Judaism considers marriage to be
the ideal state of existence; a man without a wife, or a woman
without a husband, are considered incomplete.
In traditional Jewish society, from the era of the Talmud up to the
enlightenment, social association of the sexes was usually
restricted. In Orthodox Jewish communities these social restrictions
are still in force.
Engagement for marriage was generally brought about by a third
person, often a professional match-maker ("shadchan"). The process
is called Shidduchim (Hebrew: matches). The shadchan received a
brokerage-fee fixed by law, as a rule a small percentage of the
dowry. It was paid by either of the parties, or each paid one-half,
at the betrothal or after the wedding. The rabbi, as a person
enjoying special confidence, was also often employed as
intermediary. Although the marriage preliminaries were the concern
of the parents, their children were not forced into marriage over
The marriage ceremony is based on the rules for transfer of property
or of rights in antiquity. In marriage, the woman accepts a ring (or
something of value) from the man, accepting the terms of the
marriage. This is called betrothal, or kiddushin or erusin. A
prenuptial agreement (ketubah) is read publicly. Witnesses are
required for both the signing of the ketubah and the ceremonies.
Finally the couple are joined in matrimony under the chuppah, in the
ceremony of Nissuin, symbolizing their setting up house together.
Very often the chuppah is made of an outstretched tallit (Jewish
prayer shawl), but it can be any sort of canopy.
At the giving of the ring the groom makes a declaration "You are
consecrated to me, through this ring, according to the religion of
Israel." Traditionally there is no
verbal response on the part of the bride. She accepts the ring on
her finger, and closes her hand, signifying acceptance. Conservative
and Reform Jews however, create new minhagim (customs) in the
wedding ceremony. Today most non-traditional Jewish women respond by
giving a ring to the groom, and recite an appropriate passage, such
as the famous verse from the Song of Songs, Ani l'dodi v'dodi Li ("I
am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me", Song of Songs 6:3).
The ceremony reaches its climax with both the bride and groom
drinking wine. The groom then steps on the wine glass to break it.
The origin of this custom is shrouded in history, and various
understandings of this custom exist:
The oldest source seems to be from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate
Berachot 31a; it has a story about the wedding of Rav Ashi's son.
When the celebrants began to get carried away, Ashi brought out and
broke a crystal glass in front of them. The interpretation by the
Tosafot (early medieval Talmudic commentators) is that even during
moments of great celebration, one must maintain proper decorum. It
may be related to the belief that it is best to temper one's joy, in
order to avert inviting bad fortune.
The breaking of the glass
represents the Jewish community's continuing sorrow of the
destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; no celebration is totally
complete without the Temple.
Kabbalists(adherents of Jewish mysticism), this custom is said to be a
reminder of the broken fragments of Creation, and our need to engage
in Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world on a spiritual level.
Ancient methods of betrothal
In the past, a Jewish betrothal could be contracted in three ways (Mishna,
tractate Kiddushim 1:1):
With money (as when a man hands a woman an object of value, such as
a ring or a coin, for the purpose of contracted marriage, and in the
presence of two witnesses, and she actively accepts); Through a
shtar, a contract containing the betrothal declaration phrased as
"through this contract"; or By sexual intercourse with the intention
of creating a bond of marriage, a method strongly discouraged by the
Today only the betrothal ceremony involving the object of value,
almost always a ring, is practiced, but the others may be fallen
back upon should a halachic dispute occur.
The ketubah lays out rights of the wife (to monetary payments upon
termination of the marriage by death or divorce), and obligations of the
husband (providing food, shelter, clothing, and sexual satisfaction to
the wife). Due its overriding importance, it was not written in the
Hebrew language, but in Aramaic, the lingua franca of Jews at the time
the first Ketubot became standardized.
Orthodox Judaism uses a traditional
ketubah based on the forms that have evolved and standardized over the
past millennium. There are minor variations between Orthodox groups, but
none of major legal or theological difference. While Jews today no
longer speak Aramaic, Orthodox ketubot are still in this tongue.
Nowadays many Orthodox ketubot also have English translations.\
Shidduch - The very first stage of a traditional Jewish
marriage, is the shidduch, or matchmaking.
families have met, and the young couple have decided to marry, the
families usually announce the occasion with a small reception, known
as a vort.
- At the reception itself, the first thing usually done is the
completion, signing and witnessing of the ketuvah, or marriage
- After the signing of the ketuvah, which is usually accompanied by
some light snacks and some hard liquor for the traditional lechaims
(the Jewish salute when drinking, which means, "to life!"), the
groom does the bedekin, or "veiling."
- The next stage is known as the chuppah, or "canopy." The chuppah
is a embroidered cloth stretched or supported over four poles, and
is often carried by attendants to the location where the ceremony
will take place. It is meant to symbolize the home which the couple
will build together. Embroidered cloth usually used is a tallit.
Kiddushin - The groom, now takes a plain gold ring and places it
on the finger of the bride, and recites in the presence of two
witnesses, "Behold you are sanctified (betrothed) to me with this
ring, according to the Law of Moses and
Sheva Brachos - After this, the sheva brachos, or seven
blessings, are recited, either by one Rabbi, or at many weddings a
different blessing is given to various people the families wish to
yichud - Now that the couple are married they are accompanied by
dancing guests to the cheder yichud, "the room of privacy."
