Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
June 21, 2004- Number 5764-33
Wedding 2 – Engagement
While we can find plenty of example of marriages in the Bible, even in the Torah itself, There are virtually no Mitzvot in the Torah relating to HOW to get married. The only real hint of a wedding ceremony is the story of Jacob and Rachel where we learn that a wedding takes more than one day, that the bride was veiled, that a groom (or his family) had to pay a “bride-price” to the father of the bride. There also seems to be some issue of consent by the bride and groom, that is the parents could not arrange a marriage without their knowledge and consent. None of these things, however, is in the category of law. It is from these hints that Jewish wedding laws have grown but it should be understood that the whole wedding process is Rabbinic in nature. The Rabbis decide who can and can not get married, what the wedding rituals will be and what will be the legal ramifications of marriage.
The Talmud notes three stages to marriage. 1. Shidduchin: engagement (what we would call serious dating) 2. Arusin: Betrothal (what we would call engagement although to the rabbis this had different connotations.) And 3. Nisuin: Nupitals (the wedding ceremony itself)
Shidduchin- This is a state where the couple have informally agreed to be married, but there is no legal obligation. It was a festive and formal announcement by the family that the two will be married pending the negotiations as to the time, place, and size of the wedding as well as the obligations of each family to pay for what parts of the ceremonies and the dowery and maintenance of the bride and groom. These were incorporated in a document called “tenaiim” and it was a binding contract for the marriage. There was also a penalty stipulated for violating the agreement or breaking the engagement. In some places this agreement was “sealed” by the two future mother-in-laws breaking a plate. In the past breaking this agreement was a serious breach and while it did not affect the status of the bride and groom, it could have a serious effect on the moral standing of the family who breaks it. Today this ceremony is largely ceremonial and social in nature. The usual custom is that the groom gives his bride a ring and a public or written announcement is made. If the engagement is broken, the ring and other gifts should be returned.
Arusin: Is the formal engagement of the couple. Once it has been performed, the bride is forbidden to any other man that the groom. In past centuries, the Arusin would preceed the Nisuin by and interval of about 12 months. During this time the groom would gather the financial resources to pay the dowery and the bride would collect the items that she was required to bring into her home after the wedding. It was a time when the terms of the tenaiim would be fulfilled. The only difference was that if the engagement were broken after Arusin, than the couple would require a divorce and would carry the stigma of divorce in their lives. Arusin is performed by reciting a special blessing over a cup of wine, with the groom presenting to the bride an object (ring or other object) worth a “perutah” or more and reciting the formula of Kiddushin. This ceremony bound the couple together but they were not permitted to live together as husband and wife. Only after Nisuin could the couple set up a home together.
Today, Arusin and Nisuin are done one after the other in the Wedding ceremony and there is no longer a waiting period between them. Some say that the uncertain life of the Jews in Europe let to the demise of the Arusin period, when it could not be certain that the bride and groom could survive the turmoil of the year and make it to the wedding. If the groom disappeared during this time, the bride would be stuck waiting for him to either return and marry her, return and end the engagement or that there would be proof that he had died.
Next week: Wedding 3: The Ketubah