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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Association of the sexes was much restricted among the Jews, and the see BETROTHAL was generally brought about by a third person, often a professional match-maker ("shadkan"). The latter received a brokerage-fee fixed by law, as a rule a small percentage of the dowry, the sum being doubled when the contracting parties came from a distance. It was paid by either of the parties, or each paid one-half, at the betrothal or after the wedding. The rabbi, as a person enjoying special confidence, was also often employed as intermediary; it is well known that Jacob Levi of Mayence lived upon fees thus derived, while he devoted his income as rabbi to assisting his pupils. Although the marriage preliminaries were exclusively the concern of the parents and their agents, yet the young people were in nowise forced into the contract.
Early marriages were frequent; apart from moral considerations, they were often due to political conditions; in Russia, for example, the Jews were subject to conscription, but those who were married men were excused from military service. Social conditions also had some influence: a father, possessing the dowry for his child, urged the marriage so as to secure the dowry to her before one of the numberless persecutions robbed him of it. The betrothal was concluded, conditionally or definitely, as soon as the amount of the "ḳenas" (the penalty for breaking the contract) was fixed; however, it had, generally, no religious or legal significance, since the Talmudic custom of immediately connecting the betrothal ("ḳiddushin") and the nuptial ceremony ("erusin"), and of having the marriage proper follow later ("nissu'in"), fell more and more into disuse in the Middle Ages. At the betrothal the stipulations made by each party were fixed ("tena'im rishonim"), and a glass was thrown upon the floor, the broken pieces of which were saved to be laid upon the eyes of the espoused pair after death.
In Poland, even to-day, the bridegroom receives pastry ("chosenbrod") when he visits his betrothed. During the week before the wedding-day the betrothed pair was allowed to leave the house only when accompanied. On Friday evening, or sometimes two Sabbaths, before the wedding, a feast was given in honor of the parents; this feast was commonly called "spinnholz" ("sponsalia" or "spindel"), or, in Poland, "vorspiel." On the day before the wedding the most prominent members of the community carried the presents of the groom to the bride with special ceremonies; as was customary also in non-Jewish circles, the presents consisted generally of a girdle, veil ("covering" before the ceremony still obtains, in conformity with Rebekah's example), mantle ("kursen"), and wreath, subsequently also of a "siflones tefillah," a prayer-book with the inscription ("Love, fraternity, peace, and good-fellowship"). Among the Greco-Turkish Jews a ring was included, called "nissu'in"; among the Greeks and Romans it was called "symbolum" (hence the Jewish "siflones"). The groom received a ring and shoes, later a ṭallit and a shroud. The rings were handed down in the family; the rings were formerly often of fine workmanship, having the miniature model of a synagogue carved on them and the inscription , later (= "good luck ").
Day of Wedding.
Two weddings on one day, especially of brothers or sisters, were avoided, and it was considered unlucky if the father-in-law and the son-in-law had the same name. In Talmudic times virgins were married preferably on Wednesday, and widows on Thursday (later, on Friday afternoon), a custom that still obtains in the East. A wedding in Mayence at the end of the fourteenth century took the following course: Early in the morning the "schulklopfer" invited the whole community to the ceremony. The leaders took the bridegroom, with music and candles, to the court of the synagogue; then the musicians and candle-bearers brought the bride with her friends and an escort of women. At the door of the synagogue the groom took the bride's hand, while the two were showered with wheat and coins (given afterward to the poor), and Psalms 147:14, and later Genesis 1:28 ("Be fruitful, and multiply"), were recited as a greeting; after this they sat for a short time, hand in hand, on the bench in front of the synagogue. Then the bride was escorted home, where she put on the festive robe of the married, and under it the shroud ("sargenes"). The groom also modified his festive appearance by drawing the hood ("gugel") over his head, which he strewed with ashes; even to-day the groom ineastern Europe wears the sargenes. With this sign of mourning for Zion even at the height of human felicity, belonged in Talmudic times another—the breaking of a glass, the pieces of which were gathered up by girls "for luck," while the "shammas" cried out "Zeh ha-ot" (= "This is the sign"), and all present responded "Mazzal ṭob." The grief at Zion's loss appeared likewise in the mournful strains of the wedding-songs in the Talmud, as also in the poems of Judah ha-Levi, who first composed individual "carmina" on the model of Psalms 45 and the "kallah" songs down to the eighteenth century.
