JEWISH WEDDING TRADITIONS & MARRIAGE CUSTOMS
WE WILL LOOK AT THESE FIVE POINTS.
1. WHAT MAKES A MARRIAGE IN GOD'S SIGHT?
2. JEWISH MARRIAGE CUSTOMS.
3. OUR ENGAGEMENT VS. BETROTHAL.
4. PROOF OF THESE THINGS.
5. HOW THIS RELATES TO THE EXCEPTION CLAUSE
IN MATTHEW AND FORNICATION IN THE BIBLE.
1. WHAT MAKES A MARRIAGE IN GODS SIGHT?
MAL 2:14 Yet ye say, wherefore? Because the Lord has been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy COVENANT.
God says that He is witness of the covenant made between a husband and wife.
Vs 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. Compare also Matt 19:4-6
God says that he made a husband and wife as one (one flesh). God at this time joins them together, this speaks of the consummation of a marriage. These are the two things in Gods sight that make a marriage COVENANT & CONSUMMATION. There are many other things that man has added to this, but they account for nothing. People all over the world have differing wedding and marriage customs, and some of these traditions do not include God. But as long as there are these two elements God will join a couple together. He is a witness of the vows made and joins them together when the marriage is consummated, unless of course the marriage is sinful in which case it is regarded as adultery.
2. JEWISH MARRIAGE CUSTOMS & TRADITIONS.
I say marriage customs, not wedding customs, because the point of our discussion is how a Jewish couple becomes married. Weddings are not necessarily a part of what binds a couple together in marriage. Customs and traditions according to the Bible and the way God looks at things can be partly or even completely made up of man-made things, so that these traditions and customs have little importance in the things of God. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, a wedding is a happy moment to be enjoyed and remembered. Until fairly recently it has been a custom (not a rule), that couples would wait a long time, often a year or even more between betrothal and marriage. This waiting period has become shorter and shorter until they, (as we do), have the two together. To understand this we must look to the next point.
3. OUR ENGAGEMENT VS. A JEWISH BETROTHAL.
It is important for us to understand the difference between an engagement and a Jewish betrothal. We would tend to think that they are the same. In fact, they are described as the same in my dictionary, but there is a vast difference between the two. A betrothal (in the past) was the legal side of the marriage for Jewish people; it is, in fact, a covenant. The Jewish people call it kiddushin (betrothal). There is no set way to do this, but quite commonly it was done by the payment of a bride price in the presence of two witnesses, and reciting the marriage formula, "Thou art consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and of Israel." She is not required to respond; her silence is her acceptance. This reserved the young woman for him until the day of the wedding ceremony after which the marriage would be consummated by the two becoming one flesh (having intercourse). It doesn't matter what you call it, betrothal or engagement, the important thing to know is if there are vows involved or not. They know that this is done when they are betrothed, and we know this is done at the altar. This is very clear in our minds that the wedding day is the day of no turning back. Just as it is clear in the mind of the Jewish people when they are betrothed according to their customs. Although of course, some of them break these vows just as some of us. Nevertheless a traditional Jewish betrothal is taken very seriously because this is their vow. So an engagement may be called off at any time, and for any reason because no vows are made, but rather they agree to make those vows at a later date. Whereas a betrothal is a Jewish person's vows, and therefore binding until death do they part. This is why sometimes in the Bible a wife can be called a wife before she is actually married, a man may also be called a husband in the same situation, father-in-law, son-in-law, etc. The Bible may also say married when actually betrothed. Also, it may say adultery instead of fornication. But adultery cannot be called fornication. Because one takes a vow when they are betrothed it is understandable how one can be considered married. If the person fornicates it could be called adultery. Of course s-x before marriage is fornication, not adultery, but God's word, customs, and ways of speaking do not always follow the rules. We all know a whale is a mammal, not a fish; yet Jonah's whale is called a fish. There are lots of funny things that don't go by our proper English rules. All we can do is accept that fact and try to reach for the meaning of the Word. So it is understandable for fornication to be called adultery, but to go the other way and call adultery fornication doesn't make sense. Because to call fornication adultery, is showing the strength and importance of a covenant by exaggeration. But to call adultery fornication lessens the strength and importance of the covenant. Once one has made a covenant and consummated it, to lessen the value of an extra marital affair and broken vows from adultery to fornication would be a little odd. We exaggerate things to prove a point, but it doesn't make sense to make a point by lessening the value of something, at least not in the case when you would try to prove the strength and not the weakness of something. So adultery may be fornication, but fornication cannot be adultery.
