Erusin & nisu´in (bethrothal and marriage)

ONE of the most sacred institutions ever devised by our Creator is marriage. One of the hallmarks of stable societies is a population of households having stable marriages. Historically, civilizations have crumbled as the institution of marriage crumbled.

     Marriage is also a picture of God’s love for Israel, and even Messiah’s love for the Bride, those who are purchased by the blood of Yeshua, the Lamb of God. As such, marriage is symbolically significant to our relationship with our Creator.

     Weddings have always been joyous occasions among the Jewish people. Over 2000 years ago, it was common for the wedding festivities to last for a whole week! Remember the story of Jacob? He worked for Laban for seven years in order to have Rachel as his wife. As was the tradition, the bride wore a veil. After sunset and some wedding festivities, Jacob and his new bride entered the tent. In the morning, Jacob was surprised to that his uncle Laban had fooled him, and that the bride wasn’t Rachel, but her less attractive sister Leah. When Jacob protested, Laban asked him to “complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other one also for the service which you will serve with me for another seven years.” [1] Jacob fulfilled the week of wedding festivities with Leah, and then married Rachel, and presumably had another week of festivities. Afterwards, he worked another seven years in payment for receiving Rachel.

     It was part of HaShem’s[2] permissive will to have more than one wife. However, His perfect will from the beginning is for a man to only have one wife. “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become basar echad (one flesh).” [3] In the beginning, it was Adam and Chava (Eve), and Adam and Eve and Marcia, and certainly not Adam and Steve. From the very beginning, it was HaShem’s perfect will for a heterosexual union between one man and one woman. One day, when Adam came home late, Chava (Eve) accused him, saying, “Have you been with another woman?” Adam denied the accusation, saying, “Of course not! Look, count my ribs!”

     The tradition of the seven day wedding feast continued into the Book of Judges. When Samson found a woman in Timnah, he propounded a riddle, in which he gave his opponents time to answer “within the seven days of the (wedding) feast.” [4] It was at another wedding feast over a thousand years later, that Yeshua performed the miracle of turning the water into wine,[5] which was the very first recorded miracle of Yeshua in the Newer Testament. The wedding feast was a huge celebration. Yeshua turned the water from six large stone water pots into wine. These water pots were used for storing water for the mikveh (a bath used fortevilah – immersion – for ritual cleansing purposes). Each contained 20 to 30 gallons (about 100 liters) of water – about 600 liters.. No, it wasn’t changed into grape juice. It was changed into really good wine. No doubt, the wedding feast continued for a week, just as in the times of the Tanakh (OT). Although the Scriptures condemn drunkenness, Jewish weddings are festive occasions in which the wine flows. Alcoholism has traditionally not been a Jewish vice.

     Another element of the Jewish wedding is the khupa, or wedding canopy. This can be a beautifully embroidered large piece of cloth, or it can be a large tallit (prayer shawl). The four corners are held aloft on four poles by four people. The couple getting married stand beneath the khupa. There are various theories regarding the origin of the khupa (also spelled chupa). The version I prefer is that it is reminiscent of the tent ceremony in biblical times, when it was customary to bring the veiled bride into the groom’s tent. The portable canopy (khupa) originally took place in front of the synagogue, under the canopy of heaven. Marriages were not performed by rabbis until the 14th Century, perhaps in imitation of Christian weddings, which were performed by clergy. According to the Talmud, any Jew can perform the wedding ceremony. Eventually, thekhupa and ceremony moved into the synagogue.

     The bride walks around the groom three times under the khupa as part of the ceremony. This is done as an acting out of the verse from Jeremiah: “For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth – A woman shall encompass a man.” [6]

     Unlike today, European cultures have traditionally been very prudish about sex, even in the confines of marriage. Perhaps this is because of the unmarried priesthood that dominated European culture for many centuries. Sexuality was (and is) respectfully discussed openly in the Jewish family and in the yeshivas.[7] Sexual intercourse, however, was (and is) within the confines of marriage. The bride and groom look forward to actually having sex with each other. However, they withhold sex from each other until the wedding night, as a special gift to each other. The system apparently works. Traditionally, the Jewish divorce rate is much lower than society in general, along with much more stable marriages.

     Curiously, in the written Torah, there is no explicit prohibition of sexual relations between an unmarried man and an unmarried women, although it is apparent throughout Torah that virginity was highly valued among Jews. Halakhah,[8] however, interprets Lev. 19:29 (“Do not degrade your daughter and make her a harlot”) as referring to consensual sex without the benefit of marriage.[9] Rabbinic Halakhah views all forms of non-marital sexual intercourse to be beilat zenut (harlotry).

     Also, as is traditional among Jews, a “fence” was placed around certain sexual relations, just as a “fence” was placed around various other commandments. In other words, to prevent the transgression of a written commandment from God, there would be additional prohibitions brought in by the rabbis to ensure that the written mitzvah (commandment) would not be transgressed. To keep far from temptation and un-chastity, the Talmud[10] contains the decree against yihud (being alone together with an unrelated person of the opposite sex). It was especially forbidden to be alone with another man’s wife, to guard against adultery. This goes beyond any Scriptural requirements.

