WIDOW (Heb. אַלְמָנָה, almanah; pl. אַלְמָנוֹת, almanot).
The Hebrew substantive almanah, usually translated "widow," often does not simply denote a woman whose husband is dead, but rather a once-married woman who has no means of financial support, and is therefore in need of special legal protection. Many widows would fall into such a classification because of their husbands' death, but others who could rely on the support of a new husband (by levirate marriage or otherwise), an adult son, or a father-in-law, would not. Thus, the almanot as a class in Israelite society in biblical times were often considered as comprising not merely women whose husbands had died but, rather, once-married women who no longer had any means of financial support. Such being the case, many famous biblical widows (e.g., Ruth, Orpah, and Naomi (Ruth 1–4); Abigail (I Sam. 25); Bath-Sheba (II Sam. 11)), will not be discussed in this article. Since they are never referred to as almanot, there is doubt as to whether they were regarded as such. All of them must have had some means of financial support. Only women who are specifically called almanah will be dealt with here.
IN EARLY LEGAL CODES
The main evidence for the above definition of the Hebrew word almanot comes from several sections of the Middle Assyrian Laws, where the Akkadian etymological equivalent of almanah, almattu, denotes the woman in question:
In all the Akkadian codes, women whose husbands have died, but who do have some means of support, are not given any particular title and are never called almattu (e.g., Middle Assyrian Laws, par. 46). According to G.R. Driver, "these considerations suggest that a woman became an almattu only when there is no one with a duty to support her" (in: Driver and Miles, The Assyrian Laws, in bibl., 225). Further evidence for this definition of almattu is found in the usage of the Akkadian almānūtu, "lack of support by a male householder" (abstract formation of almattu): bēl bīti imâtma bītu šû almānūtam illak, "The owner of the house will die, and that house will have no male to support it" (A. Boissier, Documents assyriens relatifs aux presages (1894–99), 5:2; cf. CAD, vol. 1, pt. 1 (1964), 362). There are only a few cases in the biblical law codes where almanah does not agree with the definition of the Akkadian almattu. These are the laws concerning the ineligibility of the almanah to become the wife of the high priest (Lev. 21:14) or, unless she is the widow of a priest, to become the wife of any priest (Ezek. 44:22; the rabbis, however, by artificial exegesis, make this verse mean the same thing as Lev. 21:14 – ordinary priests are not prohibited from marrying any widow): the right of the priest's daughter to return to her father's house and partake of terumah should she become an almanah (Lev. 22:13), and the vow of the almanah being legally binding on her (Num. 30:10). In these cases, but only in these, almanah must be translated as "widow." Note that in each of these cases the term almanah is juxtaposed to terms having to do with marital status – betulah, "unmarried woman" (Lev. 21:13, Ezek. 44:22) and gerushah, "divorced woman" (Lev. 22:13; Num. 30:10; cf. Lev. 22:12; Num. 30:7ff.). Elsewhere, there is a general pronouncement against the mistreatment of the almanah (Ex. 22:21) and there are many other cases, where the humanitarian nature of the author of Deuteronomy (cf. Weinfeld, in bibl.) caused him to prescribe many new laws concerning the protection of the ger, "stranger," yatom, "fatherless," almanah, and levite. In these cases, almanot must refer to "women once-married who no longer have any means of financial support." One may not keep the garment of the almanah as a pledge (Deut. 24:17), nor turn back and pick up dropped sheaves during harvest time (Deut. 24:19), dropped fruit from olive trees (Deut. 24:20), or grapes that have fallen off the vine (Deut. 24:21); for these must go to the almanah and the other classes mentioned above. These socially disadvantaged groups must be permitted to partake of the third-year tithes (Deut. 14:29; 26:12, 13), the freewill contributions made on the occasion of Shavu'ot (Deut. 16:11), and to rejoice during Sukkot (Deut. 16:14). There is also a curse against anyone who would subvert the legal rights of these disadvantaged groups (Deut. 27:19), and God is described as the protector of the rights of these classes (Deut. 10:18). It should also be mentioned that some scholars claim that there is evidence in the Ugaritic texts for the giving of a special
