Judaism believes in the concept of soul mates, called bashert
The primary purpose of marriage is love and companionship, not just childbearing
A contract called a ketubah spells out terms of marriage and divorce
Marriages between certain close relatives are prohibited
Children born out of wedlock are not bastards in Jewish law
The Torah provides very little guidance with
regard to the procedures of a marriage. The method of finding a spouse, the
form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship are
all explained in the Talmud.
Bashert: Soul Mates
According to the Talmud, Rav Yehuda taught that
40 days before a male child is conceived, a voice from heaven announces whose
daughter he is going to marry, literally a match made in heaven! In
Yiddish, this perfect match is called "bashert,"
a word meaning fate or destiny. The word "bashert" can be used to refer to any
kind of fortuitous good match, such as finding the perfect job or the perfect
house, but it is usually used to refer to one's soul mate. There are a number
of statements in the Talmud that would seem to contradict the idea of bashert,
most notably the many bits of advice on choosing a wife. Nevertheless, the idea
has a strong hold within the Jewish community: look at any listing of Jewish
personal ads and you're bound to find someone "Looking for my bashert."
Finding your bashert doesn't mean that your marriage will be trouble-free.
Marriage, like everything worthwhile in life, requires dedication, effort and
energy. Even when two people are meant for each other, it is possible for them
to ruin their marriage. That is why Judaism allows
Although the first marriage is bashert, it is still possible to have a good and
happy marriage with a second spouse. The Talmud teaches that
G-d also arranges second marriages, and a man's
second wife is chosen according to his merits.
How do you know if you have found your bashert? Should you hold off on marrying
someone for fear that the person you want to marry might not be your bashert,
and there might be a better match out there waiting for you? The traditional
view is that you cannot know who your bashert is, but once you get married, the
person you married is by definition your bashert, so you should not let
concerns about finding your bashert discourage you from marrying someone.
And while we're on the subject of G-d arranging marriages, I should share this
delightful midrash: it is said that a Roman
woman asked a rabbi, "if your G-d created the
universe in six days, then what has he been doing with his time since then?"
The rabbi said that G-d has been arranging marriages. The Roman woman scoffed
at this, saying that arranging marriages was a simple task, but the rabbi
assured her that arranging marriages properly is as difficult as parting the
Red Sea. To prove the rabbi wrong, the Roman woman went home and took a
thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves and matched them up in
marriages. The next day, the slaves appeared before her, one with a cracked
skull, another with a broken leg, another with his eye gouged out, all asking
to be released from their marriages. The woman went back to the rabbi and said,
"There is no god like your G-d, and your Torah is
Acquiring a Spouse
Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1 specifies that a woman is
acquired (i.e., to be a wife) in three ways: through money, a contract, and
sexual intercourse. Ordinarily, all three of these conditions are satisfied,
although only one is necessary to effect a binding marriage.
Acquisition by money is normally satisfied by the wedding ring. It is important
to note that although money is one way of "acquiring" a wife, the woman is not
being bought and sold like a piece of property or a slave. This is obvious from
the fact that the amount of money involved is nominal (according to the
Mishnah, a perutah, a copper coin of the lowest
denomination, was sufficient). In addition, if the woman were being purchased
like a piece of property, it would be possible for the husband to resell her,
and clearly it is not. Rather, the wife's acceptance of the money is a symbolic
way of demonstrating her acceptance of the husband, just like acceptance of the
contract or the sexual intercourse.
To satisfy the requirements of acquisition by money, the ring must belong to
the groom. It cannot be borrowed, although it can be a gift from a relative. It
must be given to the wife irrevocably. In addition, the ring's value must be
known to the wife, so that there can be no claim that the husband deceived her
into marrying by misleading her as to its value.
In all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired only with her
consent, and not without it. Kiddushin 2a-b.
As part of the wedding ceremony, the husband gives the wife a ketubah. The word
"Ketubah" comes from the root Kaf-Tav-Beit, meaning
"writing." The ketubah is also called the marriage contract. The ketubah spells
out the husband's obligations to the wife during marriage, conditions of
inheritance upon his death, and obligations regarding the support of children
of the marriage. It also provides for the wife's support in the event of
divorce. There are standard conditions; however,
additional conditions can be included by mutual agreement. Marriage agreements
of this sort were commonplace in the ancient Semitic world.
