Jewish wedding in Aleppo in 1914 Marriage is one of the most important Jewish acts because it fulfills a command by God in Genesis "to bear fruit and multiply." Marriage is regarded as the cornerstone of both family and community life. Celibacy is considered unnatural. Rabbis marry and unions between cousins and uncles and nieces are permitted.
Marriage and wedding customs and traditions vary to some degree in accordance with the country of origin and the degree in which the couple is Orthodox or liberal however there are many common elements regardless of the couple’s background.
Some of the Old Testament’s greatest figures either slept with someone other than their wives or had multiple wives, Abraham slept with with his wife’s servant after discovering that his wife was infertile and Jacob fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants). David, Soloman and the kings of Judah and Israel were all polygamists.
The Judea-Christian-Islamic tradition places great significance on marriage and give it high symbolic value. Marriage is not meant to be taken lightly and breaking up a marriage is regarded as something that must be avoided at all costs. By contrast in some societies (mostly small isolated communities) men and men simply live together, and no great fanfare is made about their union.
Samson and Delilah Ancient Hebrews were both monogamists and polygamists and had laws that required men to marry the their brother’s widow if the dead brother had no son. Abraham, Moses and David all had more than one wife. Solomon reportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
The oldest known marriage certificate was a Jewish one, dated to the 5th century B.C., found at the Jewish garrison off Elephantine in Egypt. It was a contract for an exchange of six cows for a 14-year-old girl. A revised marriage law adopted in the 1st century A.D. is virtually the same as the one used today. In the 17th century marriage rings featured a small house-shaped bezel, where a tiny Torah was stored.
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
Types of Jewish Marriage
Jewish wedding ring Since it is regarded as a bad thing for a Jew to marry a non Jew, a great efforts has been traditionally made to find a marriage partner for a young man or woman within the Jewish community. In the old days, matchmakers known as shiddach were hired.
Polygamy is permitted in Judaism but is restricted by clauses in the marriage contract and has traditionally been very rare. In the old days polygamy was practiced in some Jewish communities. In Syria for example, men were allowed to look for a new wife if their first one failed to produce a child in ten years.
Levirate marriages in which a widow married her husband's brother is an old tradition. It was developed to make sure the widow was looked after. In the halizah ritual the brother can be discharged from his duty if the widow removes his shoe.
According to Jewish law uncles may marry nieces but aunts may not marry nephews. Marriage to all four first cousin types is permitted. Unlike, a Muslim a Jewish man can remarry his former wife if she had not married another man before the remarriage.
Rabbis have traditionally warned Jews not to marry outside their faith. Finding rabbis to marry mixed couples used to be difficult—most Orthodox rabbis still refuse to conduct the wedding ceremonies—and Jewish parents literally donned morning clothes if their child married a gentile. These days mixed marriages are more accepted and even Orthodox rabbis unwilling to perform marriage ceremony will refer couples to a rabbi who will.
About one third of European Jews and half of American Jews marry non-Jewish spouses. Only about a forth of interfaith couples raise their children as Jews. Couples that try to raise their children with two faiths find that the children get confused.
One man, who had married a non-Jew, told the Independence, "I visited the synagogue quite frequently, and I was going to touch the Torah during a service. But then someone whispered in the ear of the rabbi, and was stopped and they told me, 'You're not married within the faith, you can't go tot he Torah,' Within seconds I was reduced to a persona non grata in the synagogue, and didn't feel like going there again."
A non-Jewish women who married to Jewish man said her children can light candles, attend religious classes but are not allowed to bless the Torah during rituals such as bar mitzvahs.
Jewish Marriage Contract
Wedding Chupah As is true with a Christian marriage, a Jewish marriage is a legal contract entered willingly by the bride and groom and validated by witnesses. The Ketuhah is the traditional marriage contract. According to Jewish law, a couple may not live together until the Ketubah is drawn up and signed by witnesses who have traditionally put their names on the document after the bride’s family passes a kerchief to the groom’s family.
