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March 19, 2004 - Image 86

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-03-19

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

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Old
Is
New
Today's wedding customs reflect the past.

MARLENA THOMPSON JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY

A

ccording to. Jewish law,
getting married is an
exceedingly simple
affair:
The bride accepts something
worth more than a dime (in today's
currency) from the groom, the
groom utters words of acquisition
and consecration, these two actions
are witnessed, and voila, the happy
couple is married. All the rest are
customs that have grown up through
the ages.
This is not to diminish the impor-
tance of customs, however, because
customs add measureless beauty and
meaning to lifecycle milestones.
Today, in fact, some of the most
ancient practices are being rediscov-
ered and "renovated" by couples
seeking to blend tradition with a
modern outlook on marriage.
One such twist is that of the dou-
ble-ring ceremony. Traditionally,
marriage required only that the bride
be given — and that she accept —
something of nominal value froth
the groom,. called a kinyan, today
most often a simple ring. But
Conservative and Reform rabbis find
no legal objection to a woman also
giving her husband a ring.
(Orthodox rabbis say an exchange of
rings invalidates the kinyan.)
The rings are often inscribed with
relevant phrases such as Eshet Chayil
Ateret Bdalah (A Woman of Valor Is
Her Husband's Crown), or Ani
L'Dodi VT Dodi Li (I Am My
Beloved's and My Beloved Is Mine).
Another custom enjoying resur-
gence is that of immersion in the
mikvah, or ritual bath; before one's
wedding. We know that the mikvah
is an ancient institution because ves-
tiges of one were found in the
remains of the destroyed Jewish
fortress at Masada. (The Christian
ritual of baptism is based on mikvah
immersion.)
In Jewish life, mikvah is not cus-
tom but law. According to the laws
of family purity, sexual relations
between a husband and wife are pro-
hibited during the wife's menstrual
period and for seven days after.
During that time, the woman is con-
sidered to be "impure." Before sexual

relations can resume, the wife must
go to the mikvah.
An indoor mikvah collects rain
water, but any body of natural water
— a lake, a river, an ocean — suf-
fices. The mikvah is reserved for
married women and brides-to-be
and, in some cases, conversions.
Because mikvah is associated with
the so-called "impurity" of menstru-
ating women, many women have
shunned it, considering it to be a
relic of an archaic, patriarchal age.
But it is making a comeback as a
symbol of spiritual purification.

Ancient practices
are-being
rediscovered and
"renovated."

In fact, there has been a revival of
the Sephardic custom of turning the
pre-wedding visit to the mikvah into
a celebration. It is not unusual these
days for a prospective bride to visit
the mikvah with women friends who
strew flower petals in her path as she
emerges from the water and regale
her with wine, sweets and song.
Other future brides gather with
their female friends and relatives on
the shores of a river or lake and
recite poems and blessings prior to
her immersion.

The Contract

Another ancient component of mar-
riage that has lately been trans-
formed is the ketubah (marriage con-
tract). The earliest formulation was
written by Shimon ben Shetach,
head of the ancient rabbinical court,
at the end of the first century.
Spelling out a husband's obligations
to his wife, the ketubah was a radical
document in its day because it pro-
vided women with legal status and
rights in marriage.
Until recently, the ketubah's text
remained virtually unchanged. But
many couples who consider the tra-

ditional ketubah to be out of touch
with contemporary views on rela-
tionships are creating new ones.
Whereas the original ketubah was
about a man's obligations to his wife,
modern versions of the document
are typically egalitarian. Many
ketubot now include parallel declara-
tions of commitment made by both
bride and groom with a joint decla-
ration of faith in God and a connec-
tion to the Jewish people.
Whereas the original ketubot were
written in Aramaic, modern docu-
ments are usually drafted in both
Hebrew and English. Having a
ketubah professionally calligraphed
and made even more special with
customized decorations has also
become popular.
The chuppah, or canopy, under
which the bride and groom are mar-
ried, and which symbolizes their new
Jewish home, is also getting an
update. In some communities, it is
traditional for the bride and groom
to marry beneath a tallit, often a
family heirloom, or simply to use
the stationary chuppah provided by
the synagogue.
Some creative couples are choosing
to make their own chuppahs. Some
women hold chuppah parties — a
gathering that resembles old fash-
ioned "quiltings" in that friends of
the bride create individual squares
that are later sewn together. Or
friends can decorate a piece of cloth
with special sayings and personal
well wishes, using fabric pens and
paints.
Although wedding customs may be
cherished simply because of the his-
tory and tradition they represent,
ultimately what keeps them alive is
their relevance in a changing world.
Ancient wedding customs imbued
with a modern spirit provide couples
with both a link to the past and a
hand in shaping the future they will
be sharing. II

Reprinted with permission from
JewishFamily. corn, a service of Jewish
Family & Life.

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