Tenaim: The Conditions of Marriage

Contemporary couples are reinterpreting an old ceremony that set the financial and logistical arrangements for an upcoming marriage

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Brian talked about the contract they had drawn up, and then a friend told a midrash [interpretive story] about how Jacob and Rachel fell in love and made a pact that someday they would marry, no matter what happened to them. "And so the Bible says that Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to them but a few days because of their love for one another."

Barbara explained that at this havdalah she and Brian were making a distinction between a time when they were separate and a time when they would be together. The blessing over wine was sung and translated, and the couple dipped their ring fingers in the wine and put them to each other's lips. The wine was then passed to the people around them.

The witnesses read the tenaim document, and it was signed. The havdalah blessing traditionally recited over a spice box was pronounced over two fragrant blossoms Brian and Barbara gave to each other as tokens of kinyan [literally, acquisition], which were then passed around the room.

The guests were invited to add their thoughts and blessings, and then the couple took the two candles and together read, "As we bring together the two candles of our lives until this moment, we ask that our bond be as vibrant and as illuminating as this flame, that it continually be renewed by the strengths of our individual selves, and that like this powerful flame, our life together may bring light and warmth and service to our people." They brought the light of their two candles together and recited the blessing over the flame and a final havdalah prayer:

Blessed be You, Life-Spirit of the universe,

Who makes a distinction between holy and not yet holy,

between light and darkness,

between Shabbat and the six days of the week,

between committed and uncommitted,

between common goals and personal goals,

between love and aloneness.

Blessed be you,

Who distinguishes between what is holy, and what is not yet holy.

Some wine was poured into a plate, and the candles were doused together in the wine. The plate was wrapped in a cloth and broken against a wall to shouts of "Mazel tov!" The Sheheheyanu, a prayer of thanksgiving, was sung. And the party went on into the night.

Barbara and Brian had the pieces of the broken plate mounted and framed. It hangs in their home, a conversation piece that is already an heirloom.

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Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.