The ketubah has much in common with prenuptial agreements, which are gaining
popularity in the United States. In the U.S., such agreements were historically
disfavored, because it was believed that planning for divorce would encourage
divorce, and that people who considered the possibility of divorce shouldn't be
marrying. Although one rabbi in the
Talmud expresses a similar opinion, the majority
maintained that a ketubah discouraged divorce, by serving as a constant
reminder of the husband's substantial financial obligations if he divorced his wife.
The ketubah is often a beautiful work of calligraphy, framed and displayed in
The Process of Marriage: Kiddushin and Nisuin
The process of marriage occurs in two distinct stages: kiddushin (commonly
translated as betrothal) and nisuin (full-fledged marriage). Kiddushin occurs
when the woman accepts the money, contract or sexual relations offered by the
prospective husband. The word "kiddushin" comes from the
root Qof-Dalet-Shin, meaning "sanctified." It
reflects the sanctity of the marital relation. However, the root word also
connotes something that is set aside for a specific (sacred) purpose, and the
ritual of kiddushin sets aside the woman to be the wife of a particular man and
Kiddushin is far more binding than an engagement as we understand the term in
modern English; in fact, Rambam speaks of a period of engagement before
the kiddushin. Once kiddushin is complete, the woman is legally the wife of the
man. The relationship created by kiddushin can only be dissolved by death or
divorce. However, the spouses do not live together at the time of the
kiddushin, and the mutual obligations created by the marital relationship do
not take effect until the nisuin is complete.
The nisuin (from a word meaning "elevation") completes the process of marriage.
The husband brings the wife into his home and they begin their married life
In the past, the kiddushin and nisuin would routinely occur as much as a year
apart. During that time, the husband would prepare a home for the new family.
There was always a risk that during this long period of separation, the woman
would discover that she wanted to marry another man, or the man would
disappear, leaving the woman in the awkward state of being married but without
a husband. Today, the two ceremonies are normally performed together.
Because marriage under Jewish law is essentially a private contractual
agreement between a man and a woman, it does not require the presence of a
rabbi or any other religious official. It is
common, however, for rabbis to officiate, partly in imitation of the Christian
practice and partly because the presence of a religious or civil official is
required under United States civil law.
As you can see, it is very easy to make a marriage, so the rabbis instituted
severe punishments (usually flogging and compelled divorce) where marriage was
undertaken without proper planning and solemnity.
A Typical Wedding Ceremony
It is customary for the bride and groom not to see each other for a week
preceding the wedding. On the Shabbat of that
week, it is customary among Ashkenazic Jews
for the groom to have an aliyah (the honor of
reciting a blessing over the Torah reading).
This aliyah is known as an ufruf. There are exuberant celebrations in the
synagogue at this time. Throwing candy at the bride and groom to symbolize the
sweetness of the event is common (Soft candy, of course! Usually Sunkist Fruit
Gems, which are kosher).
Traditionally, the day before the wedding, both the bride and the groom fast.
Before the ceremony, the bride is veiled, in remembrance of the fact that
Rebecca veiled her face when she was first brought to
Isaac to be his wife.
The ceremony itself lasts 20-30 minutes, and consists of the kiddushin and the
nisuin. For the kiddushin, the bride approaches and circles the groom. Two
blessings are recited over wine: one the standard blessing over wine and the
other regarding the commandments related to marriage. The man then places the
ring on woman's finger and says "Be sanctified (mekudeshet) to me with this
ring in accordance with the law of Moses and
After the kiddushin is complete, the ketubah is read aloud.
The nisuin then proceeds. The bride and groom stand beneath the chuppah, a
canopy held up by four poles, symbolic of their dwelling together and of the
husband's bringing the wife into his home. The importance of the chuppah is so
great that the wedding ceremony is sometimes referred to as the chuppah. The
bride and groom recite seven blessings (sheva
brakhos) in the presence of a minyan (prayer
quorum of 10 adult Jewish men). The essence of each of the seven blessings is:
- ... who has created everything for his glory
- ... who fashioned the Man
- ... who fashioned the Man in His image ...
- ... who gladdens Zion through her children
- ... who gladdens groom and bride
- ... who created joy and gladness ... who gladdens the groom with the bride
- and the standard prayer over wine.
