Jewish wedding ring MNMA Cl20658 n2

Antique Jewish wedding ring

Erusin is the Hebrew term for betrothal. Although in modern hebrew erusin means engagement, this is not the classical meaning of the term, which is the first part of marriage (the second part being nesuin). A betrothed woman (arusah) is fully married in the sense that she requires a divorce and that sexual relations with her are a capital crime; however she is also prohibited to her husband, although not with the same severity.[1][2]

Since the middle ages[3], it has been traditional, in most Jewish communities, to perform the betrothal during the marriage ceremony itself; previously this was not the case, and there were often several months between the two events[4].

In classical rabbinic literature betrothal is frequently referred to as sanctification (Hebrew:kiddushin), on account of the bride becoming sanctified (dedicated[5]) to the groom[6].

In the Bible

In the view of biblical criticism, a woman in biblical times was legally regarded simply as property[7][8] (valuable property that needed to be looked after[7][8]), and the betrothal was effected simply by purchasing her from her father (or guardian)[7][8]. The price paid for the woman (who became me'orasa by the act) is known by the Hebrew term mohar[9][10][11][12][13], although there is very little Biblical indication of the actual value which this usually had.

The traditional commentators do not necessarily explain mohar this way. Rashi understands mohar as a form of Ketubah, an agreement to pay a certain amount upon divorce[14], and Nachmanides understands it as savlanut, a sort of dowry or engagement present.[15] Rashi understands Rachel and Leah's complaint to Jacob ("we are considered strangers to him for he has sold us[16]") as saying that is was not normal for a father to sell his daughter, at least not without also giving them a dowry.[17]

The girl’s consent is not explicitly required by any explicit statement in the Bible[8]; neither however, is there explicit permission to ignore it. It appears to have been customary in early biblical times for the bride to be given part of the mohar[7]; gradually it lost its original meaning of purchase money, and the custom arose of giving the mohar entirely to the bride, rather than to her father[8].

In the Talmud and Traditional Judaism

The Legal Act

The Talmud states that there are three methods of performing erusin; by handing the woman a coin or object of nominal value, by handing her a document (as in a Jewish divorce[18]), and through consummation, although the latter is discouraged, if not outright prohibited.[1][19][20] In all cases the woman's consent is required;[21] however, it can be implied by her silence.[22]

It gradually became customary in many areas for the money to be an object whose value is well known, and fairly constant: an unadorned gold ring - without gem or inscription[23]; though in Eastern Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was traditional for a miniature image of a synagogue to be carved on them, together with the phrase good luck[3]. In many places the ring was an heirloom - a child would use the ring of their parents[3] - but in some locations a ring would be made specially for each bride; among the Cochin Jews, a goldsmith manufactures the ring on the morning of the wedding itself, the bride checking that it fits, accompanied by women singing local songs[24].

In Jewish religious law, two valid witnesses must see the ceremony[25]. For the same reason traditional Jews believe that the wedding ceremony may not take place on Shabbat or Jewish holidays with shabbat-like work restrictions[26][27].

Viewing the bride

The talmud insists that a man should not marry a bride without first seeing her[28]; this has lead to a number of formal 'viewing' rituals in the eastern parts of Asia Minor. In Iraq (prior to the American Invasion), where the bride is veiled, the presiding Hakham simply lifts the veil for a split second[3].

In the Caucasus, the bride is led around the groom a few times[29]; Ashkenazi Jews have the same custom, but it is seven circuits which the bride completes around the groom[30], and here the ritual is said to be symbolic of the bride's desire to protect her husband from harm[31]. Georgia, where the ceremony is held in a synagogue, also has a circling ritual, but the bride and groom circle the bemah instead of each other, and do so after the marriage ceremony (in Georgia, this usually follows the betrothal immediately)[29].

The ceremony

The blessings

In erusin, as in nisuin, there is a blessing over wine, then one or more blessings – one in the case of erusin: the bircas erusin, or betrothal blessing[32]. This text of this blessing is taken from the Talmud[33]. The blessing in normally recited before the ceremony, but in some Sephardic communities, there is – or was – a custom to recite it afterwards. If forgotten before the ceremony, it can be recited before the ketubah is read[34]. Originally the blessings were recited by the groom, and in some places this is still done; but it is more common for someone else to recite them, such as the Rabbi[32][3].

