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The Marriage Proposal

The Marriage Proposal

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Before the groom places the ring on his bride's index finger, he recites the following marriage proposal in both Hebrew and English because it must be understood by bride and groom.

Harei at me'kudeshet li be'tabaat zo ke'dat mosheh ve'yisrael.

Behold, thou art betrothed unto me, with this ring, in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.

Betrothed (Me'kudeshet). Not only does me'kudeshet have the technical connotation of set aside, selected, but also the sense that the bride is dedicated to the groom, and the relationship is sanctioned and thereby sanctified.

To Me (Li). This small word li defines the marriage proposal and makes the bride exclusive. The word is avoided by some rabbis, who recite the formula soto voce to the groom who repeats the Hebrew phrase verbatim, in order to assure to whom the "me" refers. I suspect the bride and groom have no doubt about whom they are marrying, and li cannot in one's wildest imagination refer to the rabbi who recites it.

The Law of Moses and Israel. The phrase refers to the Torah and to the Oral interpretation of the Sages. It is not recorded in the Talmud and it is not found in Maimonides' code. There is no doubt, however, that it was used then as we use it today. The ketubah contains the phrase, but the written document serves only to attest to the oral statement. The phrase implies a very important foundation of Jewish marriage law: "Everyone who marries, marries in accordance with the rabbinic understanding of the law." The marriage is validated on the condition that it meet with the approval of the Sages who represent the law of Moses and Israel.

This proposal formula has long been the magic phrase of Jewish young people and their parents, and has attracted all sorts of interpretations. One is note-worthy for its unusual insight: The phrase has thirty-two letters, which represent the kabbalistically-conceived thirty-two ways that wisdom proceeds from G‑d to man; and thirty-two is represented by lev, which means "heart."

The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. To purchase the book click here.
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