Jewish Marriage

When Can Jews Get Married?

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What Were the Rituals of Marriage?

Until the late Middle Ages, marriage consisted of two ceremonies separated in time: the betrothal and the actual wedding.

The betrothal was a legal marriage and could only be dissolved by a formal divorce, yet the woman remained in her father's house. The betrothal constituted the actual "purchase" of the bride, and her later move to the groom's house, the "delivery" of the purchased "property."

By talmudic times, a betrothal celebration followed the signing of the ketubah. The groom gave the bride an object valued at less than a prutah (small coin) and declared in the presence of two witnesses: "Be thou consecrated to me, be thou betrothed to me, be thou my wife." The betrothal itself was renamed as kiddushin, implying sanctification or setting apart and suggesting a spiritualization of the original property transaction. A betrothal blessing prohibited forbidden unions and permitted only unions sanctified by Jewish marriage.

The actual wedding, approximately a year later, was preceded by a lively procession escorting the bride to the home of the groom. The huppah (today, the marriage canopy) was originally a decorated pavilion in the house of the groom or his father, where the sheva berakhot, or seven blessings, were recited over a cup of wine. Contributing in any way to the joy of the bride and groom was deemed a mitzvah (a religious obligation).

Today, the betrothal and wedding generally both take place under the huppah. As is still the custom today in traditional communities, the celebration continued for seven days at festive meals where the sheva berakhot were repeated following the grace after meals.

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