Articles on Talmidaism Theology
Betrothal and Wedding Customs
The ancient Israelite ritual of marriage falls into two parts: betrothal (erusīn) and marriage (nisu`īn) – the words in brackets are the Aramaic words for the two parts; overall, the institution of marriage itself is called qiddushīn. Biblical-style betrothal should not be understood in its modern sense – that of engagement or a mere promise to get married, but rather as an agreement of exclusivity to one another, which can only be annulled by a divorce. It is an agreement which, when entered into, is definite and binding upon both groom and bride, who are considered as man and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except that of actual cohabitation. After the betrothal ceremony, the two are legally considered man and wife.
The second part – the marriage ceremony – completed the matrimonial formalities, was accompanied with festivities, and allowed a husband and wife to live together and engage in physical relations with one another. It is thought that this custom of having a gap between betrothal and marriage was purely to ensure that any children born of the marriage were legitimately the offspring of the husband, and therefore the marriage ceremony usually took place 10 to 12 months after betrothal. If either party had previously been widowed, then this time could be reduced to 30 days.
Because of the influence of the peoples amongst whom Jewish people lived during the Second Temple period and after, there was pressure to make the time between betrothal and marriage as short as possible; it eventually got reduced to 7 days, and now in modern Judaism, betrothal and marriage are part of the same ceremony. I suppose with the advent of DNA testing, a long gap is no longer required. I would suggest maintaining the symbolic minimum period of 7 days between betrothal and marriage, simply to remind people of ancient custom – that this distinction existed. However, each Talmidi sect should decide what will be the custom within their communities, since it is not a matter that is covered by Torah.
Consent to Marry (shidduq)
At the time of betrothal, there had to be a formal consent between the two parties to marry. If either party refused, there could be no marriage. In the Israelite faith, a free person cannot be forced to marry; if one or both partners have no desire to marry, but are forced to and say yes to the marriage, the marriage is null and void in the eyes of God, even if it is legal in civil law.
It was customary to make out a formal contract to marry (shidduq), which included the stipulation that a penalty should be imposed upon either party, should either fail to fulfil his or her part of it. This formal contract – shidduq – was very much like the modern pre-nuptial agreement – what the parties brought into the marriage, what the parties’ expectations and obligations would be, and so on.
Betrothal ceremony (erusin)
Several Biblical passages refer to the negotiations which were requisite for the arranging of a marriage (Gen. 24; Song of Songs 8:8; Judges 14:2-7). They were conducted by members of the two families involved, or their representative (shadqan), and always required the consent of the prospective bride. Betrothal does not have to have both parties present (as long as they are fully aware of what is going on), but marriage does.
Gifts formed an important feature of betrothal and marriage customs. These were of several kinds. The gifts which the groom sent to his bride were called “massa” or “masset.” It was also customary for the male friends of the groom to send gifts, which sometimes took the form of donations of money, and were useful in assisting the groom to defray the expenses of the wedding festivities. These presents were termed “shoshbināta” (friendship-gifts), from the Aramaic “shoshbinā” (friend or neighbour), or perhaps alternatively from shoshba, the myrtle-bearing companions of the bridegroom (since after the betrothal ceremony, the groom’s friends waved myrtle branches).
As part of the betrothal gifts, the groom gives the gift of a ring to his bride. The ring represents the ‘bride-price’ given to the bride’s family in ancient times, and therefore has to be made of some kind of precious metal (i.e. it cannot be a symbolic ring made of plastic, thread, straw etc). The ring (without a stone or inscription) is placed on the wife’s right forefinger.
The shidduq is then signed, at which point the couple are legally husband and wife. There is then a small feast given in honour of the groom or his representative. After the feast, a cup of wine is drunk, and the husband/representative leaves, with a formal promise that the husband will return.
Between betrothal and wedding, the couple do not see each other; it was the custom between betrothal and marriage for the bride to live at her father’s house.