     Scripturally, there is no prohibition against young people of opposite genders being alone together. There is also no prohibition against premarital kissing, hugging, necking, or petting. It would be difficult to appeal to Scripture to forbid such activities short of sexual intercourse. We would have to eliminate the Song of Solomon, one of the most romantic and sensual love stories in the canon of Scripture. The prohibition is against extra-marital or pre-marital intercourse. However, if even kissing or hugging ignites a fire that cannot be controlled, it is better to not even kiss or hug.

     Sexual intercourse in Judaism isn’t simply for fun or recreation. It is an expression of love, and even holiness, when confined to the marriage relationship. Sexuality within marriage upholds the marriage, family, and society in general.

Erusin & Nisu’in

Some time in the Inter-Testamental[11] period, it became the tradition of have a betrothal (erusin). This betrothal period usually lasted about 12 months. During this period of time, there could be no sexual relations between the man and the bride-to-be. However, if one or the other decided to break the “engagement,” a get (bill of divorcement) would be required, just as it would be for dissolving a marriage. It was during the period of “betrothal” that the groom would go to prepare a place for his bride, usually on his father’s property. Yeshua gave us a similar analogy when He said, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”[12] Yeshua went to prepare a place for us, and He will return for all who have accepted Him as Messiah and Savior.

     Since about the 16th Century, the two ceremonies of erusin (betrothal) and nisu’in (marriage) have been performed on the same day, separated only by the reading of the ketubah (marriage contract), which contains the mutual obligations between the bride and groom. The groom pledges a certain sum of money in the event of his death or divorce. The ketubah is often quite ornate, and written in Aramaic. A brief excerpt: “Be my wife according to the Law of Moses and Israel. I will work for you, and maintain you in accordance with the custom of Jewish husbands who work for their wives, honoring and supporting them, and maintaining them in truth…”[13] After the reading, it is handed over to the bride as a prized possession.

     The wedding ring is placed on the forefinger of the right hand. The formula is mentioned in Talmud (Kiddushin 5b): “With this ring, you are wedded to me in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.” Later in the ceremony, the ring can be transferred to the ring finger of the left hand. As in Christianity, the ring, being circular, is a symbol of fidelity, as well as everlasting life. Seven benedictions are recited. The first blessing is for the wine. Two cups are used, one for the erusin and the second one for the nisu’in, in a ceremony that combines betrothal and marriage. Wine is symbolic of joy, and both cups are shared together by both bride and groom. The fourth blessing refers to the perpetual renewal of the human being “in the image of His (God’s) likeness, and formed for him (man), from his own self, a wife forever.” The last 3 benedictions are actually a prayer that God may comfort Zion, bring happiness to the young couple, and bring complete exultation in a restored Judea.

     Another tradition is the “breaking of the glass” by the foot of the groom. One source says that it is in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, so that even on a happy occasion, it is important to remember the Temple that no longer exists. However, today, as the glass is broken inside of a cloth napkin, everybody shouts out, “Mazel tov,” literally meaning “Good constellation,” but meaning “Congratulations” in modernHebrew usage. A modern adaptation approved by the rabbis is a light bulb in place of the glass.

     The bride and groom were then traditionally escorted to a “marriage bed” walled off or curtained off from the rest of the wedding celebration. The wedding festivities could not begin until the wedding had been consummated.[14] This initiates the “marriage covenant.” Biblical covenants require the shedding of blood. In fact, the Hebrew word for covenant (b’rit) is related to the word for “cutting.” Thus, you “cut” a covenant. However, where is the blood of the “marriage covenant”? The blood of the covenant is the result of the breaking of the hymen. By the design of the Creator, the human female is the only creature in which blood flows when virginity is lost.

     As mentioned earlier, the physical marriage relationship is symbolic of the relationship that HaShem has with Israel and the Jewish people. The clearest passages of Scripture that demonstrate this relationship can be found in the book of Hosea. Hosea was commanded by YHWH to marry Gomer, a harlot (Hosea 1:1-4). The harlot was to symbolize the spiritual harlotry of Israel, in which Israel was whoring after other gods, instead of YHWH, her husband. As might have been expected, Gomer was not a faithful wife. Yet, despite Gomer’s unfaithfulness, Hosea continued loving her, even redeeming her from slavery. This is symbolic of YHWH’s eternal love for Israel, in which He continues to love Israel, despite her spiritual harlotry. God yearns for His people to repent, and warns Israel of the horrendous things she will experience if she doesn’t repent. Ultimately, there will be a future restoration, prophesied in Hosea 2:14-23 and 14:1-9.

     We know from Scripture that YHWH hates divorce.[15] The Scriptures make provision for it,[16] although it is God’s permissive will, not His perfect will. The marriage relationship is supposed to be a picture of God’s eternal love for Israel, His “wife,” and also for the Assembly, the Bride of Messiah. When divorce occurs, this symbolism is spoiled, not to mention the suffering of those affected by the divorce.

