Hebrew Marriage Beliefs Judaism Believes Term Paper

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This obscure, nameless darshan's interpretation of B. Yevamot 62b has been particularly enduring, yet, according to Satlow, "while such an interpretation of this sugya makes a good sermon, it makes poor history ... The sugya as a whole is in fact an attempt to answer the question, Why should a man marry" (Satlow pp). And the answer that it gives is much more complex than recognized by "our" darshan (Satlow pp).

Virtually every society supports marriage as a social institution, and so must answer the question of "why marry," therefore the answers serve the concrete function of convincing people to marry, "thus physically reproducing the institution ... thus societies, like those of Jews and non-Jews in antiquity, that offer quite distinct social roles to men and women," often use different means of persuasion to convince men and women to marry (Satlow pp). However, on the other hand, marriage can also be found an articulation of how that society's understands marriage, which in turn becomes a key to understanding more complex issues of group values and identity (Satlow pp). When modern Americans suggest that one should marry for love, this is actually reflecting the value placed on an individual's happiness, and thus is also reinforcing other institutions, such as democracy, that depend on this same value (Satlow pp).

According to the Mishnah, "A man should not cease from [attempting to fulfill the commandment] of procreation unless he has children" (Satlow pp). It goes on to say that the School of Shammai says, "In order to fulfill the commandment to procreate he must have] two boys," and the School of Hillel says, "A boy and a girl, as it is written ... Male and female he created them (Gen. 5:2)" (Satlow pp). Satlow points out that the Babylonian Talmud's discussion of this mishnah is composed mainly of two intertwined, yet independent, commentaries (Satlow pp). One commentaries is on the mishnah proper, the obligation to procreate, while the other is on marriage (Satlow pp).

The Talmud begins its commentary thus: "But if he has children, he may abstain from procreation, but he may not abstain from having a wife" (Satlow pp).

Rav Naiman said in the name of Shmuel, "Even if a man has several children, he is forbidden to live without a wife, as it is said, 'it is not good for man to be alone'" (Satlow pp). However, some believe that if he has children, he may abstain both from procreation and from having a wife (Satlow pp). Satlow notes, that if he has now children he marries a woman capable of bearing children, but if he has children, he can marry a woman not capable of bearing children (Satlow pp). The practical difference, says Satlow, is that he "may sell a Torah scroll, (in order to contract a marriage only) in order (to marry a woman capable of bearing) children" (Satlow pp). Marriage to a woman incapable of procreation is of a lesser level than marriage to a fertile woman, thus a man is not permitted to sell a holy object in order to raise money for the marriage contract (Satlow pp). Musonius Rufus, a first-century Roman aristocrat, stated in his writing, that marriage was not only a topic for philosophers and moralists, but also for rhetors (Satlow pp). The rationale that a man should marry in order to create a household is pervasive in many Jewish Palestinian sources, in fact, early all Jewish writings from the Second Temple period share this view (Satlow pp).

Author Andrew Dearman points out that there is no exact equivalent for the modern Western term for 'family' found in the Old Testament because the two societies, modern Western and ancient Near Eastern, have different ways of defining kinship and social identity (Dearman pp). According to Dearman, the closest Hebrew term to 'family' is 'bet ab,' which literally means as 'father's house,' and reflects a male-headed, multigenerational household as the basic kinship unit in ancient Israel (Dearman pp). Dearman says that a household was shaped "by endogamous marriage rites, patrilineal succession, and inheritance customs that privileged the eldest son, all practices which differ appreciably form the modern Western counterparts" (Dearman pp). Moreover, it is important to understand that the literary contents of the Old Testament originated from only segments of ancient Israel (Dearman pp). Mispaha, another term related to the idea of family and often rendered 'clan,' is a kinship unit of related fathers' houses, and this association of related clans would comprise or constitute a tribe, or sebet (Dearman pp). Each of these units or clans was crucial to the self-understanding of an individual in ancient Israel who, as is often noted in text, had a pronounced sense of corporate identity (Dearman pp). Dearman explains that 'household' is perhaps the best modern term to describe the family in ancient Israel, "since the assumptions about what comprised a family in that society included its socioeconomic profile" (Dearman pp).

Dearman goes on to point out that the second creation account, Genesis 2:4 -- 3:24, presents an etiology of the family, the primary social institution of human culture (Dearman pp). Alhtough other ancient accounts concentrate on the role of a particular deity in establishing creation's order or on the founding of a significant temple at the dawn of creation, "the biblical account concentrates on the relationship established between God and humankind, and that between man and woman" (Dearman pp). According to Dearman:

The latter is the basis of the family etiology in Gen 2:25-24.

Verse 25 is the man's joyful affirmation that, in distinction

from the animals previously encountered, the woman is "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh [basar]." The phrase indicates kinship (Gen 29:14;Jdg 9:2; 2 Sam 5:1; 19:12-13). Reflecting a popular etymology, she is called woman (issa) because she was taken from man (is). Gen 2:24 is the narrator's elaboration on the significance of the physical link between man and woman: "For

thus shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife [issa], and the two shall become one flesh [ehad basar]."

(Dearman pp).

The phrase, 'one flesh' both complements and interprets the previous affirmations that man and woman are of the same flesh, and that the joining of the man and woman in 'one flesh' indicates the social institution of marriage (Dearman pp). Dearman notes that in the later Gospel traditions and Pauline corpus, "the text is so interpreted (Matt 19:1-6; 1 Cor 6:15-20; Eph 5:31)," however in the Old Testament, flesh is a recognized term for kinship, as in "(Gen 37:27; Lev 18:6); the 'fruit of the body' is the 'flesh [basar] of sons and daughters' (Deut 28:53)" (Dearman pp). According to Dearman, when it is stated that a man shall leave his parents and be joined to his wife, the 'one flesh' "typically results in more than a marriage, it presupposes also the formation of a kinship unit with children, this is, a family" (Dearman pp). Therefore, this passage describes what becomes of the man and woman in physical union, and also refers to the offspring they produce, "who share their flesh," thus the birth of every child illustrates the biological and social connection of humankind (Dearman pp).

Dearman cautions that Jews and Christians should be wary of reading the family etiology of Genesis as a creation mandate, "as if the only faithful response to the test is to marry and procreate" (Dearman pp). He notes that Jesus instructed his followers that the blessings of marriage and family were subject to the claims of discipleship in the kingdom of heaven, however, for the purpose of modern debate concerning family values, "it should be a salutary reminder not to raise the family to an idolatrous level (Dearman pp). Nevertheless, as Dearman points out, "the creation accounts point to the institution as the foundation of human community," and instead of beginning with the possibilities of individuality and autonomy, "two concepts at the heart of Western values, the family etiology of Genesis begins with human community as a fleshly union, the first human institution formed at the dawn of creation" (Dearman pp).

Work Cited

Dearman, J. Andrew. "The family in the Old Testament."

Interpretation. April 01, 1998. Retrieved September 24, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site .

The Holy Bible. World Bible Publishers. 1986; Song of Solomon 1:2; pp. 966.

Jewish View of Marriage. Retrieved September 20, 2005 from:


Massachusetts Wedding Guide. Retrieved September 20, 2005 from:


Satlow, Michael L. Jewish Marriage in Antiquity. Princeton University Press.

2001. Retrieved September 20, 2005 from:



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