As soon as the groom had sat down beside the Ark of the Law, the morning prayer began, after which the bride was led with music to the door of the synagogue; thence she was escorted by the rabbi and the elders of the community to the bemah (ALMEMAR), taking her place at the right of the groom (comp. Psalms 45:10 [A. V. 9], in which the last letters of the words ["upon thy right hand did stand the queen"], taken in reverse order, spell ["bride"]), where the mothers of the young couple stood. Bride and groom were covered with the ṭallit, or with the long end of the groom's gugel, and wedded. Later the wedding-tent ("ḥuppah") came into use; this was a reminiscence of the litter in which the bride was formerly carried or of the room in which the couple were left alone for a time. Then the groom was escorted home, and after him the bride, whom he met at the door and as she entered he placed her hand on the upper post, thus making her the mistress of the house. The wedding-festival proper, in the bride's house, did not begin until the evening; it lasted until Sunday morning, but was interrupted by the Sabbath morning service. At this, as at every service, the groom was the center of interest; in his honor songs were rendered that grew more numerous as marriages became less frequent, and more solemn as the social and political condition of the Jews was rendered more unfortunate. On returning home the groom handed to his young wife his mantle, girdle, and hat to signify that she shared his property.
The bridal procession (mentioned in Biblical writings) was headed, among the Spanish Jews, by mimes, fiddlers, and armed riders. In Egypt the bride was decked with helmet and sword, while the groom and his escort wore feminine garments and colored their finger-nails with henna, as women did. The women played the cymbals and danced. Even the most dignified scholars, also, danced in Talmudic times. Later, music was regarded as an essential part of the wedding, non-Jews being engaged to play on the Sabbath, while on the other hand Jewish musicians played at the festivities of Christians. The garlanding of the bridal pair, a custom of Biblical origin that was carried to an extreme of extravagance, ceased with the destruction of the Temple; yet the myrtle-wreath of the bride has been retained. Even in New Testament times young girls with torches escorted the pair (Matthew 25); in Arabia a pole to the top of which a light has been fastened in carried at the head of the procession. In Bagdad the groom is accompanied to the house of the bride by poor people carrying lamps, and he distributes for this service coins among them. On the way the poor thrust live sheep in front of him, and whenever he steps on the head of one he gives a certain amount to its owner. The bride is usually led seven times (or at least once) around the groom; or both sit while the people, old and young, dance around them. According to an ancient Persian custom in Talmudic times, nuts and flowers were strewn in the path of the pair, and they were showered with barley which had been planted in a pot shortly before the wedding (on the use of hops in this connection see Hehn, "Kulturpflanzen," p. 488; and on the use of rice among the Indians, whose wedding-customs are very similar to those of the Jews, see Dorville, "Gesch. der Verschiedenen Völker des Erdbodens"). On the birth of a boy a cedar was planted; on that of a girl, an acacia; and when the girl became a bride her litter was made from the branches of that acacia. In Germany the young couple's first meal consisted of milk and honey, and salt was sprinkled in the house (comp. Numbers 18:19). In Ṭur Malka two hens are carried before the couple, and after the wedding chicken is placed before them ("chosenhühndel"). In the East they jump over a vessel containing a fish, and in Germany fish was formerly eaten on the second day of the wedding-week; all these customs are symbols of fertility.
The fasting of the bridal pair dates back to the Talmud; it is either due to the fact that their sins are forgiven or is intended to remind them of the duty of temperance. The wedding-songs were often in the form of riddles, following Biblical precedent (Samson's wedding), and were improvised especially by the jester ("marschalik"), who, however, at times moved his hearers to tears by serious speech, as he still does in eastern Europe. Plays also were given, a practise which prevailed otherwise only at Purim.