4. PROOF OF THESE THINGS.
So far the information I have shared with you has come from a book which can be borrowed from the library. I do not have it with me at the moment so I hope these details are correct, if not I am sure there is more out there. I think it is World of weddings by Murphy B. There is further proof of this written in the Dake Bible Matt chapter 1 top of fourth column (a). Which says, Espousal among Hebrews was the (only) legal part of marriage, and could not be broken off except by a bill of divorce. All legal documents were signed and contracts completed at this time. All contracts specified a time between the espousal and the actual marriage relationship.
Also in the Dake, Deut 20 top of forth column (a).It was customary among the Jews to contract matrimony, espouse or betroth a couple, then leave each one with the parents for a considerable time. The contract always specified conditions of dowry, the time when the contracting couple should come together as man and wife, and all other details of agreement between the parents and young people. Concluding festivities were held at the time of fulfillment or coming together of the betrothed. The bridegroom then brought his bride home. Hence, any man in Israel who had such a contract for a wife was free from military duty until he had consummated the marriage and actually taken his wife.
There is more proof found in the book of Josephus. Josephus was a man who lived shortly after the time of Christ AD 37-100. He was the son of a priest and became a Pharisee at the age of nineteen. He may not have been a Christian but the historic details he has compiled are of great value. And of course he had first-hand knowledge of Jewish customs at the time of Christ. In The Antiquities Of The Jews Book 1 ch 11 par 4 on page 41. Josephus speaks of Lots two daughters. Gen 19:14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which (married) his daughters, and said, up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as One that mocked unto his sons in law.
Josephus speaks about these scriptures and basically says that the two daughters of Lot were virgins, yet they were married to Lot's sons-in-law. How can this be if they were virgins? You might say they were not the only two daughters of Lot, but later in this chapter one of them is called the first born, and it was customary for the elder to be married first, as we can see from Laban and his two daughters. But also we have here in Josephus his comments on Lot's two daughters. He says that Lot left with his two daughters, who were virgins, and betrothed to the same two (sons-in-law) that Lot spoke to. Then at the bottom of this column note (a) Says, These (sons in law) to Lot, as they are called might be so styled because they were (betrothed) to Lot's daughters, though not yet married to them.
Now you may argue that we cannot trust what Josephus says especially since he wasn't a Christian. But nonetheless Jewish people especially priests and Pharisees knew their Bible and their history. Even if you don't believe he was right about Lot's daughters, the mere fact that he mentions it proves my point about the customs of the Jews. He also speaks of these things again on page 387 The Antiquities Of The Jews Book 14 Chap 13 Par 1 Bottom 1st column note (a). We may here take notice that (espousals) alone were of old esteemed a sufficient foundation for affinity, Hycranus being here called father in law to Herod, because his granddaughter Mariamne was betrothed to him, although the marriage was not completed till four years afterwards.
NOW WE SHALL LOOK TO THE BIBLE FOR MORE PROOF OF THESE THINGS.
In Deut 22:13-29 we find five different incidents, which mostly resulted in the death of the ones guilty of these sins.
. Vs 13-21 In the case where a man marries a woman, and then accuses her of not being a virgin. One of two things may happen.
[a]. They find her not guilty and among other things he is not to put her away for the rest of his days.
[b]. They find her guilty and she is stoned to death.
What was the difference between life and death for her? Of course it was whether or not she was guilty.
. Vs 22 A married woman is found with another man. Both of them are killed.
. Vs 23-24 If a damsel that is a virgin be (betrothed) unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor’s WIFE: So thou shalt put away evil from among you.
The reason I wrote these two verses is for you to note that the betrothed virgin in question was called a wife. She is betrothed to a man and she is guilty of willingly fornicating with another man and they are both killed.
. Vs 25-27 A betrothed woman is raped which of course is not her fault. She did not sin, and only the man is killed.
. Vs 28-29 A woman who is not betrothed is found fornicating with a man, both of them are guilty of this sin yet neither of them are punished, apart from the man having to pay the father of the girl fifty shekels of silver then having to marry her.
So in the first four instances the guilty party suffered the death penalty. Yet here in the last example the guilty were let live. So what is the difference between them, who lived, being guilty, and the others who received the death penalty? All the others were either married or betrothed when they sinned, with the exception of the 1st example of the woman who was found to be not a virgin on the wedding night. It is possible for her to have committed fornication before she even met her husband to be, but this is not what it is speaking of because as we can see the couple who were not betrothed, did not receive the death penalty. But rather this no doubt refers to fornication after betrothal, either way it does not matter because as we can see the woman in example three was betrothed and she received the death penalty and our last example number five was not betrothed and did not receive the death penalty. The difference clearly being BETROTHAL. Which demonstrates that a betrothal was of great importance. The conclusion is that all who broke the covenant either married or betrothed received the death penalty thus demonstrating that they are both of great importance.
