Observances, Ceremonies and Customs-Part 6

We are going to talk about the Kedushin (marriage) ritual that has developed among the Jewish people. The groom is led under a canopy and the bride is escorted to the grooms side (Gen 2) signifying that she is being brought to his home. Two witnesses are also involved. One is assigned to the bride and the other to the groom. These two witnesses are eschatological characters based on Moses, who personifies the Torah (Law) and Elijah, who personifies the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets testify about Yeshua (Psa 40.7; John 5.39-47; Luke 24.27; Rom 3.21). Israel is seen as the bride (Exo 19) as Moses brings her to Mt Sinai (Exo 19.17) for the betrothal ceremony (Jer 2.2). In John 3.26-29 we learn that “Elijah” is assigned to the groom (Mal 3.1-3).

She stands at the right side of the groom (Psa 45.9-a Rosh ha Shannah psalm, which is the time of Messiah’s marriage and coronation). It is customary for the bride to circle the groom three times (Hos 2.19-20) because “I will betroth you” is found three times there (Jer 31.22). She is making a fence around him to guard him from sin and from those who would try and harm him. In Gen 2.18 it says that the woman was created to be a “helper” to the man. The Hebrew word for helper is “eyzer” (spelled “ayin, zayin, rosh” in Hebrew) and here is a hidden meaning. Ayin means “eye”, zayin means “weapon” and rosh means “head”, or in other words, the woman was to “watch (ayin) for a weapon (zayin) that may strike the head (rosh) of the husband.” It is obvious from Gen 3, Chava failed to do that in the case of the Tree of Knowledge, and Adam sinned. The bride and groom are seen as a queen and king (Psa 45.10).

The “Hagafin” is a prayer (“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine”) over wine and it begins the ceremony. Yeshua has a commentary on the “hagafin” in John 15. Then there is a second benediction and they drink from the cup, which says “yes” to the groom’s intent to marry her. The groom holds a ring and declares his intent to betroth her to him. He slips on the ring if accepted. In the middle ages the phrase “according to the laws of Moses and of Israel was added to the betrothal. The statement “You are betrothed to me” is said. This does not require a chuppah and ends the betrothal stage.

Next come the reading of the Ketubah, the wedding contract and all financial details have been settled by this time. This gives a brief interlude between the betrothal and marriage. The Ketubah is given to the bride for safekeeping. The origins of this comes from about 450 BC with a covenant between the groom and the father in law. Then it evolved over the years. It records the grooms financial commitment to the bride and it is signed by witnesses. This is important in Jewish law, especially in a divorce. The need for a Ketubah arose from the biblical law that a man can divorce his wife without her consent (Deut 24.1-4). Some may disagree, but it’s God’s “football” and he makes the rules. This left the wife on an unstable foothold in life. The Ketubah remedied all of that because there were financial stipulations in it for her. This acted as a deterrent to a hasty divorce, which was a problem in the first century. Early ketubot (plural) did little to help her, so many women “boycotted” and didn’t get married. The Ketubah was seen as a “lien” on the husband’s property, and this helped put an end to the boycott.

The “nisuin” is the marriage ritual and it is the second part of the ceremony. There are seven benedictions (called the Shevah Berachot) which included the hagafin, a call for the guests to glorify God (this is seen in Rev 4-5 which takes place on Rosh ha Shannah and involves a wedding and coronation), the creation of Adam, the union of Adam and Chava (see Eph 5 and GEn 2. The book of Ephesians was written around Rosh ha Shannah and that is why it has so many allusions to marriage), the restoration of Jerusalem, a prayer for a happy marriage and that marital joy will fill that land. A minyan (at least ten males) are required and a glass is broken to remember the Temple. Wheat and rice is thrown and this practice dates back to the Talmudic era and they symbolized prosperity. Then, the marriage is immediately consummated. This will change when the Talmudic chuppah is eliminated.

Mazel Tov is often shouted. This means “May a favorable configuration of the constellations bestow prosperity and bliss on the couple”, or in other words, “Good zodiac.” The idea that stars influenced man goes back to the first century. However, this idea is not found in the Scriptures because it is the Lord who guides man and the creation. Some rabbi’s of the first century believed that stars had influence, and others did not. Rabbi Yochanon of the third century dismissed astrology in the statement “Israel is not subject to planetary influences.” Mazel Tov became synonymous with “good luck.” Luck has a root meaning “to be blessed by Lucifer” (Two Babylons by Hislop; any etymological dictionary). The word “fortunate” means to be blessed by the god Fortune, the Mithraic god of fate.

Next we come to the Bridal week. The wedding and its festivities have always extended beyond the wedding day. Seven days is called a “shavuah”. Laban delayed Rachel’s wedding to Jacob till Leah’s wedding week was fulfilled (Gen 29.27). The book of Tobit describes two wedding celebrations with the same bride (Tobit 8,11) We will have two celebrations also (Luke 12.35), one in heaven (the chuppah) and the other on earth (the wedding supper). The Shevah Berachot are recited daily after grace after meals for seven days. The Bible designated the first year of marriage a period of marital joy, during which the husband is exempt form military service (Deut 24.5).

The Judaic attitude towards sex is that it falls under “kiddushin” (holiness) and it does not cause the same embarrassment western people have when discussing it. Husbands were not to neglect the sexual needs of their wives (Exo 21.10) and this understandable in a society that permitted polygamy. This was practiced until the eleventh century in Jewish communities. A flexible, minimal schedule of sexual activity was discussed in the Talmud. This depended on what the husband did for a living and where he lived. In Jerusalem and if he was unemployed, it was one time a day. If he traveled a lot or a laborer, it was two times a week. If he was a donkey driver and made short trips, one time a week. If he was a camel driver and made long trips, one time a month. If he was a sailor, twice a year. Failure to satisfy your wife could lead to court and a penalty (Exo 21.7-10) and these rights extended to her, not to him (Ecc 3.8). Her desire is expressed in different ways (Ecc 3.8). A woman demands in her heart and a man demands with his mouth. Men were instructed to recognize the subtleties that signal her state of mind. This injunction is contained in the statement by Paul for husbands to “love your wives.”

The time for conjugal love was after she came out of “niddah” (monthly cycle), the night prior to an extended leave from one another and things like that. No husband was allowed to force himself on his wife without her permission. Too much can deprive marital sex of its romanticism. Rabbinical Judaism never regarded sex as an impure act reserved only for procreation (Heb 13.4). A husband’s duty does not stop during the pregnancy of his wife. Widowers and divorced men are encouraged to remarry. The writings of the Essenes and the Talmudic sages limited marital sex to reproduction only, and this differs from the Pharisaic and Rabbinic views.

In Part 7, we will pick up here and begin discussing the biblical command concerning procreation.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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