In Matt 1.18 we learn that Miriam was pregnant with Yeshua, but who knew she was pregnant? Miriam did, and so did Joseph. In the eyes of Jewish law, cohabitation was allowed one time, so for her to be pregnant was not the issue for others, but Joseph knew it wasn’t him. In Matt 1.19 he was thinking of “putting her away secretly” which means he was thinking about divorcing her, but why? He was a righteous man and he couldn’t lie about who the father was, and he knew it wasn’t him. So God reveals to him how all this came to be (v 20) and that Miriam was faithful to him. The angel calls him “Joseph, Son of David” and this was his title because had the true monarchy been in place, he was the rightful king of Israel. So, in v 23, we learn that he “took her” to be his wife , but halachically, not fully his wife until the marriage was consummated. He had to keep her a virgin to fulfill prophecy. Now, this has eschatological meaning. In Jer 2.2 God betrothed himself Israel, but there will be a long interval of thousands of years before the full marriage at Rosh ha Shannah, year 6001. This what the Lord was communicating with the interval between Joseph’s betrothal and full consummation.
Betrothal contracts were like pre-nuptial agreements today. The “erusin” was made with financial agreements and this deterred any hasty, unstable arrangements. In the middle ages, all this took place before the wedding, with no interval. Sometimes a second document was done, and incorporated into the Ketubah (wedding contract). Marriage for minors was restricted until the middle ages. The marriage could be refused at 12 years old or entered into at puberty. On the Sabbath before the wedding, the groom is called up to the Torah reading. This is based on the tradition that Solomon had a chamber for grooms in the Temple, where they received congratulations from family and friends. In Medieval Europe, it was after the wedding, and Gen 24.1-7 is read in his honor, and the haftorah was Isa 61.10 through 62.5.
On the day of the wedding, a minyan (10 people) was formed at the grooms home for the Shacharit (morning) prayers. Festivities may have begun the night before at a meal. The bride’s attendants are with her. They would fast on their wedding day because it is like Yom Kippur to them because they are considered “without spot or wrinkle” and a “chaste ” bride. They are righteous, without sin and all sins were forgiven. You also made sure that the bride was not “niddah” (menstruous) on the wedding day, so the day was planned ahead of time. In the Talmudic age, virgins were married on Wednesdays and Thursdays (Ketubot 2a, Talmud). Wednesdays was chosen because courts sat in session on Thursdays for immediate recourse and financial reimbursement if the bride turned out to not be a virgin. If he accused her wrong, he could never divorce her. Medieval customs was Friday, close to the Sabbath and people would felt free to join in the festivities.
In the 9th century, virginity was an issue due to widespread rape of Jewish women by Gentiles, crusaders and others. The status of the children as Jews was questioned, so laws were passed to protect their status in the Jewish community.
The pre-nuptial ceremony in the Temple era was like this. The bride was carried in a litter to the wedding, like a queen. She was accompanied by singing and dancing. The Talmud refers to a single place were the wedding was held( as the “house of the bridegrooms” and it was like a hall, with much room for a lot of guests. Wealthy families built a wedding chamber into their house (John 14.1-2). Diadems and crowns were worn until after 70 AD. The litter, the music and dancing came back in the middle ages.
The covering of the bride’s face was done and the groom was to make sure it was his intended because of what happened to Jacob with Leah (Gen 29.16-25). Gen 24.65 is read, with Gen 24.60 said as a blessing. The practice of a veil has carried over to this day. The wedding ring came in about the 7th century, and it was tied in with the betrothal. Brides put the ring on her right hand, or some prominent place. Medieval rings had no gems.
The origin of the chuppah is interesting. The chuppah is a covering and this word can be found in Isa 4.6, where a cloud is called a chuppah. This passage is talking about Sukkot and the Messianic Kingdom and in Jewish thought, clouds were seen as believers (Dan 7; Heb 12; Rev 1.7-8; Zech 14.5; Jude 14; Isa 60.8). In Jewish thought, all the preceding righteous ones were understood to be present in the cloud in the wilderness after the Exodus. They were not seen as “ghosts” but actually alive and well. This concept is tied in with Sukkot and what is called “Ushpuzin” or the exalted guests that come and dine in the Sukkah (Matt 8.11), they are the “clouds of glory.” Chuppah also meant a covered area or chamber. The couple did not enter into it immediately, they spent an hour or two in a separate room to get to know one another because this may be the first time they had ever met. It was also a chance to make sure what happened to Jacob was not repeated. The chuppah ended around 600 AD and it was replaced by a tallit cover called by that name. In the 16th century, four poles with a canopy came into use.
In Part 6, we will pick up here and begin with the “Kedushin” ritual. We will discuss the two witnesses and how they tie into two eschatological characters. We will also talk about the “Nisuin” or actual marriage ceremony, which is the second part of the overall ceremony. All of this developed over time and you will see how involved all of this has become. Then we will talk about the concept of the bridal week, then continue on discussing other aspects of marriage as we learn about the various observances, ceremonies and customs from the Scriptures. We will also tie these things into their eschatological meanings as well.