AS TITLE OF INDIVIDUALS
The earliest and by far the most famous biblical personage given the title of almanah was Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah (Gen. 38). When Judah's son Er died, leaving Tamar a childless widow, Judah told Onan, his secondborn, to live with Tamar as husband and wife so as to beget an offspring for his dead brother (see Deut. 25:5–10). Onan, bearing in mind the fact that the offspring, whom he would have to bring up, would not count as his, practiced only coitus interruptus with her (Gen. 38:9). For this, God punished him with death, and the responsibility passed on to the third and youngest of the three sons, Shelah. However, Judah, fearing that marriage to Tamar was unlucky, claimed that Shelah was too young to fulfill his duty and sent Tamar away to live in the house of her own father "as an almanah" (Gen. 38:11). Given paragraph 33 of the Middle Assyrian Law Code quoted above, it is interesting to note that Tamar was called an almanah only when Judah, her father-in-law, sent her out of his house. It might reasonably be asked whether Tamar would have been called an almanah at all had she remained in the house of her father-in-law.
When Shelah grew up and Judah still did not give him to her as a husband, she resorted to the following ruse. At a time when Judah was likely to be attracted by a sexual opportunity, she removed "her garments of almanah-hood," i.e., "the clothes of her status as almanah," and sat down, veiled, in a spot where she knew that Judah was to pass and where a woman sitting alone was likely to be taken for a prostitute. Judah, not recognizing her because of her veil, became her customer. When he later learned that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, Judah at first ordered that she be burned (Gen. 38:24). When Tamar, however, privately proved to him that he was the father of her child, he publicly declared that not she but he was at fault, since her conception through him was justified by his failure to give her to Shelah. The legal background of the episode is not only Deuteronomy 25:5ff. (levirate marriage), but also the Middle Assyrian Laws referred to above, for only the latter provides evidence that the father-in-law has the privilege of deciding to which of his surviving sons the widow is to be given or even of taking her for himself. Elsewhere, the woman hired by Joab to play the part of an almanah so as to induce David to take back his son Absalom (II Sam. 14:1ff.) claims (verse 5): "I am an almanah. My husband died." Both Hiram (I Kings 7:14) and Jeroboam I (I Kings 11:26) are designated as sons of an almanah. With respect to the latter, who was responsible for the splitting of the United Monarchy, there is a very interesting, somewhat parallel, Akkadian omen, which occurs many times: mār almattim kussi'am isabbat. "The son of an almattum will seize the throne" (A. Goetze, Old Babylonian Omen Texts; Yale Oriental Series, 10 (1947), 41:30).
Finally, Elijah is sent by a divine call to the house of an almanah whose son he later revives (I Kings 17). This woman is described as having no means of livelihood, living in abject poverty, and being on the verge of starvation (I Kings 17:12). Clearly, she is not merely a widow, but rather "a woman once married who no longer has the means of financial support."
AS A SOCIALLY DEPRIVED CLASS WHICH MUST BE PROTECTED
From the time of Urukagina of Lagash (c. 2400 B.C.E.), there is recorded evidence concerning the special responsibility of the Mesopotamian king to protect socially disadvantaged groups. In law codes, both in the prologue of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the epilogue of Hammurapi (c. 1800 B.C.E.), the king claims to have fulfilled this obligation. Hammurapi, for example, states that he wrote his laws:
dannum ensam ana la habalim
Also the two Ugaritic kings mentioned in the epics are spoken of as either having fulfilled or not fulfilled this responsibility. In the Keret epic, King Keret's son twice accuses him of neglecting his duties:
ltdn dn almnt
Conversely, in the Aqhat Epic, King Daniel is portrayed as a righteous king:
ydn dn almnt
Here it should be observed that the parallelism ytm//almnt, used in two of the above Ugaritic quotations, is also present in Hebrew poetry (e.g., Isa. 1:17, 23; Ps. 68:6). Another parallel pair of words which exist in both Hebrew and Ugaritic is Hebrew שְׁכוֹל//אֲלְמֹן (Isa. 47:8, 9) = Ugaritic tkl//ulmn (SS 8–9), which is probably to be translated "bereavement//status of being an almnt."