Before the fourteenth century the presence of the rabbi was not required; nor did he speak at the ceremony,though he did at the feast, when the groom likewise delivered a "derashah" (Talmudic discourse; hence the use of the word "derashah" for wedding-gifts). Weddings were occasionally celebrated in the open air in the Middle Ages, although the Talmud protested against the custom; it was done probably because of the limited space in the synagogue or in the bride's house; later the custom was interpreted symbolically (comp. Genesis 15:5). At the synagogue service on the Sabbath after the wedding the congregation read to the groom the chapter on Isaac's marriage, a custom that ceased in Europe with the seventeenth century. In the East the Arabic translation is read in addition to the Hebrew.
During the seven blessings at the ceremony the bride and the groom, in accordance with a widespread superstition, each tried to secure the mastery in the household by putting one of the feet on the foot of the other. At the time of the Geonim (as occasionally to-day in the East) these seven blessings were uttered twice—once in the house of a relative of the bride, whither the latter had been taken from her father's house on the evening before the day of the wedding, and once in the house of the groom.
The ring, without stone or inscription, is put on the first finger of the bride's right hand. The marriage certificate, the wording of which varies according to time and place (Chorny, "Sefer ha-Massa'ot," p. 242; Rinman, "Mas'ot Shelomoh," pp. 156, 159; Kaufmann, in "Monatsschrift," 1897; S. Krauss, in "Zeit. für Hebr. Bibl." 1901; A. Berliner, in "Meḳiẓe Nirdamim," ), dates from the Hellenistic period; among the Sephardim, especially the Italian Sephardim, and in Cochin, it was artistically ornamented. In early times it often bore the portraits of the bridal pair. Among the Jews of the Caucasus it is sometimes put in the grave (Chorny, c. p. 26).
The reports of travelers concerning the marriage ceremonies among the Oriental Jews are interesting. Thus Rinman tells of the White Jews at Cochin: If the contracting parties have come to an understanding, the couple are taken before the elders of the community, the eldest of whom asks the groom whether he consents to the union; if he has parents, he answers, "The will of my parents is my will"; if not, "I desire her." Then the bride is questioned, and if she also consents, the elder takes a cup of wine and drinks to the health of the pair, the others present doing likewise; then they partake of coffee and confectionery and leave. On the day of the wedding the groom wears a white turban and the bride a fine cap; after the ceremony both clothe themselves in red silk, and on the seventh day in green silk or in silk of some other color.
Customs of Cochin.
The costs of the feast are borne by the father of the bride, the father of the groom furnishing only wine and meat (often forty beeves during the fifteen days of the feast, although beef is given only to the servants, the guests being fed with fowl). The owner of the largest house in the community surrenders his apartments for the wedding festivities. On the Sabbath the groom spreads a feast for his friends; then the whole community goes to the house of the bride to escort her to the house of one of her relatives, who serves coffee to them. At the end of the Sabbath the bride is led to the house in which the ceremony is to take place, and there the people eat and drink until after midnight. On the following evening the bride is led to the miḳweh, or ritual bath. On Tuesday morning the goldsmith comes to make the ring for the bride, which she wears until her death. While she puts the ring on, the women sing Malabarian songs. In the evening the groom is led with music to the synagogue, where he stands on the steps before the Ark of the Law and recites the evening prayer with the congregation. Then the whole community, with the sound of trumpets and drums, calls for the bride, who walks under a kind of sun-umbrella carried by her father, in accordance with a Talmudic law. She sits down with her bridesmaids to the right of the Ark; before her stands a silver inkstand, to be used by the signatories to the ketubah.