The Ketubah is often a richly decorated document with a text written in Aramaic. It states the husband’s obligation to his wife according to the codes of Jewish law and regulations in the Talmud. The provisions are binding and are set up as protection for the wife. Among other things it provides for the repayment of the bride price in the event of a divorce of death.
Jewish Orthodox Wedding
Jewish weddings are held at synagogues, homes, wedding halls, hotels or outdoors. They are usually not held on the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday. At Orthodox weddings, a minyian with at least 10 men must be present. On the day of the ceremony for an Orthodox wedding the bride and groom usually fast all day and say a special prayer in the afternoon.
During a wedding ceremony, the couple and their parents stand under a wedding canopy, or chuppah , symbolizing the marriage chamber or home. European Jews have traditionally set up the chuppah outside under the sky to recall God’s blessing to Abraham that his children will be as “numerous as the stars in Heaven.”
The bride usually wears a white dress and a veil over her head as a sign of purity. The groom wear yarmulke and a prayer shawl over a suit. Sometimes he has ashes placed on his forehead to recall the destruction of the Temple. For good luck the bride and groom have traditionally not looked at each other until the veil is lifted. The veil recalls Rachel’s deception when Jacob married Leah. The ceremony is usually conducted by a rabbi. Chants, music and prayers in Hebrew are provided by a cantor .
At an Orthodox ceremony the chuppah is held aloft by four men while the wedding ceremony is conducted. The mothers of the bride and groom accompany the bride as she walks to the chuppah and the fathers of the bride and groom accompany the groom as he walks to the chuppah.
Jewish Orthodox Wedding Ceremony
An Orthodox wedding ceremony is composed of two parts: the betrothal and the marriage. Most Jewish wedding ceremonies begin with an invocation and blessings given by the rabbi. He then asks the bride and groom if they “will take each other, promise to cherish and protect....whether in good fortune or in adversity and to seek together with her (him) a life hallowed by the faith of Israel.”
The groom usually gives the bride a ring—commonly a simple gold band—and declares: "Behold, you are betrothed to me by this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel. Blessed are you O Lord who makes bridegroom and bride to rejoice" The ring symbolizes the groom will wrap himself around his bride and protect her. Sometimes there is a formal veil lifting ceremony in which the groom lifts the veil after taking a sip of wine.
To mark the end of the betrothal part of the ceremony the rabbi reads the kutbah (marriage contract) aloud and the groom hands the ketubah to the bride before witnesses. Afterwards the marriage part of the ceremony begins. The Seven Blessings—based on the prayer: “We praise you Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine”—are read by either honored guests, close relatives or a rabbi.
Mazel Tov! The couple then shares a cup of wine and the groom breaks it symbolizing the destruction of the Temples, and the bride walks around the groom seven times, symbolizing the seven days God used to create the universe. Sometimes the couple then walks under a canopy after breaking the cup, symbolizing their first home and God watching over them.
After the ceremony the couple are allowed to enter a private room where they can spend a short amount of time alone. In the old days the bride and groom fed food to each other to symbolize support for each during their marriage. When they emerge from the room the couple are regarded as married. After the wedding guests wish the couple “ mazel tov ,” or good luck.
At a reform wedding: 1) the rabbi blesses the couple about to be married; 2) the ketubah is signed in a private room followed by the couple reciting a special prayer; 3) the rabbi says some opening words; 4) a prayer of gratitide is offered by the congregation followed by a speech about uniting couples by the rabbi; 5) the rabbis praises God and then the congregation praises God with special prayers; 6) the couples sips wine and says their vows; 8) the rabbi read the ketubah; 9) the rabbi and then the congregation says a closing prayer; 10) the groom break a glass with his foot.
Jewish Wedding Party
Weddings are a time of great celebration. Different communities have different customs but traditionally the ceremony was followed by feast hosted by the bride’s family that was supposed to be so lavish it brought them to the edge of bankruptcy.