     In ancient Israel, it was the custom for the bride to have bride’s maids to accompany her on the day of the wedding. However, no one, including the bride, knew the exact date when the groom would come to the bride’s house to “snatch” her away and bring her to the wedding canopy. Therefore, as the unknown date wedding date approached, the bride and her bride’s maids would prepare themselves and “be ready.”

     In a day yet to come, there will be another marriage, one such as the world has never known. Yeshua told the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. Five were ready for the bridegroom, and five were not. The five who were ready were invited to the wedding feast, whereas the five who were not ready were not allowed in. Yeshua is warning us to “be ready” for the groom (Yeshua) on the day of his return to Planet Earth, since we “know not the day nor the hour” of His return.

     I believe it is reasonable to assume that Yeshua will return on Yom T’ruah (the day of sounding [the shofar]), also called Rosh HaShanah, or the Feast of Trumpets. The Scriptures allude to this in Mat. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52, 1 Thes. 4:16, and Rev. 11:15. The joyous Marriage Supper of the Lamb described in Rev. 19:7-10 will then occur. It will occur after a Tribulation period, but before the Wrath of God (1 Thes. 1:10; Rev. 14 – 18). This will resemble the traditional Jewish wedding feasts. We hope that you will all “be ready” to enjoy it! Yeshua already spilled the blood for the divine marriage covenant 2000 years ago at Golgotha, for your sins and for mine.

Monogamy

Monogamy is the preferred type of marriage in the Scriptures. The first man, Adam, was given only one wife – Chava. (She is incorrectly named Eve or Eva in most translations of Scripture.) Noach and his three sons each had just one wife. Yes, there were many men in Scripture who had more than one wife, including some of the Patriarchs and kings, among others. The biblical ideal is one wife for each man. There is no biblical evidence of any of the prophets having more than one wife. However, for thousands of years, there was no Rabbinic prohibition of having more than one wife. Polygamy was permitted in many cultures, traditions, and religions, including Judaism.

     However, in the year 1000 CE, over a thousand years ago, Rabbi Gershom ben Judah (960-1028 CE[17]) pronounced an edict against polygamy. This edict was only effective for the Ashkenazi Jews of northern France and Germany. However, the influence of this prohibition eventually reached many other Jewish communities, including even some of the Sephardic Jewish communities.

     According to the 1906 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia, this edict was to be valid only until the year 5000 on the Jewish calendar (1240 CE). Others said the edict was a 1000 year edict, in which case it would be good until the year 2000. However, this latter date has also come and gone, so supposedly Jews should once again be allowed to have more than one wife. However, a minhag[18] can eventually carry the force of law. It is even said, “Minhag overrules law (Minhag oker halachah).”[19] Once a minhag (“custom”) has been established for hundreds of years, it often becomes Halachah.[20] In addition, Jews consider themselves bound to the laws of the nation in which they live, unless it contradicts Torah. Most non-Islamic countries forbid polygamy.

     However, after Israel became established once again in 1948, many Jews from Islamic countries began returning to the Land. In Islamic countries, men can have several wives. Jews living in these countries also often had more than one wife, since Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews were not bound by the edict of Rabbi Gershom ben Judah. Many Jews from North Africa and the Middle East were returning to the land of their ancestors with more than one wife. They were allowed to come to Israel with their multiple wives. However, Israeli law forbids taking on more than one wife. Therefore, once in the Land, the men were not allowed to take on additional wives. We are fully supportive of this decision. Even though Torah does not forbid polygamy, it isn’t the biblical ideal. Also, women in polygamous marriages are not treated well, especially in Islamic marriages.

     And of course, all marriages in Scripture were heterosexual. Homosexual marriage wasn’t even thought of! Even in cultures in which homosexuality was common, such as among the ancient Greeks and Romans, nosuch unions were ever sanctioned by marriage. It is only in the 21st Century where you can be accused of being “homophobic” if you oppose homosexual marriages.


[1] Beresheet (Genesis) 29:27.

[2] Hebrew for “The Name (of God).”

[3] Genesis 2:24.

[4] Shoftim (Judges) 14:12.

[5] Yochanan (John) 2:1-11.

[6] Jeremiah 31:22 (31:21 in Jewish Bibles).

[7] Jewish religious schools.

[8] Rabbinic Jewish law.

[9] The Second Jewish Catalog, p. 95.

[10] Encyclopedic Rabbinic commentary on Torah.

[11] Time between the writing of the Tanakh and NT.

[12] Yochanan (John) 14:1-3.

[13] Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts, P. Birnbaum.

[14] Although this practice is not done by most Jews today, it is still done by some Chassidic Jews.

[15] Malachi 2:10-16.

[16] Devarim (Deut.) 24:1-4.

[17] “Common Era,” equivalent to A.D.

[18] A custom or usage handed down (often orally) from generation to generation.

[19] Sofrim 14:18.

[20] The final decision of Rabbinic sages on how to observe Torah, often called “Oral Law.”