The Laws of "Family Purity" (taharat hamishpacha) have always been a
pre-requisite of the Jewish marriage. This requires a knowledge of the
menstrual Niddah laws which all Jewish brides and grooms have been
required to study and practice.
The Jewish concept of marriage is based on kiddushin (sanctification).
The wife and husband are publicly sanctified to each other in an
exclusive relationship. The rules regarding such sanctification, by
definition, are for a relationship between the Jews. The Jewish
declaration of marriage includes the phrase that the marriage is being
carried out by the laws of Moses and
Israel; such a declaration has no
meaning for a marriage ceremony between a Jew and a gentile. If any such
marriage is carried out Jews of course recognize the civil legitimacy of
such a ceremony, but accord it no religious legitimacy.
Civil versus religious marriages, and inter-faith marriages
There is an ongoing debate about inter-faith marriage in especially the
Jewish community. Traditionalists speak of a "Second Silent Holocaust."
Modernists see inter-faith marriages as a contribution to a
multicultural society that enriches lives. Similar debates occur in
other communities, for instance among the Roma people.
In the past, intermarriages were extremely rare, and were often the
result of a Jew rejecting their religion and heritage; in 1800s Europe
intermarriages often took place as the result of a conscious and
deliberate effort to assimilate into European society. Over the last
century the rate of intermarriage in the USA in particular has
skyrocketed, but most occur for different reasons. Most of these
intermarriages take place because the Jew has a much larger chance of
meeting a non-Jewish partner, and because many Jews in the USA are being
raised without a religious, observant upbringing, and without any
detailed formal Jewish education.
All branches of Orthodox Judaism, both Haredi and non-Haredi, refuse to
accept any validity of intermarriages. Reform Judaism and
Reconstructionist Judaism do not accept the Halakha (Jewish law) as
normative, so technically they do not have firm rules against it.
Therefore, under certain circumstances that must be discussed with the
rabbi beforehand, many Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis will
officiate at a marriage between a Jew and a gentile, as long as the
couple agrees to certain conditions. These conditions usually state that
the couple must raise the children as Jewish and provide them with some
sort of formal Jewish education. However some Reform and
Reconstrictionist Jews view intermarriage as a threat to the unity and
survival of the Jewish people, and many still discourage it.
There is a difference between a religious Jewish marriage and the
secular marriage. In the United States (and many other countries), when
a rabbi officiates at a wedding, it is de facto a legal wedding by the
law of the United States, as well; therefore, a rabbi cannot officiate
for you without a civil license. This is the secular (civil) marriage.
However, Kiddushin is a ceremony that can only take place between two
Jews. Many rabbis will not officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a
non-Jew because it is outside the realm of Jewish law and custom.
Jewish educators note that the vast majority of American Jews receive no
Jewish education whatsoever after age 13, and have no substantial
understanding of Judaism's theological, philosophical, and ethical
teachings. Some hold, therefore, that much intermarriage today, is thus
not a deliberate rejection of Judaism, but a choice to marry a person
that one has happened to meet.
If a gentile converts to Judaism in accord with Halakha (Jewish law) and
then marries a Jew, this by definition is considered a Jewish marriage,
not an intermarriage.
Halakha (Jewish law) allows for divorce. The document of divorce is
termed a get. The final divorce ceremony involves the husband giving the
get document into the hand of the wife or her agent, but the wife may
sue in rabbinical court to initiate the divorce.
Conservative Judaism follows most of the laws and traditions regarding
marriage and divorce as is found in Orthodox Judaism. One difference is
that the Conservative movement allows certain changes to be made in the
Ketubah (wedding document) to make it egalitarian. Often a clause is
added to prevent any possibility of the woman ever becoming agunah
(called "the Lieberman clause"). Most Orthodox Jews hold that this
modification is a violation of Jewish law, and this have devised a
separate prenuptial agreement external to the ketubah which has a
similar effect. In a recent development the Rabbinical Assembly, the
international assembly of Conservative rabbis, has also promoted the use
of a separate prenuptuial agreement, to be used in place of the
Lieberman clause. This is not because they have concerns about its
legitimacy, but rather about its effectiveness.
Reform Jews have traditionally not used a Ketubah at their weddings.
They instead usually use a short wedding certificate. They generally do
not issue Jewish divorces, seeing a civil divorce as both necessary and
sufficient. In recent years those in the traditional wing of Reform have
begun using egalitarian forms of the ketubah. Conservative and Orthodox
Judaism do not recognize civil law as overriding religious law, and thus
do not view a civil divorce as sufficient. Thus, a man or woman may be
considered divorced by the Reform Jewish community, but still married by
the Orthodox or Conservative community.
civil marriage does not exist in
Israel, the only institutionalized form
of marriage in
Israel is the religious one. I.e. marriage must be
conducted by a cleric. In specific, marriage of Israeli Jews must be
conducted according to Orthodox Jewish halakha. The subject of marriage
Israel is a very controversial subject, as secular and religious Jews
are at odds regarding the establishment of civil marriage in