The groom, in the ṭallit, sits down opposite her with his two best men; the ḥazzan thereupon fills a golden cup with wine and gives it to the groom, receiving in return 7½ francs; and the groom, reciting the first blessing, drinks part of the wine and gives some to the bride. Then he hands her the ring, with the words: "Thou,—, daughter of—, art betrothed unto me,—, son of—, according to the law of Moses and Israel." Thereupon the ketubah is read to a certain melody, and the groom gives it to the bride, after having thrice repeated, "Here is thy ketubah." The ḥazzan then causes the groom to take hold of his ṭallit, and to promise that he "will fulfil his duties as husband." After the ḥazzan has pronounced the seven blessings, the bride is unveiled, to the song "Yafah kalebanah," based on Song of Solomon 6:10. Hand in hand, the young couple now proceed, with music and torch-bearers, and followed by the people, to the house in which the festivities are to be held. There the groom dances with his friends and the bride with hers, and all partake of refreshments. At 10 o'clock they sit down to the feast, the bridal couple at the head of the table, and next to them the leaders of the community, men on the one side and women on the other. The old people call out "Yeḥi he-ḥatan weha-kallah!" (Long live groom and bride!), and the young people answer, "Hep! Hep!" (This custom is derived from the Portuguese.) The ḥazzan then sings, the community responding, after which the elders sing, and the ḥazzan pronounces grace and intones Psalms 111, "Eshet Ḥayil," and finally the seven blessings (a different elder of the community blesses the bride and groom on each of the seven wedding-days). Then the young people dance with the groom, clap their hands, and again sing Psalms 111
On Wednesday evening the groom goes to the bride, who has assumed a white gown, which the women take away as soon as the groom is gone. The next day the elder women, after a meal, gather to pass judgment on the virtue of the young wife. On the following Sabbath there is another feast. In the synagogue is read from a printed copy of the Torah the section, "And Abraham had reached the days," with the Aramaic translation. After the service every one gathers in the house of festivity; the bride, in gorgeous garments, with a wreath of pearls on her head, stands in front of her throne, the women sing before her, the men eat, drink, and dance, and then all sit down to dinner. Smaller feasts are held daily until the following Wednesday. On Tuesday evening there is a greater feast, when the guests present their gifts. There is no difference between the weddings of the rich and the poor, since the rich give to the poor everything that is required for the occasion.
In Cochin and among the Cingalese the following order is observed: The bride counts seven days from the day on which the groom declares his intention of marrying her. On the night before the eighth day she takes a bath, the women assisting her, and singing. The next night, called "kofa," she is led with music to the women's ritual bath, after which the rabbi sings a song beginning "Yafah kalebanah Torah" (an acrostic containing "Yiẓḥaḳ"); a Torah-roll, opened at the Decalogue, is placed before the bride, who kisses it while putting her hand to her eyes. Then the rabbi blesses her, placing his hand on her head. The people eat, and sing acrostics with the names "Abraham" and "Solomon"; after washing their hands they say grace and go home. On the following day they gather again in the wedding-house; the bride places the presents of the groom in a vessel, and the goldsmith examines the gold and silver to see that they are not below the minimum value of one "peruṭa" or mite each. Here, also, the women sing. At a second gathering on the same day the groom appears with his hair cut, having bathed and donned new garments, including a new turban; as soon as he comes to the table the guests sing Psalms 122, the groom is placed among them, and they recite Esther 8:15 et seq.; he is then blessed and sits down at table. This meal is called "ajni." After dinner the rabbi sings "Kalil ḥatan li-beraḳah," and the several blessings of grace are recited in turn by various guests. The next evening the people proceed with music and songs to the synagogue, where the groom and his best men ("shushbinim") light four wax candles; then the procession marches to the wedding-house, where the bride is waiting. She is placed on a chair, wrapped in a large cloth, and the groom stands in front of her and quotes again from the Book of Esther (8:15 et seq.). Then the groom himself, as is customary in Yemen, pronounces, according to the version of Maimonides, the first blessing over a cup of wine, to which a silver ring is attached by a white thread. He tastes the wine, takes off the ring, and gives the cup to the bride with the words "Ba ḳiddushiki." After drinking she gives the cup to some one in the circle. The groom next places the ring on the little finger of her right hand, using the same words as before, and the rabbi reads the marriage certificate, after having obligated the groom (by taking hold of his mantle—"meḳabbel ḳinyan"—three times) to fulfil the chief duties of the husband as stated in the certificate. The certificate is signed by the groom and two witnesses, and then given to the bride. Songs follow, the bride is unveiled and placed in a litter, and cups of wine are given to the groom and the rabbi, who pronounces the seven blessings. The ceremony ends with a song.
