that the chalitzah ceremony itself is really a form of chalipin, having to do with the transfer of the inheritance of the dead brother (perhaps a ratification of its relinquishment by the brother who is declining to perform yibum, since he would otherwise become his brother’s sole heir)!
A series of mini-haburos that I gave several years ago on the subject of קנין חליפין, within the framework of BMG’s Shivti Learning Program, in which I discuss some of the above points, is available at the Internet Archive:
- The translation (by ArtScroll) of “na’alo” as “his shoe” follows the usual meaning of na’al, but some maintain that the word here means “his glove.” (Targum here; Bechor Shor Shemos 3:5) [Omitted from the published version due to space constraints.]