The Hebrew prophets often spoke out against the upper-class exploitation of the almanah and the other disadvantaged social groups. These protests can be found in the words of First Isaiah (e.g., 1:17, 23; 10:2), Jeremiah (e.g., 7:6, 22:3), Ezekiel (e.g., 22:7), Zechariah (7:10), and Malachi (3:5). Perhaps the clearest
AS A DESCRIPTION OF A CITY
The above definition of almanah is indirectly supported by those biblical passages in which cities are called almanah (Isa. 47:8, 9; 54:4; Jer. 51:5; Lam. 1:1). In those passages where the city involved is Israel (Isa. 54:4; Jer. 51:5; Lam. 1:1), the traditional interpretation has always been to translate almanah as some kind of temporary widow whom God has left for the time being. This image would correspond with the divorce imagery of Hosea concerning God and Israel (Hos. 1–3). However, aside from the problem of understanding what a "temporary widow" is (cf. Rashi, Lam. 1:1), there is also the much more severe problem of understanding how this imagery could apply to Babylon (Isa. 47:8, 9). However, if almanah is understood as referring to a city with no means of independent support, i.e., a vassal or tributary nation, all cases of this metaphor then make sense. In the case of Babylon, the nation which was once "mistress of kingdoms" (Isa. 47:5, 7) will now become like an almanah. Thus, according to this interpretation, "mistress of kingdoms" and almanah are exact opposites and Babylon's punishment becomes much more fitting – she who once subjugated many nations will now become subjugated herself. In the case of Israel becoming an almanah, in Lamentations 1:1 this interpretation is further corroborated by the parallelism in that verse: "She has become like an almanah //She has become like a tributary nation."
In Jewish Law
From the legal point of view, a widow is a woman who was married in a valid marriage and whose husband has died; if any doubt arises as to her widowhood, she will have to prove that she was so married (for the origin of the word "widow," see Levy, J., Neuhebr Tal, S.V. alman). The rabbis of the Talmud exegetically explained the name almanah ("widow") as being derived from the words al maneh ("because of the maneh"), i.e., because her statutory *ketubbah is a maneh (= 100 zuz) and not 200 as in the case of a virgin (Ket. 10b).
A widow is generally free to marry any man except a high priest (Lev. 21:14); if she marries the latter she becomes a ḥalalah (see *Yuhasin; Lev. 21:15; Kid. 77a; Sh. Ar., EH 7:12). For the prohibitions imposed upon her in consequence of her previous marriage, see Prohibited *Marriages, and for the law prohibiting the widow of a childless brother to marry without prior *levirate marriage or ḥaliẓah.
RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
The widow is entitled to the return of all her property of whatever kind, since her ownership of it is not affected by marriage (see *Husband and Wife; for the difference in this respect between the different kinds of her property, see *Dowry). In Jewish law a widow does not inherit her husband (see *Succession), but she is entitled to her ketubbah and the rights due to her by virtue of its provisions, which the husband's heirs must satisfy out of the estate; the most important of these provisions relate to her maintenance. She is entitled to the said rights by virtue of her being the widow, and it is therefore unimportant whether and to what extent she possessed property during the marriage. Her said rights arise upon marriage by virtue of law: "a man, upon marrying a woman, becomes bound to her in respect of the statutory ketubbah … and her right to be maintained out of his property and to live in his house after his death throughout her widowhood" (Maim. Yad, Ishut 12:1; Sh. Ar., EH 59:1–2); but they become due only upon her husband's death, since the ketubbah is "like a debt payable at some future date and will be recoverable only after the husband's death…" (Maim. Yad, Ishut, 16:3; Sh. Ar., EH 93:1). Since the said rights accrue to the widow by virtue of her ketubbah, they do not exist if she has lost her right to the ketubbah (see *Divorce).