On the Sabbath morning the groom goes with his relatives to the synagogue, where he is received by the rabbi with the words of Psalms 122 He is called up as the eighth to read the Torah, while the leader in prayer recites a piyyuṭ—"'Arba'ah Kelilin." Before the second blessing the groom recites by heart from Genesis 24 After the Ḥafṭarah the words of Isaiah 61:10 are pronounced before the blessings. When the groom leaves the synagogue the rabbi repeats Psalms 119, etc. Arrived at home, the bride and groom are blessed by the rabbi, and the people eat and sing. On the eve of the seventh day of the wedding-week the bride and groom are led with music to the synagogue, the rabbi reads Psalms 44, and the groom recites the evening prayer; then they go to the wedding-house, where the rabbi repeats "Yafah kalebanah," and the people feast and sing "Yismaḥ ḥatan be-kallah."
In the town of Tilla on the Sabbath the passage Genesis 24 is read to the groom from a second Torah-roll, and the superintendent of the synagogue renders the song "Mi Kamoka," by Judah ha-Levi (in the Sephardic maḥzor for Purim). On the morning of the third day the friends of the groom color his hands and feet red (the people go barefoot in Tilla); in the evening there is a great feast, after which they shave the groom's head and put on the turban the bride has given him, he, on his part, having presented his friends and the brothers of the bride with turbans; all then proceed, with dancing and singing and with torches, to the house of the bride. There the groom pronounces one blessing over a cup of wine and the others over a second cup; he takes a ring and coins of gold, copper, and (chiefly) silver, and says to the bride, in Aramaic: "Be hallowed and be betrothed unto me,—, the bridegroom, thou, bride and virgin [divorcée or widow], by this cup of wine and by this coin; on account of them thou shalt pass into my possession, according to the law of Moses and of Israel." After having given her wine, he offers her the money and the ring, before witnesses, and translates from the Arabic the marriage certificate, which he also gives her. The congregation sings the seven blessings together with songs in honor of the couple, and the choir-leader recites Psalms 3, the people responding "Hallelujah." Then the groom says, "You have blessed me, may God bless you; you have made me glad, may God make you glad," and drinks the wine. On Friday evening there is a feast in the house of the bride, at which the groom gives her the wedding-gift. On the Sabbath she is taken to the house of the groom, where the festivities last for seven days, on each of which the seven blessings are recited. During this time the groom sits daily for one hour under the ḥuppah.
In Bagdad the palms and the soles of the bride and her friends are colored with henna the night before the wedding. The people make merry first in the house of the bride, then in that of the groom. The next day, about five hours before sunset, the "ḥakamim" accompany the groom and his relatives to the house of the bride. The ḥakam lifts the bride's veil in order to show her to the groom, but lets it fall again immediately. In Bagdad also the celebration lasts seven days.
In the Caucasus.
Chorny (c. p. 298) says that in the Caucasus the ceremony is always performed on Wednesday. On the preceding Thursday three or four girls, relatives of the bride, put on her clothes and invite other girls to sleep in a special room with her. Toward evening the groom sends meat and rice-flour to the bride and her friends. The latter go out to sprinkle the flour on the young people, who dance while the boys and girls clap their hands. On this evening also the groom spreads a feast for his friends. On Sabbath morning the friends of the bride, among whom there must be at least five grown persons, clad in the bride's garments, go from house to house leaving invitations to the feast and receiving wherever they may stop sugar, coffee, apples, or eggs.