After the standard blessing is made over wine, the couple drink the wine. There are other opinions that state that the rabbi should drink, either instead of or in addition to the couple[32]. <!—, or that the rabbi drinks from a separate cup. The idea that the rabbi has a separate cup is not mentioned, because the JE is not clear on which blessings are referred to. A Sephardi wedding guide would be helpful.--> In Sri Lanka, the ring was attached to the cup by a white thread[3]. Then the betrothal blessing is recited (in Hebrew), as follows:

Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding illicit relations[35]; and has prohibited us those who are merely betrothed[36]; but has permitted to us those lawfully married[37] to us by cḥuppah and ḳiddushin. Blessed are Thou, God, who has sanctified[38] His people Israel through cḥuppah and ḳiddushin. The words “to us” were added later by Rabbeinu Tam[32].

The betrothal

The actual betrothal now takes place. The groom takes the ring - or money or other object; in all cases it must be his - and says, in Hebrew, Behold, you are consecrated[39] to me with this ring [or object] according to the laws of Moses and Israel[34][40][41]. If he is using money, he sayswith this[41]. If necessary, he repeats the phrase in the vernacular. The Rabbi may recite the formula with the groom, in order to avoid embarrassment to those unfamiliar with the phrase; some say the rabbi should not say to me[34].

The groom now places the ring (or money or object; in the Causcasus the groom used a ring a coins of silver, gold, and copper[3]) on the bride’s index finger. (Other customs have the groom place the ring on other fingers; in any case, it is valid as long as he hands her the object.)[34]

The beginning of the phrase that the groom uses is the first phrase mentioned in the Talmud[42]; two others are mentioned and several others are discussed, including whether it is enough to just be discussing the subject[43]. In some areas other formulae are (or were) used, as follows[3]:

  • Be hallowed and be betrothed unto me, [bride's name], the bridegroom, thou, bride and [virgin or divorcee or widow, as appropriate], by this cup of wine and by this coin; on account of them thou shalt pass into my possession, according to the law [='religious teaching'] of Moses and of Israel (Cochin)
  • Ba ḳiddushiki. (Causcasus)
  • Thou, [bride's name], daughter of [bride's father's name], art betrothed unto me, [groom's name], son of [groom's father's name], according to the law of Moses and Israel (Tilla)

The ketubah

In order to separate the erusin and nisuin - the two parts of the wedding - the ketubah is now read[44][34].

Breaking a Vessel

This is not specific to erusin and should be moved to the main article.

An old custom following the erusin or nesuin (the customs differ) is for someone - usually the groom - to break a vessel with his right foot. In some cases, the wine vessel was used, after the wine was poured out. In Baghdad and Georgia (the country)[3][29] pottery was used, but the general custom is to use glass, which may first be wrapped in cloth.[34] In some modern betrothals a lightbulb might be used insead[45], and the bride might also take part in the destruction.

Smashing the vessel was the general Jewish tradition in early first millenium, and back then its smashing was greeted by those present exclaiming that this is the sign; the resulting shards were often collected by girls for luck[3]. The exact origin of this custom is shrouded in mystery, and various explanations of this custom exist:

  • that it is a reminder that despite the joy there are still things to mourn - namely the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This implies the custom did not exist prior to that destruction - 70 C.E..
    • some Jews extrapolate this belief to the conclusion that the shards can be used to divine how long the marriage will last.
  • that it is a reminder to maintain proper decorum even during great celebration, and that it derives from the medieval interpretation, recorded in the Tosafot, of a Talmudic account[46]; in the account, the guests at the wedding of a Rabbi's son began to get carried away by their celebrations, at which point the Rabbi brought out a crystal glass, and broke it in front of them[47]. This principle may be related to the belief that it is best to avoid tempting fate to spoil one's joy. This implies that the custom did not exist prior to the medieval era, or at least not before this event.
  • that it is a reminder of the broken and fragmentary nature of reality, and hence a reminder to engage in spiritual repair of the world[48]; this is the Kabbalistic explanation.
  • that it symbolically represents the bride's hymen being broken, by losing her virginity to the groom[49][50][51][52]

Other issues

The rabbis prohibited marrying without an engagement (shidduchin); according to some opinions, there are penalties for doing so[53]. Therefore, some have the custom to sign a Shetar ha-T'na'im as a formal form of engagement; in such cases it forms an informal declaration of the couple's intentions[54], and is read close to the start of the betrothal ceremony. It is common for a plate to be smashed once the T'na'im has been read[55]; this smashing is usually done by the mothers of the bride and groom.

Rabbinic writers of the middle ages permitted the betrothal to be performed by proxies[53] (presumably not including betrothals using the sexual intercourse method); these would be appointed by either the groom or the bride (or both)[53]. It was, though, recommended that the couple are betrothed in person[53].