Marriage and hometaking (nisu`in)
Bride and groom are symbolically king and queen of the day, especially of the marriage feast. They are therefore suitably dressed like an Israelite king and queen. This would include white garments, red mantles, and crowns (of the simple ‘ring-crown’ type). Both man and woman have their heads covered (a shawl over the crown), to show that they are married.
For the marriage ceremony, the husband comes to his father-in-law’s house to take his wife home. On the night of the wedding, in the middle of the night, the husband arrives in his wedding carriage (Hebrew afiryon, Aramaic afurya), to fetch his wife, announced by a shofar blast. The shout goes out: “Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!” As the husband approaches the house, the wife veils her face.
The wife is conveyed in her own wedding carriage or palanquin, accompanied in procession by her bridesmaids carrying lamps or torches. In ancient times, other bridesmaids would clap, or play tambourines and ululey (a sound made by moving the tongue rapidly side to side in the mouth while calling out a single note). The ‘Song of Solomon’ is sung along the way of the procession.
In ancient times, the groom’s afurya was made of cedar, and the bride’s was made of acacia.
The destination of the procession in ancient times was the groom’s home (in modern times, for practical reasons, this can equally be the synagogue, while under a chuppah). At the husband’s new home, a ketubbah (marriage contract) was signed before 2 witnesses, and read aloud in Aramaic. A cup of wine is drunk, and the first blessing is said as a sign of rejoicing. Then a further six blessings are said over husband and wife underneath the chuppah:
- we bless God for creating the world, and at the same time honour those assembled at the wedding
iii. we acknowledge God’s physical creation of humanity
- we acknowledge God’s spiritual creation of humanity
- we pray for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple
- we express the hope that the bride and groom grow in their love for each other, focussing their love as exclusively as Adam and Eve, when there was no one else in the world.
vii. we pray for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom on earth, so that peace and tranquillity will reign over the whole world.
Because the exchange of rings was not originally part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, the wife gives her husband a ring immediately after the ceremony is formally over. In countries that are overwhelmingly Christian, this can be placed on the fourth finger of the left hand (called the ring-finger in Christian cultures). If the wife so wishes, she can then also move her own ring – given to her at her betrothal – to the fourth finger of her left hand.
As the couple leave for the bridal chamber, the groom’s friends hold myrtle branches over the couple as they leave, and nuts, flower heads and barley grains are showered over them.
Later in the day there is a wedding feast. It was considered an insult to refuse an invitation to a wedding feast in ancient times. Then, on seven consecutive nights, friends or relatives of the couple invite them to a meal in their homes.
Please note what we don’t do :
- The couple don’t fast before the wedding
- They don’t break a glass
These are both later additions to the ceremony, both in mourning for the Temple; our ethic is that we should not mourn at a wedding. Also note that the modern Jewish wedding ceremony is a mixture of the betrothal and marriage ceremonies; that is why at the modern rabbinical ceremony, there are two cups of wine. Originally the ring was put on the bride’s right forefinger at the betrothal ceremony, and then one cup of wine drunk.
The Essential elements of an Israelite wedding ceremony
There are several things that have to be present for a wedding to constitute a legal, Israelite wedding ceremony:
- A token exchange of an object of value (symbolised by the rings)
- The presence of 2 witnesses
- that the ceremony be conducted underneath a chuppah
- that there be a ketubbah (marriage certificate)
The chuppah originally represented the room in the groom’s home where a couple were to be left alone before the wedding ceremony, and symbolised the fact that the two belonged exclusively to each other. It has now also come to represent the Israelite home that will be built by the couple. During the ceremony, only the couple to be married stand under the chuppah.
A marriage is a contract between the two people involved. What makes it a legal contract in the sight of God, is the presence of two witnesses, the inclusion of blessings in the service, and the ketubbah. It goes without saying that the two parties involved should be in love with each other; a forced marriage, or one which is entered into where one or both parties do not intend to remain faithful to each other, invalidate the marriage contract. In other words, a forced wedding, a marriage which is conducted where one or both parties do not love each other, invalidate the marriage.
