Encyclopedia > Jewish view of marriage

  Article Content

Jewish view of marriage

Judaism considers marriage to be the ideal state of existence; a man without a wife, or a woman without a husband, are considered incomplete.

Table of contents

Ancient social customs

In traditional Jewish society, from the era of the Talmud up to the 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 ("shadkhan"). The latter 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 their objections.

Marriage ceremony

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 Moses and 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 dodi v'dodi Li ("I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me").

Ancient methods of betrothal

In the past, a Jewish betrothal could be contracted in three ways:

  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);
  2. Through a shtar, a contract containing the betrothal declaration phrased as "through this contract"; or
  3. By sexual intercourse with the intention of creating a bond of marriage, a method strongly discouraged by the rabbinic sages.

Today only the betrothal ceremony involving the object of value, a ring, is practiced.

The Ketubah

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 to its overriding importance, it was not written in the Hebrew language, but in Aramaic, the lingua fraca of Jews at the time the first Ketubot became standardized.

Orthodox Judaism uses a 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 tounge. Nowadays many Orthodox ketubot also have English translations.

Conservative Jews use a traditional ketubah, but have incorporated two changes. Aramaic ketubot are still used, but since Hebrew has been reborn as a lving language, an official Hebrew version of the Ketubah is now sometimes used. A second change is that a new paragraph is allowed as an option; this paragraph includes a directive that if the couple ever gets a civil (non-religious) divorced, they must go to a Bet Din (rabbinical court) and follow its directives, which tells the husband that he must give his wife a get, a Jewish divorce.

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements use both more equalized versions of the ketubah, and also use documents that are essentially not a ketubah at all, but rather a new form of wedding celebration document.


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 Jewish person 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 Jewish person 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 Hasidic and non-Hasidic, 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 with 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.

The Ger Toshav proposal

On rare occasions there are intermarriages between a Jew and a gentile, yet the gentile is not a member of a non-Jewish faith. This is possible because there are many people who are not Christians or Muslims, yet are ethical monotheists who believe in the God of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Many of these people find Judaism spiritually or theologically attractive and when married to a Jew are willing to have a Jewish household, go to synagogue, and raise their children as Jewish. These people are known as a "Ger Toshav" (Hebrew: literally, resident gentile who lives among Jews). In a new development in the Jewish community, over the past 30 years, a small but growing number of liberal rabbis have come to feel that a marriage between a Ger Toshav and a Jew is not a threat to Jewish continuity. Indeed, many sociological studies have shown that gentiles who choose to affiliate in some way with Judaism often raise families that are more educated and observant than those who are born Jews by default. Rabbi Steve Greenberg has written a formal proposal on this topic. (http://www.clal.org/ss43)

If a gentile converts to Judaism in accord with Halakha (Jewish law) and then marries a Jewish person, this by definition is considered a Jewish marriage, not an intermarriage.

Divorce 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 rpomoted 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.

See Religious_aspects_of_marriage for entries on how all religions view marriage.

External link: Jewish marriage: Frequently Asked Questions (http://www.shamash.org/lists/scj-faq/HTML/faq/08-index)

The Orthodox Prenuptial Agreement (http://orthodoxcaucus.org/prenuptial)

Between Intermarriage and Conversion: Finding a Middle Way (http://www.clal.org/ss43)

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Digital Rights Management

... in broadcast HDTV signals and the Palladium operating system. A wide variety of DRM systems have also been employed to restrict access to eBooks[?]. See the TCPA / ...

This page was created in 78 ms