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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Women and Men

 

4.  Wedding Practices

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Wedding Practices

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

The Torah tells the story of how Jacob intended to marry Rachel, but Rachel’s father Laban brought Rachel’s sister, Leah, to Jacob instead at night. Jacob had sexual intercourse with Leah and, as a result, was married to her although he did not realize until the morning that it was Leah rather than Rachel.[1] (Thus, the act of sexual intercourse with the intention to become married was sufficient to accomplish the marriage.)

 

 

Wedding Practices

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Contents:

 

Betrothal

 

Finalization of marriage

 

Virginity of the bride

 

 

Betrothal. A woman becomes betrothed* to a man by him paying money, by sexual intercourse or by a written contract.[2]

 

If a man gives a woman money and declares that she is betrothed to him, then it is done.[3] However, no betrothal occurs if a woman gives money to a man and either she or he declares that they are married.[4]

 

If a man declares by writing that a woman is betrothed to him, the betrothal occurs only if she consents.[5] While giving a woman money or something else of value is now the standard method of betrothal, it is still permitted to effect betrothal by writing a document.[6]

 

If betrothal is established through sexual intercourse, the man must declare to the woman that she is betrothed to him for the betrothal to be valid. The couple must enter into privacy in the presence of witnesses to conduct their intercourse, which may be either vaginal or anal.[7] While a betrothal established through sexual intercourse is valid because it is in the Written Law of the Torah,[8] a man who effects a betrothal in this way is subject to a flogging for disobedience[9] (which is punishment for violating the Oral Law** of the rabbis).

 

A father may betroth his daughter to a man without her consent until she becomes a mature woman (bogeret)***. If the betrothal is accomplished by a gift from the man, the gift is given to the girl’s father.[10] If a female minor is given for betrothal by her father and the man she is betrothed to insists on finalizing the marriage while she is still a minor, he has a right to do so even though it is improper for him to do that and even if the girl and her father object.[11] If the betrothal is accomplished by sexual intercourse, the girl must be over three years and one day old. If she is less than three years and one day old, betrothal by sexual intercourse does not result in betrothal.[12] (Sexual intercourse with a female less than three years and one day old is not considered to be sexual intercourse§.[13]) When a female minor is given for betrothal by her father the betrothal is valid, but the Talmudic Sages said that a father should wait until his daughter comes of age and freely consents to the marriage.[14]

 

A father cannot betroth his daughter to a man without her consent if she is a mature woman.[15] While the betrothal of a mature woman is only valid if she has consented to it, if a man is forced to betroth a woman, the betrothal is valid.[16]

 

If a female who is not under her father's authority (for example, an orphan, or a female who was married as a minor and ended the marriage through mi'un or was widowed while still a minor[17]) consents to be betrothed, the betrothal is valid if she is at least ten years old but not if she is less than six years old. If she is between six and ten years of age, her understanding of marriage is to be evaluated and the validity of the betrothal determined accordingly.[18]

 

A man who betroths a woman suddenly, without having discussed and come to agreement about the betrothal at an earlier time, is to be flogged for disobedience.[19] A man may betroth many women at the same time.[20] A declaration of betrothal is valid even if the man who makes the declaration is very drunk when he makes it. If he is as drunk as Lot was, however, it is invalid.[21] (Editor’s note: This refers to the Bible story[22] in which Lot’s daughters got him drunk and then seduced him). At least two competent witnesses are required for a betrothal to be valid.[23]

 

 

Finalization of marriage. When a man brings a woman who is betrothed to him into his house, has sexual intercourse with her is a place of privacy and the purpose of that intercourse is to finalize the marriage, then the marriage is finalized.[24] If, however, the betrothed woman still resides in her father's house and the couple has sexual intercourse there, the marriage is not finalized and the man is subject to a flogging for disobedience. Even if the betrothal was effected by sexual intercourse, the man is forbidden from having sexual intercourse with her again until she leaves her father’s house and enters into seclusion with him in his house.[25]

 