Inasmuch as the rights of the widow arise upon her marriage and not upon the husband's death, he cannot prejudice them by his will, and any testamentary disposition to the effect that the widow shall not be entitled to her ketubbah or maintenance out of his estate is void (Ket. 68b; Sh. Ar., EH 69:2; 93:3). No express reference need be made to these rights in the ketubbah deed since they arise upon the marriage as a condition laid down by the bet din (tenai bet din), i.e., by virtue of law, although they are based upon her being entitled to a ketubbah (Ket. 52b; Sh. Ar., loc. cit).
SATISFACTION OF THE WIDOW'S RIGHTS OUT OF THE ESTATE
According to talmudic law, a widow can enforce her ketubbah and its provisions, including maintenance, only against the immovable property which forms part of the estate (Ket. 81b; Sh. Ar., EH 100:1). However, since the development of trade and the decrease of landholding among Jews led creditors to rely also upon the movables of debtors for repayment of their debts, the geonim ordained that the movable property of the estate should also be attachable for the widow's rights (Tos. Ket. 51a; Rosh to Ket. ch. 6:5; Sh. Ar., EH 100:1). Since the time of Maimonides, it has become customary to include in every ketubbah deed a provision rendering the husband's movable property so attachable, whether acquired at the date of the marriage or to be acquired by him thereafter (Maim. Yad, Ishut, 16:8; see *Lien).
SATISFACTION OF THE WIDOW'S RIGHTS AGAINST PURCHASERS
The husband's property being subject to the ketubbah, the widow may, in the event of the estate being insufficient to cover it, follow the property in the hands of the purchasers, i.e., recover the amount of the ketubbah out of immovable property which the husband or his heirs have transferred to others. This remedy, however, is not available with regard to movables so transferred, since, contrary to the case of immovable property, where the purchaser can be required first to find out whether the vendor can indeed transfer it free from all encumbrances, in the case of movables, owing to regulations of furthering commerce (takkanot ha-shuk), that
THE WIDOW'S MAINTENANCE
The widow is generally entitled to receive the same maintenance as she was entitled to receive during the husband's lifetime. The same rules therefore apply, e.g., maintenance will include clothing, residence, medical expenses, use of household articles, and the like. Similarly, the principle also applies that "she rises with him but does not descend with him," i.e., that she is entitled to the same standard of maintenance she was entitled to during her late husband's lifetime (Ket. 48a and 103a; Sh. Ar., EH 94:1 and 5). To some extent her said right to maintenance is affected by the very fact of her widowhood, since the personal relationship upon which her rights were based during her husband's lifetime is now absent, and she is now alone, so that her requirements are reduced. For this reason, although entitled to reside in the same apartment in which she lived with her husband, she is no longer entitled to occupy the whole of it if she, being alone, is not in need of it even in order to maintain her social status (Sh. Ar., EH 94:1; Rema ad loc. and commentaries PD 19, pt. 2 (1965), 338). Similarly, she is not entitled to transfer ownership of the apartment to others nor to let the whole or part of it, since the right of residence is conferred upon her in order to enable her to maintain her social status but not to make a profit (Sh. Ar., loc. cit.). The right of the widow with regard to the apartment is merely to have the use of it; therefore, upon her death, it returns to the heirs of the husband only, and does not form part of her estate (Beit Shemu'el 94, n. 4).