There is a special commandment that states that a newlywed couple should be entertained at their wedding receptions. To achieve this a large party is held with music, dancing and food that formally begins after the bride and groom make a formal entrance and are introduced and Mr. And Mrs.
The party is usually held at a home or wedding hall. It has traditionally featured men and women gathering separately and doing line dances call the hora to Jewish folk music or klemzer music. The climax of the party is when the bride and groom are lifted on chairs surrounded by a circle of clapping and dancing guests honoring the newlyweds as they would a king and queen. At some parties the parents of the newlywed couple are also lifted.
For the next seven days newlywed Orthodox couples are supposed to eat a meal with a minyan in which the seven blessings recited at the wedding are repeated.
Jewish Marriage and Wedding Customs in Russia
Traditionally, in Russia, Jewish marriages were arranged by matchmakers and separate rituals took place at the bride’s and groom’s houses. Prior to a wedding, the marriage contacts was negotiated by the families of the bride and groom and an engagement party was held in which the bride brought clothing, decorations and pastries called lkakh .
On the day of the wedding, the bride was dressed in beautiful clothes and her head was covered with a kerchief and was serenaded with farewell songs by her friends. The groom arrived with his entourage but was not allowed to escort the bride and her entourage until the bride price was accepted by the bride’s friends.
As the wedding party made their way from the bride’s house to the groom’s house, people danced, sang and carried burning candles, lamps and torches. Friends of the groom threw rice and candles over the bride to bring her good luck and many children.
After the wedding there was a large party in which, guest would announce their wedding gifts and present them to the bride and groom, men performed dances and the bride and groom were lifted in separate chairs as was depicted in the film Fiddler on the Roof .
These days the families of the bride and groom often collectively host a single party and share the expenses. Guests bring envelopes with money and give them to a special collector. During the wedding part, a wedding cake is cut and served, traditionally Jewish foods are served, and dancing, singing and other activities are led by designated toastmasters. Guests take turns dancing with the bride and presenting her with money.
Jewish Marriage and Wedding Customs in Other Places
fancy chupah In Central Asia and parts of Russia, marriages were often arranged when the bride and groom were quite young. Matchmakers hired by the groom’s father searched for prospective brides. When one was found a bride price was offered, and a ceremonial betrothal meeting took place between the bride’s and groom’s family. At this meeting, the bride unveiled her face and bride and groom laid eyes on one another for the first time.
Seven days before the wedding, the bride’s dowry was displayed at party for the bride. A few days before the wedding the bride was cleansed in a ritual bath called a mikvah , the bride’s hands were painted with henna and the marriage contract was signed.
Before a wedding in some Middle Eastern Jewish communities, the bride and groom eat bread with their families, symbolizing that they will be well provided for, with honey for sweetness. Women often sing songs with a high-pitched voice to express their happiness for the bride.
See Hasidic Jews
Divorce is viewed by Jews as a last resort ("even the altar sheds tears" the Talmud reads when it happens). Jewish marriages may be dissolved in a witnessed procedure when the husband gives the wife a document that says she is free to marry another.
According to Jewish law, a divorce can only take place with permission of the husband. This creates problems if a husband disappears or refuses to grant permission for a divorce. Before the Ten Commandment a man could a divorce and throw his wife out on the street if he found "some uncleanness in her,” telling her "You are no longer my wife" before two witnesses. Rabbis have traditionally been prohibited from marrying divorcees or proselytes.
Jewish women do not enjoy the same rights as Jewish men when it comes to divorce but certain laws are have been written to protect them. In some countries Jewish women can easily get a civil divorce but are denied a religious one. If a divorced women get remarried and has children, ancient Jewish laws recognize these children as “mamzer.” In Britain, a Jewish women once got even with a husband who refused to grant her a divorce by invoking an old Jewish law, called nidui , which prevents any observant Jew from speaking to the husband or going within six meters of him.
Delacroix painting of a Jewish wedding in Morocco
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011