Ancient Jewish Marriage

Marriage in ancient times was a negotiated match involving an agreement on conditions, payment of a bridal price, and the groom's

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Under these conditions there was no place for the old mohar institution. Fathers no longer expected any material gain from their daughters' marriages. On the contrary, fathers often gave rich dowries to daughters as an inducement to marriageable men.

Yet the mohar institution did not pass out of existence. It was reformed intermittently in the course of this period, adapting itself to new circumstances. The first stage in this process was to make the bride's father a mere trustee of the mohar. The money was then inherited ultimately either by the husband or by his children. This reform availed little, so the husband himself was made the trustee of the money, which was employed to buy household articles.

The last step in the reform of the mohar institution was made by Simeon ben Shatach, head of the Pharisees, who were the ruling party in the state during the reign of the Maccabean queen, Salome Alexandra (76-67 B.C.E.). He declared that the mohar, which was ordinarily 200 silver dinars (50 shekels) for a girl, and 100 for a widow, should merely be written in the ketubah, the marriage deed, as a lien of the wife on the estate of her husband, to be paid to her only if he divorced her, or at his death!

This reform served two humane purposes. It made marriage easier, and divorce more difficult. A man did not need 200 dinars in cash in order to marry a girl, but he needed this amount if he wanted to divorce her. The ketubah thus protected the woman from being arbitrarily divorced by her husband.

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Hayyim Schauss taught for more than twenty-five years at the Jewish Teachers Seminary in New York and at the College of Jewish Studies and the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He was the author of many books and articles on the Jewish religion and its customs, ceremonies and folklore.