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February 13, 1987 - Image 84

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

abbi, we want
to let you
know that
we've been
living together for the last
two years. For us, the wed-
ding fulfills a legal formali-
ty and probably is an ex-
cuse for our parents to
throw us a party. We hope
you understand." The first
time a couple uttered these
words to me, I felt I could
not respond. Living
together — everyone does it
nowadays. I didn't want to
appear old fashioned or
puritanical. But their at-
titude about the signifi-
cance of the wedding did
make me wonder if there
was any value left to the
wedding ceremony or to my
pastoral role.
On the face of it, the rab-
bi probably cannot teach
them much about the
routine aspects of married
life if they have already
been living together. They
know about sharing chores,
about each other's habits
and idiosyncracies, about
each other's sexual in-
terests. They know that ac-
countability for each
other's whereabouts is fun-
damental to the health of
their relationship. Couples
living together do ex-
perience many of the
characteristics of married
So, what spiritual signifi-
cance is left to the wedding
ceremony? The fact is that
the spiritual component of
the wedding, and ultimate-
ly of marriage in general,
has waned dramatically.
Marriage no longer holds
the same position of awe;
for many couples, the wed-
ding no longer symbolizes
the beginning of sharing
their lives together. As a
result of living together,
couples do not always see
the potential impact that
the wedding and the transi-
tion to marriage may have
upon their relationship.
Specifically, there are
three areas in which the
wedding — a public procla-
mation of a permanent
commitment — can create
changes in the nature of
the relationship between a
man and a woman already
living together. The first
area focuses on relations
between the newlyweds and
their parents. The second
area focuses on the Jewish
community. The third area
is the potential change in
the couple's relationship
Before discussing these

Rabbi Brad Bloom, a
native Baltimorean, is rabbi
of Congregation Beth Am, in
Los Altos Hills, California.

Why Get

Nowadays, couples living
together are a common sight.
They may even consider it a
form of marriage, but it's
not. It lacks the spiritual
element of marriage.


areas, however, we must
ask why the Jewish com-
munity has not openly ad-
dressed the issue of living
together? From a Jewish
perspective, living together
runs contrary to our basic
values on the subjects of
sexuality and marriage. For
example, from a biblical
perspective, can you im-
agine our patriarch Jacob .
and matriarch Rachel decid-
ing to set up their own tent
before obtaining permission
to marry from Rachel's
father, Laban? Generally
speaking, biblical custom
does not condone sexual ac-
tivity outside the context
of marriage.
The rabbinic tradition
maintains the same posi-
tion. Most of the sources in
the Talmud focus on issues
like adultery and prostitu-
tion; few sources speak
directly to the prohibition
of pre-marital sex. An in-
teresting example of the
traditional Jewish view was
Moses Maimonides, who ex-
horted his young students
to refrain from illicit sexual
activity. "Above all, a man
should be on guard against
improper seclusion, since
this is the chief cause of
unchastity." (Mishnan
Torah: Laws of Forbidden
Intercourse, chapter 19:17).
However, we should not
forget that the rabbis
believed that sex was a
sacred act, a mitzvah.
Because of the view that
connects sexual activity
with marriage, the wedding
ceremony itself became the
key traditional event as a
young couple entered
adulthood. The reason was
that most couples married
during their teenage years,
and there were fewer oppor-
tunities to explore and ex-
perience the social and sex-
ual aspects of relationships
that today's young people
have. In addition, the prac-
tice of prearranged
marriages limited the in-
dividual's degree of free
choice in choosing a mate.
Therefore, with the consum-
mation of the marriage
through the ceremony of
Yichud, the wedding was
the initiatory rite for the
first sexual encounter.
The American Jew is
caught in a conflict be-
tween the value system of
modern society versus the
values of traditional
Judaism. The traditional
view classifies living
together before marriage as
sinful and unethical in any
context, let alone as an
alternative to marriage.
Whether or not living
together is ethical, it is
quite common today. With
the divorce rate skyrocket-

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