Consequences of betrothal

For legal purposes, in Jewish law, a betrothed couple is regarded as husband and wife, at least externally. If the woman has sexual intercourse with another man, it is regarded as adultery[56]; Since both the Bible[57] and the Talmud[58] permit polygyny, the man is still permitted to his other wives (if he has any), and he may marry other women, in those places (or cases) where the general custom not to marry more than one woman does not apply.

Similarly, the union can only be ended by the same divorce process as for married couples.

However, betrothal does not oblige the couple to behave towards each other in the manner that a married couple is required to[53]. Nor does it confer on the couple the right to have a sexual relationship with each other[53].

As with marriage, betrothal between a man and a woman confers on the man with the right to the usufruct on any property given to the woman, and the right to inherit the property should the woman die while still betrothed to him[59]. However, unlike marriage, the man is not held responsible for any harm or deterioration that should come to the property, even if the property had been given to the woman by her father (or her father's heirs)[59]; such property thus resembles a true dowry, if it is given during the betrothal rather than the marriage.

In modern times it is customary in most Jewish communities for the marriage to occur immediately after the betrothal, but there are still residual elements in these traditions which make reference to the betrothal period, and its difference from married life. In the Caucasus, for the first 12 days after the wedding, the bride secludes herself behind a curtain, guarded by girls; during this period, the groom cannot visit his bride without giving payment/bribe to the girls, on each occasion[29]. Among the Cochin Jews the bride and groom wear red silk clothing during the first six days of the wedding, but not thereafter (often changing into green silk)[24].

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "betrothal", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. Rabbi Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch, III:26:3
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage ceremonies", a publication now in the public domain.
  4. Ketubot 57b
  5. Tosafot, Kiddushin 2b
  6. Kiddushin is the name of the volume of the Talmud dealing with marriage
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage", a publication now in the public domain.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "MARRIAGE", a publication now in the public domain.
  9. Genesis 34:12
  10. Exodus 22:16-17
  11. Deuteronomy 20:7
  12. Deuteronomy 22:29
  13. Hosea 2:19-20
  14. Rashi Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16, Mikraot Gedolot, six volume Shilo edition, 1969
  15. Ramban, Exodus 22:16, Chavel edition, Mossad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem, 5732
  16. Halo nachriot nechshavnu lo ki m'charanu
  17. Genesis 314:15, Mikraot Gedolot, six volume Shilo edition, 1969
  18. Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 5a
  19. Kiddushin, first Mishna
  20. Rabbi Yosef Karo, Shulchan Aruch, III:26:4
  21. Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 2B and in several places in the following pages
  22. Jewish Encyclopedia, Consent (
  23. Kiddushin (Tosefta) 9a
  24. 24.0 24.1 Salomon Rinman, Mas'ot Shelomoh, 1884
  25. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:16
  26. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:13
  27. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, 148:4
  28. Kiddushin 41a
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Joseph Judah Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot, 1884 (published posthumously)
  30. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 147:5
  31. Sefer Taamei haMinhagim, 967
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Harper & Row, 1980, Chaper 15
  33. Talmud Bavli, Ketubot 5b
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 34.5 Made in Heaven, A Jewish Wedding Guide by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Company, New York / Jerusalem, 1983, Chapters 20 and 21
  35. Arayot
  36. arusot
  37. n’suot
  38. m’kadesh, same root as kiddushin
  39. m’kudeshet, from the same root as kiddushin
  40. Siddur Rinat Yisrael, arranger by Shlomo Tal, Moreshet, Ltd., page 133 in the Israeli Askenaz version
  41. 41.0 41.1 Siddur Avodat Hashem (a siddur according to the Sephardi / Oriental rite), Cholon (Israel), 5728 (1967 – 1968), page 611
  42. Kiddushin 5b
  43. Kiddushin 5b and following
  44. Jewish Encyclopedia, Betrothal
  45. Get smashed… & mazel tov
  46. Berakhot (Tosefta) 31a
  47. Berakhot 31a
  48. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 126:2
  49. Kerry M. Olitzky, Marc Lee Raphael, An encyclopedia of American synagogue ritual, Greenwood Publishing Group (2000), page 26
  50. Anita Diamant, The New Jewish Wedding, (1986), page 190
  51. Deborah McCoy, For the Bride, (1993), page 128
  52. [1]
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 53.3 53.4 53.5 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage ceremonies", a publication now in the public domain.
  54. Adler, Binyamin. Sefer haNisuim Kehilchatam, haMesorah Publishing, Jerusalem, 1985. chapter 3, paragraph 184-5.
  55. Kitzur Shulkhan Aruch, 126:2
  56. Sanhedrin 66b
  57. An example is the first chapter of Samuel
  58. Tractate Yevamot has many theoretical examples
  59. 59.0 59.1 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Dowry", a publication now in the public domain.

External links

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