Jewish Marriages

In the Torah, the verb used for marriage is to "take" a women. The Mishnah noted that a man acquires a woman in one of three ways: (1) money, (2) contract, and (3) sexual intercourse.




Money was defined as anything of known value. If a man handed such an object to a woman in front of two witnesses, and she accepted it, they were married. Originally this buying process involved a coin. Early on, this coin was hollowed out to make a ring. In order for the ring to be known value, it had to be of solid metal and could contain no jewels.




One of the three ways a marriage took place in Jewish tradition was by contract. The marriage contract was called the "Ketuban", the written document, and its form was defined quite stringently by the sages. It included the complete names of the participants, defined the marital status and price of the bride, stated the terms of the dowry, and included the price of a divorce.




The third means of acquiring a wife was by sexual intercourse. The sages opposed this method as immoral and demeaning, but they recognized sexual intercourse as legally binding a couple in marriage.


Blessings and Customs


The actual legal wedding ceremony would take less than one minute. That's not enough ritualizing time. The sages added seven blessings called the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings). Legally, they are not necessary for the marriage to be binding, but they include the Divine more directly in the proceedings by praising God for creating man and woman.


Over the years many customs have developed around the wedding ceremony. Rav Ashi once attended a wedding feast where there was too much levity. He took an expensive glass and smashed it. In reply to the shocked silence, he said, "Into every joyous occasion, there should be some sorrow," and left. This is one explanation for the origin of breaking a glass at a wedding.


Another anti-evil spirit custom is to have both bride and groom wear white, a color the demons despised. In addition, the bride would circle the chuppah seven times, and the guests would carry lit candles, all believed to be very effective at keeping away evil spirits.


Men and Women


Men and women, although dependent on one another for the good of the community, are separate. The woman, due to her inability to control her menstrual bleeding is ostracized towards the natural realm. During her period she is considered impure. Both traditions consider this a time of impurity, but the rationalist uses this as a distinction between culture and nature. The man is part of the cultural realm. He separates himself from the female and attempts to impose order, there-by becoming more God-like. He is constrained by the limits of time, and she is not. Basically the roles here are complimentary, but not so much intertwined. In the mystic tradition, the female role is more symbolic, and man and woman form a union. They don't compliment one another, they create one another.


Fertility Customs


There are numerous marriage customs associated with wishing the couple fertility. The most common is throwing rice, wheat, nuts, or candies at the groom, especially after he is called to the Torah on the Shabbat before the wedding (called the aufruf, the calling). Others include serving fish at the wedding meal; having the bride jump over a brass bowl filled with live fish as people call, "May you be as fertile as the fish"; and having the bride hold a baby boy at the wedding feast.


In the old days, the wedding took place outdoors at night, to serve as a reminder that God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5).




Intercourse does not have only one purpose in the Jewish tradition. Reproduction is certainly necessary in furthering the Community of Israel, but the act itself should be the creation of intimacy, peace, companionship, and delight. Lastly, both traditions agree on the woman's duties in the home.


She is a mother and her responsibilities include raising and teaching the children, preparing meals, cleaning, and preparing for the rituals.(especially those that are meal oriented) The rationalist differs in its interpretation of the perfect order.


The Ketubah


The tradition included all three of these methods within the marriage ceremony. Before the wedding, the ketubah is signed and read as part of the ceremony.


The groom gives the bride a ring and says, "With this ring, you are consecrated to me as my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel”. In most modern, liberal ceremonies, the bride and groom exchange rings.