Luk 2:4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
Luk 2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Luk 2:6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
Luk 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
It says that Mary was Joseph’s espoused wife when she was about to be delivered of her child. An interesting scripture, which not only calls an espoused woman a WIFE, but also shows that until the two become one flesh they have not completed the marriage in God's sight and are still considered to be betrothed. Joseph was espoused to Mary when he thought to PUT HER AWAY for the reason of FORNICATION, because she was found with child. Then in Matt 1:24-25 Joseph did as the angel had bidden him and took to him his wife. Which means they had a wedding ceremony. Therefore all being witnesses of the wedding would have thought them to have consummated the marriage, now believing them to be husband and wife. Had this not been the case they certainly would not have been traveling together as this was not the done thing. A couple would have to be married to travel together especially if she was great with child. But as we all know Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her first born child. Therefore although others did not realise, they could not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born. And therefore were still only espoused to each other. This then would prove the need to consummate a marriage to complete it. This does not mean that Jesus was born out of wedlock. His parents had entered into a covenant relationship, the only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage, they had been betrothed which is the covenant then they had a wedding ceremony, which did not count for anything but it convinced all that they were married, since they would have assumed that they had consummated the marriage. The wedding ceremony did not make them any more married than they already were. They were already just as married as we are when we leave the alter. We make a covenant at the alter, but we are not joined by God until the marriage is consummated. All the wedding did for Joseph and Mary was to legitimise their marriage and family in the sight of everyone else, because if they did not, then everyone would have thought that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock.
5. HOW THIS RELATES TO THE EXCEPTION CLAUSE IN MATT.
So we have seen that a wife can be called so whilst betrothed. We have seen the importance of a betrothal and how one had to actually put the other away to end it. This is an important thing to understand at this stage because it relates directly to the exception clause in Matthew. When Jesus spoke these words many years ago these customs were well understood by all. But today most of us are ignorant of these things, that is why most people interpret fornication as adultery but this is not the case. When Jesus said fornication he meant fornication. He was speaking of the betrothed wife just as it was with the example of Joseph and Mary. When it seemed that Joseph's betrothed wife Mary had fornicated, Joseph would have been quite within his rights to have put her away for her fornication. Jesus was speaking of the betrothed wife, who may be put away if she is to fornicate AFTER they are betrothed and BEFORE God joins them at the time of consummation. Because once they become one flesh and are joined by God it is too late to put away. If a man does decide to put his betrothed wife away for the cause of fornication, this does not annul the covenant, which has been made, as nothing can other than death. And for this reason although the man is then free to marry another, as the exception says, but she is NOT, the exception does not include the woman, the reason being that the covenant still stands, a man can have more than one wife, but a woman can have only one husband. Once again I cannot go into these things now, but I will say that although David had many wives, God did not accuse him of any wrong doing until he took another man's wife. Although God does hate divorce and calls it hard-heartedness (which is another story) he will allow it, but only on the grounds of fornication, and that only because God has not as yet joined them together as one flesh. There is no exception given for a fully married couple to divorce. The only exception given is for a man to put away his betrothed wife and then ONLY in the case of fornication. Although Jesus spoke these words for all to understand and obey, it would be very unlikely for us to come across a situation where this would have any impact on us in this country due to the differences in customs and traditions. However this Jewish way of betrothal and marriage is no doubt practiced elsewhere (I have yet to study this). Therefore it does affect some and because of this it is very important to be able to instruct them in the right way, or we could be held accountable for any mistakes we might make. You might say it could affect us in the following situation. A wife divorces her husband and he has nothing to do with it, she does this by herself. He then, you might say, is free to marry another. He did not put away his wife and he being a man, is able to have more than one wife. By our laws he can only have one wife but he would not be breaking any laws because by the laws of our country he is no longer married to his first wife and therefore does not consider him to be married to both his first and second wife at once. He may be able to remarry under different circumstances but our vows preclude us from doing so. The vows we say at the alter include until death do we part and TO FORSAKE ALL OTHERS. We agree to have no other, and for this reason we could not marry another until the death of our partner or we would be breaking our vows. This in short explains the Bible's exception clause in Matthew.
Jewish marriage customs & traditions