The couple then drinks the wine.
The groom smashes a glass (or a small symbolic piece of glass) with his right
foot, to symbolize the destruction of the Temple.
The couple then retires briefly to a completely private room, symbolic of the
groom bringing the wife into his home.
This is followed by a festive meal, which is followed by a repetition of the
sheva brakhos. Exuberant music and dancing traditionally accompany the ceremony
and the reception.
You will rarely hear the traditional "Here Comes the Bride" wedding march at a
Jewish wedding. This song, more accurately known as the Bridal Chorus from
Lohengrin, was written by antisemitic composer Richard Wagner. He was
Hitler's favorite composer, and it is said that the Nazis used to broadcast
Wagner's songs over the concentration camps. For this reason, Jews have been
understandably reluctant to play his music at our weddings. Awareness of this
historical tidbit is fading, though, as is that reluctance.
The Marital Relationship
Marriage is vitally important in Judaism. Refraining from marriage is not
considered holy, as it is in some other religions. On the contrary, it is
considered unnatural. The Talmud says that an
unmarried man is constantly thinking of sin. The Talmud tells of a
rabbi who was introduced to a young unmarried
rabbi. The older rabbi told the younger one not to come into his presence again
until he was married.
Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, for the purpose of procreation.
Traditional sources recognize that companionship, love and intimacy are the
primary purposes of marriage, noting that woman was created in Gen. 2:18
because "it is not good for man to be alone," rather than because she was
necessary for procreation.
According to the Torah and the
Talmud, a man was permitted to marry more than
one wife, but a woman could not marry more than one man. Although polygyny was
permitted, it was never common. The Talmud never mentions any
rabbi with more than one wife. Around 1000
Jewry banned polygyny because of pressure from the predominant Christian
culture. It continued to be permitted for
Sephardic Jews in Islamic lands for many
years. To the present day, Yemenite and
Ethiopian Jews continue to practice polygyny;
however, the modern state of Israel allows only
one wife. Those who move to Israel with more than one wife are permitted to
remain married to all of the existing wives, but cannot marry additional ones.
A husband is responsible for providing his wife with food, clothing and
sexual relations (Ex. 21:10), as well as anything
else specified in the ketubah. Marital sexual relations are the woman's right,
not the man's. A man cannot force his wife to engage in sexual relations with
him, nor is he permitted to abuse his wife in any way (a practice routinely
permitted in Western countries until quite recently).
A married woman retains ownership of any property she brought to the marriage,
but the husband has the right to manage the property and to enjoy profits from
Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children
The minimum age for marriage under Jewish law is 13 for boys, 12 for girls;
however, the kiddushin can take place before that, and often did in medieval
times. The Talmud recommends that a man marry at
age 18, or somewhere between 16 and 24.
The Torah sets forth a laundry list of prohibited
relations. Such marriages are never valid. A man cannot marry certain close
blood relatives, the ex-wives of certain close blood relatives, a woman who has
not been validly divorced from her previous husband, the daughter or
granddaughter of his ex-wife, or the sister of his ex-wife during the ex-wife's
life time. For a complete list, see 613 Mitzvot
The offspring of forbidden marriages are mamzerim (bastards, illegitimate), and
subject to a variety of restrictions; however it is important to note that only
the offspring of these incestuous or forbidden marriages are mamzerim. Children
born out of wedlock are not mamzerim in Jewish law and bear no stigma, unless
the marriage would have been prohibited for the reasons above. Children of a
married man and a woman who is not his wife are not mamzerim (because the
marriage between the parents would not have been prohibited), although children
of a married woman and a man who is not her husband are mamzerim (because she
could not have married him).
There are other classes of marriages that are not permitted, but that are valid
if they occur and that do not make the children mamzerim. The marriage of
minors, of a Jew to a non-Jew, and of a kohein to
the prohibited classes of women discussed below fall into this category.
A kohein is not permitted to marry a divorcee, a convert, a promiscuous woman,
a woman who is the offspring of a forbidden marriage to a kohein, or a woman
who is the widow of a man who died childless but who has been released from the
obligation to marry her husband's brother. A kohein who marries such a woman is
disqualified from his duties as a kohein, as are all the offspring of that marriage.
© Copyright 5756-5771 (1996-2011), Tracey R Rich
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