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Ancient Jewish Weddings
Weddings in Ancient Jewish Custom
There is an example of a wedding feast from the gospel of Luke that is not of the famous Cana Wedding Feast that takes place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, but a gathering in the house of a Pharisee. The Pharisees and scribes invited Jesus there because, as always they were trying to test Him. It was on the Sabbath, and there had already been some discussion of this seminal event in the Jewish week, but the discussion had changed because Christ had been asked to heal a man who walked up to him who had dropsy (an abnormal swelling due to excessive water retention). He asked them if they thought it was lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath, and as they were testing Him, they did not answer. So, he told them that they would definitely take their ox out of the ditch if it happened to fall in on the Sabbath. Based on this logic, why would someone not heal on the Sabbath? The Pharisees never made a comment to this (they could not after they heard His reasoning for why he would heal on the Sabbath), so He continued with another parable describing the seating of guests at the wedding feast which begins in verse seven above and ends at verse 14. Christ was not trying to tell them anything about a wedding feast necessarily, but from His description of how guests were seated at the wedding, one can gather how weddings were typically held in that day under Jewish tradition. The research paper details the particulars of the Jewish wedding as it was in ancient times, in the time of Christ, and how that is carried over today in orthodox Jewish homes. Following is a detailed look at how an institution that God began when He joined Adam and Eve together has been carried forward, and added to, but it has remained one of the most time-honored and sacred of Jewish traditions.
Old Testament Marriage
The first mention of marriage in the Bible is quickly after the creation account in Genesis 2:24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." This is the constant theme of marriage throughout the Bible; that of the man and the woman becoming one. The Bible is not very explicit about the covenant of marriage, though it does mention in several places that marriages were often arranged (Gen 24:4 and Gen 28:1). Of course, in the case of Jacob the marriage was arranged, but Jacob went and worked for both Lean and Rachel. In none of these accounts is there talk of any ancient customs that were associated with the marriages.
According to one writer, West (2003), the marriage contract was initiated by either the man (boy) himself or by his family. The girl in question was probably just out of puberty (around 12 or 13) and the boy was probably in his later teens. The two were betrothed at some point, and the marriage agreement did not have to be some marriage document that as signed and sealed. The two were bound by the arrangement, and the consummation of the union made the marriage official (West, 2003). The groom did have to provide his wife's family with a dowry, called a rhm or a mohar, because they were about to lose the money which she would have added to the family (West, 2003). This is according to a Biblical scholar.
The customs which are recorded from the Talmud (the Torah says little about marriage or the contract of marriage) discuss the concept of a bashert (soul mate). This is literal because in Jewish tradition (Talmud is Jewish rabbinical tradition, while the Torah is the Pentateuch or the law of Moses (Celine, 2011)) the "Rav Yehuda taught that 40 days before a male child is conceived, a voice from heaven announces whose daughter he is going to marry, literally a match made in heaven" (Rich, 2011). This's not necessarily believed in the Jewish faith, and most marriages are not pre-arranged currently, but in ancient times there was a belief that people's unions were ordained by God.
The ancient tradition also states that: "The primary purpose of marriage is love and companionship, not just childbearing; A contract called a ketubah spells out terms of marriage and divorce; Marriages between certain close relatives are prohibited, and; Children born out of wedlock are not bastards in Jewish law" (Rich, 2011). This is consistent with what is taught in the Old Testament of the Bible. God ordained a pleasurable sexual relationship, and a companionship between a man and a woman, and the law states the conditions under which the Jews were not to marry (because it would make them like the Egyptians and Canaanites (West, 2003).
New Testament Marriage
By the time of Christ, marriage had become an institution, and with it was the concept of divorce. He Jews believed that a divorce was not wrong when a man left a spouse because he was the "lord" of the house and could do as he pleased (West, 2003). Under the Jewish traditions, a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason as long as he made it public that he was putting her away.
The tradition had also become clogged with a great deal of ceremony that had not been there when the contracts began. From the simplicity that God had first envisioned, people had convoluted the process to such an extent that it was now a major undertaking in any Jewish family (much as the preparation for marriage is today). First, the original contract was spoken by the father of the intended groom to the father of the intended bride (Young, 2007). This was called the Shiddukhin. After the contract had been sealed between the two heads of family, the groom had to pay a mohar (dowry) for the bride. This was traditionally to defray the costs of the daughter leaving the family home, but many times the father of the bride gave it back to her to start her new life with (Young, 2007). The actual ceremony can be said to start a week before the actual wedding day because from this time the bride and groom are not allowed to see each other until the day of the wedding (Orthodox Judaism, 2010).
On the day of the wedding, the bride and the groom entertained their same sex guests in separate apartments. This separation was common in the ancient Jewish household because a woman was thought to be unclean (Orthodox Judaism, 210). The actual marriage ceremony is called the Nisuin (Young, 2007). It is a time when the bride is and the groom wear white which symbolizes purity, modesty and death (Orthdox Judaism, 2010). The groom puts a veil on the bride which she does not remove until after the completion of the marriage ceremony.
The wedding feast was a tradition that was given to the honored guests of the bride's mother and father to express their gratitude for the blessings of God (Rich, 2011). The feast comes after the groom has broken the glass (to symbolize the destruction of the temple (Orthodox Judaism, 2010; Rich, 2011), and then the bride and groom would go into a separate room for five to ten minutes to symbolize the groom taking the bride into his home (Rich, 2011). The feast is an exuberant expression of the joy that is felt at the joining of the two young people together. Many of these ceremonies were segregated because of the Jewish law strictures that prohibited men and women congregating together (Orthodox Judaism, 2010).
Modern Orthodox Ceremony
Many of the traditions have survived within the Orthodox community, and the ceremony has been added to also. The additions are that the marriage agreement must be signed (the Ketubah) and the seven blessings are given (the Sheva Brachot) (Orthodox Judaism, 2010). Most ethnic Jewish households do not hold to these traditions though unless they are orthodox. The reason for this is that most people of Jewish ethnicity do not keep the ancient laws, and do not follow the religion in any manner. Because of this, modern Jews often parrot the traditions of Western cultures.
Luke 14 Parable
Christ was not talking to them about any wedding tradition, except how guests were seated at the tables. Generally, people would be seated according to their importance to the parents of the bride. Since it was the bride's family giving the Seuda (Orthodox Judaism, 2010), they got to choose where everyone would sit. Jews have a belief that whoever is wealthy is blessed by God, and whoever is living in a mean condition is not. Because of this bias, the people in ancient Israel would have seated the more important, blessed guests at the head tables. They would also have brought them the choice food and wine.…[continue]
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