Before bringing his bride into seclusion in a private place for the purpose of finalizing their marriage, a man must write a marriage contract (ketubah) and pay the scribe's fee.[26] It is forbidden for a man to live with his wife even for a moment without a ketubah.[27] The ketubah provides for payment of money to the woman in case of divorce or the death of the husband.[28] The minimum amount is 200 denar (zuz) (equivalent to 25 denar (zuz) of pure silver) for a virgin bride and 100 denar (zuz) (equivalent to 12-1/2 denar (zuz) of pure silver) if the bride is not a virgin. A zuz is the weight of 96 barleycorns.[29] The man may specify more than the minimum amount in the ketubah.[30]

 

In the finalization of a marriage, the man is to recite six blessings[31] in the presence of at least nine other men.[32] However, it is the seclusion of the man and woman that finalizes the marriage, not the blessings. If the seclusion takes place without the blessings the marriage is finalized; if the blessings take place but there is no seclusion, then the couple remains in a state of betrothal and the marriage is not finalized.[33]

 

After the marriage is finalized, a man should not engage in work or trade but should celebrate with his bride for seven days if she is a virgin and for at least three days if she is not.[34] If a man has finalized his marriage to more than one woman at the same time on the same day, as is permitted, he must still fulfill his obligation to each of them to celebrate with her alone for seven days or three days, depending on her state of virginity.[35]

 

 

Virginity of the bride. If the bride has been married and either divorced or widowed, then the minimum ketubah amount is 100 denar, as is due to a non-virgin, even if the woman is actually a virgin. Similarly, if the woman is a convert or an emancipated slave or has been held captive, then her ketubah amount is 100 denar if her conversion, emancipation or captivity occurred when she was more than three years and one day old.[36] This is because it is assumed that women who are married, non-Jewish, enslaved or held captive engage in sexual intercourse. Such women are considered to be non-virgins regardless of whether they are actually virgins or not.[37]

 

If the bride has had sexual intercourse when she was less than three years old, her minimum ketubah amount is the full 200 denar due to a virgin because sexual intercourse with her is not considered to be sexual intercourse§.[38] If a woman had sexual intercourse with a boy less than nine years old, she is entitled to a ketubah amount of 200 denar because intercourse with such a young boy is of no consequence.[39]

 

If the ketubah was based on the understanding that the woman was a virgin and thus entitled to 200 denar, her husband may then claim that she was, in fact, not a virgin. No such claim may be made if the woman was considered entitled to a ketubah of only 100 denar.[40] In general, the husband is to be believed if he says that his wife was not a virgin either because she did not bleed upon their first sexual intercourse or because he found her vagina to be loose rather than tight as a virgin's.[41] However, if the claim is based on lack of bleeding, the woman is to be believed if she says that she had fallen and a piece of wood or the ground took her virginity, but her minimum ketubah amount is nevertheless reduced from 200 to 100 denar.[42] If she says that her lack of bleeding is because she had been raped by another man since her betrothal she is to be believed and her ketubah amount remains at 200 denar.[43] Also, if the women in her family say that they did not bleed upon first intercourse, she is adjudged to have been a virgin though she did not bleed.[44] If the woman is seriously ill or starving, she is to be restored to health and it is to be determined whether she was a virgin based upon whether she bleeds upon intercourse then, when healthy.[45] If the charge of non-virginity is based on lack of tightness of the vagina during sexual intercourse, the bride is assumed to have been a virgin if she is a mature woman*** because mature women usually lose their vaginal tightness.[46]

 

If the husband's accusation of non-virginity of his wife results in her losing the required minimum ketubah of 200 denar and he chooses to stay married to her, he must immediately write a new ketubah with the minimum amount of 100 rather than 200 denar.[47] She remains entitled to any additional amount the husband had added to the original ketubah unless it is proven or she admits that she had deceived him and was not a virgin at the time of their betrothal.[48]

 

 

 

*Betrothal: In the historical times being described by Maimonides, two separate steps were required to achieve a full marriage. The first step, kiddushin or erusin, is the consecration of the woman to the man and is referred to in our texts as "betrothal." The reversal of this process required a get (a bill of divorce). A man was not responsible for supporting a woman who was betrothed to him.[49] Also, after betrothal the couple was not permitted to have sexual relations until the finalization of the marriage (nisu'in) even if the betrothal had been carried out through sexual intercourse.[50]

The marriage was finalized by nisu'in --the woman moving into the man's house to live there. In the times being described by Maimonides, this second step might have occurred one year after the betrothal.[51]

In the present era, both steps, betrothal (kiddushin) and finalization of the marriage (nisu'in), occur in a single ceremony when the couple marries under the chuppah -- the wedding canopy that symbolizes the couple's home.