This right of residence is not affected by sale of the apartment by the heirs, and the new owner cannot evict the widow from it (Sh. Ar., EH 94:4). Where the widow is unable to live in the apartment, for instance, if it is destroyed, she is entitled to receive out of the estate an amount necessary for renting another suitable apartment (Ḥelkat Meḥokek 94, nos. 6, 7). If the widow survives with small children of the husband, both boys and girls, and the estate is insufficient to maintain all of them, her right prevails; if, however, the young children surviving with her are either all boys or all girls, they all take equally (Ket. 43a and Tos. ad loc.; note the alternative opinion in Sh. Ar., EH 93:4; see also EH 113:6 regarding the priority of the widow's maintenance to the right of the daughters to their dowry out of the estate, and for the reason for the aforesaid distinction, see Beit Shemu'el and Ḥelkat Meḥokek to EH 93:8–9).
THE WIDOW'S CLAIM FOR PAST MAINTENANCE
A widow is entitled to maintenance, also for the time prior to her claim, since there is no reason to assume that she has waived her right to it. This contrasts with the right to maintenance of a wife who is entitled to it only as from the date of claim onward. If the widow has not claimed for a long period – such as when, being a wealthy woman, she delays for three years or, being poor, she delays for two years – she is presumed to have waived the past maintenance unless the presumption is rebutted by the facts, such as by the fact of her right having been secured by a pledge or mortgage (EH 93:14 and see *Limitation of Actions).
THE WIDOW'S RIGHT TO HER EARNINGS AND THE INCOME FROM HER PROPERTY
Parallel to the rule prevailing during the husband's lifetime concerning his right to the wife's earnings, the heirs are entitled to the widow's earnings in consideration of her maintenance (Sh. Ar., EH 95:1). On the other hand, they are not entitled to the income from her property, as is the husband to the income from the wife's property – since to the husband it is due in consideration of her redemption only, i.e., of his obligation to ransom her if she is taken captive so that she can return and live with him as his wife, a reason not applicable in respect of the heirs. Correspondingly, the heirs are under no obligation to ransom her either when she has fallen into captivity or finds herself in a similar situation, for instance, when she cannot return from abroad except upon payment of a considerable sum which she does not possess (Ket. 52a; Yad, Ishut, 18:5 and 8; Sh. Ar., EH 78:8; 94:7; 94:4).
EXPIRATION OF THE WIDOW'S RIGHT TO MAINTENANCE
Since the widow is entitled to maintenance by virtue of the provisions of the ketubbah (see above), i.e., only while entitled to the ketubbah, her right to maintenance will expire upon her no longer being entitled to the ketubbah, i.e., if she has lost her right to it by virtue of law or if she has actually
The widow's right to maintenance also ceases if she remarries (see *Marriage), because under the ketubbah, which is the source of her right, she is entitled to maintenance during widowhood only. According to most of the authorities, she even loses her maintenance upon her engagement for a new marriage – although by it alone she does not create a new personal status – because by it she shows that she no longer wishes to preserve the honor of her first husband and remain his widow (Ket. 52b; 54a; Sh. Ar., EH 93:7 and Rema ad loc.).
THE PROBLEM OF DENIAL OF MAINTENANCE BY INVOLUNTARY RECEIPT OF THE KETUBBAH
Since the widow – if she has not lost her right to maintenance otherwise (see above) – is entitled to maintenance only so long as she has not received or claimed her ketubbah by legal process, opinion was divided already in the time of the Mishnah as to whether the heirs may compel her to receive it and thereby be released from their obligation to maintain her. It was finally decided that this question depends upon custom, because maintenance of the widow is one of the provisions of the ketubbah, and in all matters relating to the ketubbah, "local custom," i.e., the custom of the place of marriage, applies, such custom being considered a condition of the marriage and therefore not to be varied but with the consent of both spouses (Sh. Ar., EH 93:3 and Ḥelkat Meḥokek, n. 5). According to the custom of the people of Jerusalem and Galilee, the choice lay with the widow alone, and therefore they inserted in the ketubbah deed a term, "You shall dwell in my house and be maintained in it out of my estate throughout the duration of your widowhood" (Ket. 52b; 54a and Tos. ad loc.). According to the custom of the people of Judea, however, the choice was left with the heirs, and there the corresponding term in the ketubbah deed was therefore, "until the heirs shall wish to pay you your ketubbah" (ibid.). As regards this difference in custom it was said that, while the people of Jerusalem cared for their honor, the people of Judea cared for their money (TJ, 4:15, 29b). The halakhah was decided in accordance with the custom of Jerusalem and Galilee, i.e., whenever there is no other fixed custom or rabbinical takkanah, the choice lies solely with the widow, and the heirs cannot deprive her of maintenance against her wishes (Ket. 54a and Tos. ad loc.; Yad, Ishut, 18:1; Sh. Ar., EH 93:3; and see *Conflict of Laws).