The marriage customs of ancient Israel are divided into two parts.
- the groom, or more often a representative (shadqan) of the groom, goes to seek out the bride.
- gifts are given to the prospective bride, sometimes including wedding clothes
- a ring is placed on the wife’s right forefinger.
- a shidduqis made – a formal consent to marry, signed before two witnesses. The couple are now legally man and wife according to religious law.
- there is a meal for the groom or his representative to seal the agreement.
- after the meal, one cup of wine is drunk (by the bride and groom; if only the groom’s representative is present, then only the bride drinks from the cup).
- the groom departs and returns to his father’s house to prepare a place for the wedding and his new Bride, giving a promise to return.
- Between betrothal and wedding, the couple do not see each other. Between the two ceremonies, there is an interval of 7 days, 30 days, 10 months or 12 months (according to the custom of the community).
The wedding ceremony:
At the wedding, the bride and groom (actually, now legally husband and wife) are dressed as king and queen, including the wearing of crowns and white robes with red mantles.
- The husband returns to his father-in-law’s house to fetch his wife, announced by a shofar blast. Traditionally this is done in the middle of the night.
- The shout goes out: “Here’s the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
- As the husband approaches the house, the wife veils her face.
- The wife is carried in an afiryon(wedding carriage or palanquin); accompanied in procession by her bridesmaids. The Song of Solomon is recited along the procession.
- A ketubbahis signed before 2 witnesses, and read aloud in Aramaic
- A cup of wine is drunk, and a blessing is said; 6 further blessings are said over man and wife underneath the chuppah
- At the very end of the ceremony, the bride gives her husband his ring
- The groom’s friends hold myrtle branches over the couple as they leave
- The couple retire to the bridal chamber
- Later in the day there is a wedding feast
- On 7 consecutive nights, friends or relatives of the couple invite them to a meal in their homes (it was considered like inviting a king and queen to dine in your home).
What I have described to you were the marriage customs prevalent in the first century CE; you may recognise some of them from Yeshua’s parables. I would humbly encourage all Talmidi sects to try and follow ancient Israelite marriage customs as closely as possible, as a witness to the nations that our God is with us. The customs and traditions of Israel are very beautiful, and in my opinion, we should try and reflect them as much as is practical and possible.
Ebionite / Talmidi elders’ policy statement on marriage, 1998
8:11. 1Marriage is not a man and a woman who have undergone a legal ceremony, and are thereafter joined together by a legal piece of paper – that is not what constitutes the sum of a marriage. 2For if love is absent in the hearts of one or both partners by the time of the final wedding ceremony, then that is not a marriage, and it is not God’s law that has joined them together, but human law alone.
3If one or both partners enter the contract of marriage with no intention of being exclusively faithful to one another, then that is not a marriage, and no legal document can make it so.
4If someone is forced against their freely given will to marry, then that is not a marriage, but rather an abomination in the sight of God. 5And even if the coerced partner has been threatened to say that he or she is marrying freely, it is God who will know the truth, even if human beings have been fooled; for one cannot lie to God, and therefore it will not be a marriage before God.
6The marriage that God has joined and blessed is this: when two people come together to mutually commit themselves to one another in love and faithfulness; 7to have a mutual respect and admiration for one another; 8to support one another through good times and bad, 9through extraordinary times, and ordinary, mundane times; 10to accept one another’s perfections and imperfections – 11one should never enter a relationship thinking, ‘I can change, shape and mould this person into becoming my perfect partner’, 12for it is the job of each individual to change themselves into becoming a worthy marriage partner, not anybody else’s job.
13In a marriage, you grow together to become something greater than the sum of its parts; 14one partner is not the servant, and the other the master – neither partner exists for the other to be obeyed or served. 15A marriage is a contract of equal partners with equal authority.
16This is what a marriage is – what God has joined together, and this is something that no human being can break apart.