 

**The Oral Law and the Written Law are explained on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 

***A mature woman (bogeret) is one who is at least 12-1/2 years of age and has had at least two pubic hairs for at least six months.[52]

 

§§§Sexual intercourse with a female less than three years and one day old is not considered as sexual intercourse[53] because, according to Maimonides, healing will restore the hymen and thus the virginity of such a young female following intercourse.[54]

 

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

 

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

    

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Gen 29:23-25

[2] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 1, sec 2 (pages 12M 5Y)

[3] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 28M 14-15Y)

[4] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 2 (pages 28-30M 15Y)

[5] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 4 (pages 30M 15Y)

[6] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 21 (pages 40M 21Y)

[7] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 5 (pages 30M 15-16Y)

[8] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 20 (pages 40M 21Y)

[9] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 21 (pages 40M 21Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 21, sec 14 (pages 262M 136-137Y)

[10] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 11 (pages 34M 17-18Y)

[11] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 16 (pages 130M 66Y)

[12] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 11 (pages 34M 17-18Y)

[13] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 1, sec 13 (pages 20M 13Y)

[14] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 19 (pages 38-40M 20-21Y)

[15] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 12 (pages 34M 18Y); Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 42M 22Y)

[16] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 42M 22Y)

[17] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 2 on Divorce, Gerushin; Chapter 11, sec 1 (pages 190M 238-239Y)

[18] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 7 (pages 46M 24-25Y)

[19] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 3, sec 22 (pages 40M 21Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 21, sec 14 (pages 262M 136-137Y)

[20] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 42M 22Y)

[21] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 18 (pages 52M 27Y)

[22] Gen 19:30-38

[23] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 4, sec 6 (pages 44-46M 24Y)

[24] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 1 (pages 118M 61Y)

[25] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 1 (pages 118M 61Y)

[26] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y)

[27] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 10 (pages 124-126M 64-65Y)

[28] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y); Chapter 10, sec 10 (pages 124-126M 64-65Y); Chapter 16, sec 3 (pages 198M 99Y)

[29] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y); Chapter 10, sec 9 (pages 118M 64Y); Treatise 3 on Levirate Marriage and Halitzah, Yibbum v'Chalitzah; Chapter 4, secs 33-34 (pages 78-82M 293-294Y)

[30] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 7 (pages 118M 63Y)

[31] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 3 (pages 120M 62Y)

[32] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 5 (pages 122M 63Y)

[33] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 6 (pages 122M 63Y)

[34] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 12 (pages 126-128M 65Y)

[35] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 13 (pages 128M 65-66Y)

[36] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 1 (pages 132M 67-68Y)

[37] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 2 (pages 132M 68Y)

[38]  MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 1, sec 13 (pages 20M 13Y)

[39] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 3 (pages 132M 68Y)

[40] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 8 (pages 136M 70Y)

[41] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 9 (pages 136M 70Y); sec 14 (pages 140M 72Y)

[42] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 10 (pages 136-138M 70Y)

[43] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 11 (pages 138M 70-71Y)

[44] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 12 (pages 138-140M 71-72Y)

[45] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 12 (pages 138-140M 71-72Y)

[46] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 12 (pages 138-140M 71-72Y)

[47] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 17 (pages 142M 73Y)

[48] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 16 (pages 142M 73Y)

[49] Translator's note 4 to Moznaim translation of MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 1 (page 119M). Translator's Introduction to Yale translation of MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim (page xxxivY)

[50] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 1 (pages 118M 61Y)

[51] Translator's note 4 to Moznaim translation of MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 10, sec 1 (page 119M). Translator's Introduction to Yale translation of MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim (page xxxivY)

[52] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 2, secs 1-2, (pages 18M 8-9Y)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[53] MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi'ah; Chapter 1, sec 13 (pages 20M 13Y)

[54] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 11, sec 3 (pages 132M 68Y)