Inasmuch as economic conditions during marriage may so change that the estate might be insufficient to provide both for the maintenance of the widow and for inheritance for the heirs – a state of affairs which the husband certainly did not intend – many of the authorities were of the opinion that it is proper to make a takkanah permitting the heirs to deprive the widow of her maintenance by payment to her (against her will) of her ketubbah (Rema EH 93:3 and Pitḥei Teshuvah thereto, n. 5). Accordingly, various takkanot were made in the matter and the most well known, cited also in the Shulḥan Arukh, are those known as the Takkanot of Toledo, Spain, of the 13th century, which in their main provisions laid down that the heirs may discharge their obligation for the widow's maintenance by payment unto her of her ketubbah, which, if it amounts to more than half the value of the estate, shall be deemed to be discharged by payment unto her of half such value (Resp. Rosh 55; Sh. Ar, EH 118 and commentaries).
In Ereẓ Israel there is a distinction between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. The former follow the author of the Shulḥan Arukh, i.e., that the choice lies with the widow alone and the heirs cannot rid themselves of the obligation for her maintenance against her wishes (Sh. Ar., EH 93:3). The Ashkenazim permit the heirs to do so by payment unto the widow of the ketubbah even if she does not agree to it. That is certainly the situation when the widow was the second wife of the deceased, but it is also customary with a first wife, although the rabbinical courts endeavor to get the parties to agree to a fair arrangement under which the widow will not lose her maintenance. At any rate, the heirs are not entitled to evict the widow from the marital home, and she is to be provided with the household utensils and silverware forming part of the estate, the size of the estate being taken into account (Pithei Teshuvah, nos. 5 and 6 to Sh. Ar., EH 93; Sha'arei Uzzi'el, 2 (1946), 244, nos. 14, 15; Beit Me'ir, EH 93:3; 94:1).
THE STATE OF ISRAEL
As to the personal status of the widow in the State of Israel, the rules of the halakhah generally apply, both in the rabbinical courts and in the secular civil courts, in the latter except insofar as private international law imports other rules. With regard to the widow's financial rights, however, the Succession Law of 1965 provides that the halakhah shall apply in the rabbinical courts alone, and only if all the interested parties have expressed their consent to it in writing (sec. 155). Failing such consent, jurisdiction is in the civil courts alone, and these apply the provisions of the said law only (secs. 148 and 151). Under these provisions the widow is entitled to a part of the estate as an heir. In addition, if she is in need of it, she is also entitled to maintenance out of the estate; the amount of such maintenance is fixed by the court, taking into account all the circumstances, and particularly to what she is entitled as an heir and the extent of her ketubbah (secs. 56–65).
[Ben-Zion (Benno) Schereschewsky]
G.R. Driver and J.C. Miles, The Assyrian Laws (1935); idem, The Babylonian Laws (1952); H.L. Ginsberg, The Legend of King Keret (1946); M. Held, in: Leshonenu, 18 (1953), 117, 154–5; A. van Selms, Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature (1954); M. Weinfeld, in: Tarbiz, 31 (1962), 1–17; F.C. Fensham, in: JNES, 21 (1962), 129–39; A.L. Oppenheim et al. (eds.), The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (1963), 362–64; A.F. Rainey, A Social
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