After the service, at which the groom is not called up for the Torah, which is read only after the ceremony, the guests accompany the pair to the house of the groom for a feast, and then to the house of the bride, where the men eat first and the women afterward, the girls furnishing music with harmonicas, trumpets, etc. On the Sabbath, as well as on the following day, the bride spreads a table for her friends; on Sunday the groom for his friends. On Monday and Tuesday the bride visits the friends of her household with her girl companions, who sing a Tatar song. She is clad in mourning to indicate her sorrow at leaving her parents' house. The visitors everywhere receive presents and refreshments. As they approach the house of the groom, his companions appear and pelt the procession with sand and small stones. The groom is similarly led about among his friends. If he is rich he is even obliged to have silk wedding-garments made for the members of his household.
On Tuesday evening the father of the groom spreads a feast for the whole community. On Wednesday the bride and groom fast. About noon the rabbi, with a male relative of the groom and some women, goes to the house of the bride in order to inspect the clothing which she has had made with the money of the groom. Quarrels often arise on this occasion. If the father is wealthy he adds a sum of money to that which has been provided by the groom.
Then the groom and bride are taken to the sea for the bath, after which they put on the wedding-garments. The groom is preceded by young men, and the bride by girls, with drums and with hand-clapping and Tatar songs. While the hair of the weeping bride is being combed, the girls light the lamps; then the bride, kneeling, receives her mother's blessing. The brothers of the bride, if she has any, otherwise an uncle, lead her to the ceremony in the court of the synagogue, the girls following with lights, generally white candles ornamented with blossoms.
The groom also is brought with songs from the sea; girls go to meet him in festive train, with dishes of confectionery, and with a branch hung with silken kerchiefs and coins. Arrived at home, he is kissed on the forehead by all the women; then, after having been blessed by his relatives, he is led with music to the court of the synagogue, where, under the ḥuppah, the rabbi with two pupils awaits the pair. The music ceasing, the groom goes under the ḥuppah, while the bride's parents are mourning at home for their child and those of the groom are preparing for the ceremony. The bride is led a few times around the groom, the bridesmaids and the others carrying lights. The ritual is that of the Sephardim; the rabbi sits during the ceremony, and both he and the groom hold a glass of wine during the blessings, drinking after each of them.
After the ceremony, guns and rockets are discharged; the bride, closely veiled by her attendants, is put on a horse, which a relative of the groom leads while another holds a mirror before her face; and with shouting and music the couple are led home, showered on the way with rice. Arrived at the house of the bride, the girls dance, and as soon as she crosses the sill the door-posts are smeared with honey, while a light burns over the door; at the same time the young men again discharge pistols. The musicians are then paid, and the wedding procession is ended.
Afterward the groom goes walking with his friends until the evening, when the men and the women eat in separate rooms without music. After the meal is finished the gifts, of gold only, are presented, the rabbi blessing each giver. The bride keeps with her in the room of the women only a sister and an aunt, if she has any, and a few friends. Late in the evening, after the guests have departed, the groom is led to the bride. After a time the young men call him out, discharging guns. The bride's mother must prepare for them a cock and a hen, or all her chickens will be stolen and killed. The bride and groom receive also money and fruit, the latter being eaten in the bride's room. The bride herself remains for twelve days behind a curtain, guarded by girls who demand pay from the groom.
In Grusia (Georgia; Chorny, c. p. 129) the groom and bride are led in festive train from their homes to the synagogue, where they take their places beside the bemah. The ḥakam recites some piyyuṭim, translating them into Grusian, the ketubah also being written in Hebrew and Grusian. After a blessing upon the czar the groom covers himself and the bride with a ṭallit. While the ḥakam pronounces the first blessings the groom holds a ring and an earthen vessel containing wine. Then handing the ring to the bride, he breaks the vessel; covered by a cloth, the ends of which both hold, the bride and groom circle around the bemah, kiss the curtain of the Ark of the Law, and leave the synagogue.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Marriage Ceremonies'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/m/marriage-ceremonies.html. 1901.