Sunday, May 11, 2008

Acquisition of a Wife ("The Jewish Way")


Comparing patriocentricity to the practice of Orthodox Judaism according to Rabbi Maurice Lamm in “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage
I’ve poured over this book many times and at many times over the course of the last twenty years or so, and I can find nothing in this book wherein a marriage offer must first be negotiated with the father of a woman of consenting age. In the case of an under-aged daughter, Jewish law requires that the permission of a father must be obtained first, but this only applies to women who are not yet adult and who cannot say “I desire him.”

From page 165:
A Minor Female (Ke’tanah)
Historically, an under-aged girl found herself in difficult circumstances. She was frequently in danger of abduction by an enemy people if she was unmarried, and if her family was poor, she was considered a drain on family expenses. Girls therefore were brought into marriage at a very early age. (Even today Yemenite Jews emigrating to the modern state of Israel bring daughters married at age ten.) For these and other reasons, the law permitted this marriage with the permission of her father, although the Talumd considered it a mitzvah not to marry her until she is prepared to say le’ploni ani rotzah, “him I want.” Maharam Rotenburg, in famous Reponsum, advises the Jewish community to follow the rule of the Talmud, as he himself has done with his minor daughter.

In 1950 the Israeli rabbinate passed a law that made it illegal to marry a girl until the age of sixteen.
Kiddushin is the legal process of establishing the marriage bond, and in the chapter in Lamm’s book that describes this, the father of the woman of consenting age is not mentioned. The woman herself does all the negotiation. Even in the marriage ceremony itself, both the bride and groom are to be accompanied by one or more people to meet under the chuppah, but this is to ceremonially demonstrate that the marriage has been approached in the proper way. This means that neither party was coerced into marriage and that the accompanying witnesses attest that both parties consent of the union. There is no requirement that the person accompanying the daughter must be a father or a “male head” within the Jewish law. If anything, this practice designates that the woman’s rights have not been violated in the preparation for the union. If the practice and the “requirement” that a father must give the daughter to a mate and transfer ownership, then this idea does not come from Judaism or from the Torah, according to Lamm.
If the woman has violated Jewish law in the selection of a mate, then that is a different matter and the family would have recourse for complaint. But because the principle of “leaving and cleaving” is held so highly in Jewish tradition, the choice of and refusal of a mate belongs to the woman. If there is no Jewish law dictating that a suitor must be acquired by the father as it taught in patriocentricity, this is cultural and not drawn from Biblical law, according to Lamm. Jewish tradition does stress considerations such as family approval, the joining of families and other very practical considerations, but there is no legal demand placed upon the daughter that restricts her choice of a spouse if she has not violated Jewish law. If there are other requirements placed on her, they are cultural and not something that stems from Jewish law.
Concerning the arrangement and initiation of the marriage covenant, during betrothal, the woman does all of her own negotiating directly with her intended future mate without mention of the consent of or the presence of her father or other male family representative.
From Page 146:
Kiddushin (a rabbinic term) is accomplshed by kichah (a biblical term), the “taking” of a woman by a man, in one of three ways (in ages past):
1. Money (kessef). The man gives the woman money, even a low denomination coin, or the equivalent of money – today a ring is customary – before two witnesses and says, “You are hereby betrothed unto me with this ring in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” The bride, by her acceptance, indicates her willingness to be married to the groom.
2. Contract (she’tar). The man gives the woman a deed, before two witnesses, which contains the names of the couple and the groom’s marriage formula. This deed is not the nature of evidence of the marriage, but is for the purpose of effecting the bond of marriage. It is not to be confused with the ketubah, which is given as protection of the woman after the kiddushin.
3. Intercourse (bi’ah). After the man has addressed the marriage formula to the woman before two witnesses, the couple retires to a private place with the intent of effecting betrothal through intercourse. The Sages considered this to be gross, virtually an act of prostitution, and in the third century Rav decreed flogging for those who chose this manner of betrothal. Nonetheless, if the marriage was performed in this way it was legally valid.
Only kessef is performed today; both intercourse and contract as forms of betrothal are obsolete.
Maurice Lamm is an experienced orthodox rabbi and a man who, at the time of this book publishing in 1980, had been married for 25 years and had three children, some of whom were adult at that point in time. As a rabbi with years of experience, he has offered counsel to many regarding these matters and has had years of training in preparation, making him an expert on the subject of the orthodox Jewish tradition. Though he speaks of the importance of family and tradition and holiness in his book, there is NOTHING about a father acquiring a spouse for his daughter in this book that details Jewish tradition in love and marriage. The selection of a husband and process of accepting the proposal, granted that the woman is of consenting age, rests entirely with the woman under Jewish law. Culture might be different, but this expert in the religious law of orthodox Jewish tradition says nothing about the patriocentric proof texts that I believe, ultimately, support male hegemony. The letter and the spirit of Jewish tradition, according to Lamm, support a woman’s independence and a woman’s rights. If we hear Scripture used to support that a woman cannot be without a male head or cannot govern herself, this does not come from Jewish tradition.
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In the next post:
Daughters hold the legal title of “hefker” (a state of “ownerlessness”) prior to marriage and are not considered to be the property of fathers.
Copyrighted material quoted here
under fair use for educational purposes from
“The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage”

by Maurice Lamm. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1980.