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Kiddushin -- Betrothal

Kiddushin -- Betrothal

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Two Stages in Marriage

According to Torah law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called "kiddushin," and the second step is known as "nisu'in." Kiddushin is commonly translated as betrothal, but actually renders the bride and groom full-fledged husband and wife. After this point, if, G‑d forbid, they decided to part ways, a "get" (Jewish divorce) would be required. However, the bride and groom are not permitted to live together as husband and wife until the second stage, the nisu'in, is completed.

Kiddushin:

According to Torah law, there are three ways to betroth a woman:1 a) A money transaction. The man gives to the woman money or any object of value. b) A document. The man gives the woman a marriage document which states his intention to marry her.2 c) Sexual intercourse with the intention that it consummates the marriage.

In ancient times, the two stages of marriage were done on separate occasionsThe rabbis forbade betrothing though intercourse, making it a punishable offense.

In order for the betrothal to take effect, the transaction must be witnessed by two kosher witnesses.3

The common custom is to betroth by means of a money transaction, using the traditional wedding band to effect the kiddushin. Aside for the kabbalistic reasons for this tradition,4 there is also a practical explanation -- a ring serves as a constant and highly visible reminder of the couple's wedding commitment. Additionally, most possessions owned by husband or wife end up belonging to the "family" and are enjoyed by all members of the household. Using a ring to transact the marriage assures that the item will belong exclusively to the wife.

Nisu'in:

The nisu'in is accomplished through "chupah" -- the husband uniting with the wife under one roof for the sake of marriage. See Chupah for an extensive discussion on this topic.

In ancient times, the two stages of marriage were done on separate occasions, often separated by a full year which the groom would devote to Torah study. Both the kiddushin and the nisu'in were accompanied by celebratory feasts. By the twelfth century this practice had ended, and it became customary to do both kiddushin and nisu'in, successively, beneath the chupah. One of the reasons given for this change of custom is the poverty which prevailed in the Jewish communities. People simply couldn't afford the expense of the two celebrations.

The Souls of the Soulmates

The two-stage marriage is more than a technical nuance of Jewish law, it is expressive of the uniqueness of a Jewish marriage. Marriage is more than two people who choose to share their lives with each other, it is the fusion of two souls -- or to be more precise, two halves of one soul which was severed in two before being catapulted from its heavenly abode into the bodies of a man and woman.

During the kiddushin stage the couple is married, with one minor caveat -- they cannot physically express their union. So in the absence of any practical tangible connection, what binds the two? Their soulful connection. Only after the connection of the souls has manifested itself during the kiddushin period, laying the foundation for a soulful marriage, can the couple proceed with the nisu'in, the physical aspect of their relationship.

If matrimony started with nisu'in, the physical relationship could permanently overshadow the spiritual connectionIf matrimony started with nisu'in, the physical relationship could permanently overshadow the spiritual connection, resulting in a marriage whose priorities and ideals are skewed.

G‑d and Us

All we experience in this earthly realm is merely a reflection of a higher spiritual super-reality. Marriage between man and woman follows the model of a cosmic marriage -- that between G‑d, the groom, and Israel, His beloved bride. This wedding, too, consists of two stages:

Kiddushin:

G‑d descended on Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah and its commandments. He took His most precious and treasured possession, the Torah, and used it as a wedding band on His wedding day. From that moment onwards, we are His and He is ours. Nothing can ever change that fact. The union, however, had not yet been consummated. For that we need the...

Nisu'in:

The Jew who studies Torah or fulfills a Divine commandment is uniting with G‑d, creating the most perfect unity possible.

On a deeper level, the entire period which started with the giving of the Torah is one long betrothal. We are committed to G‑d, and He to us, but this marriage has never expressed itself in full glory. The Messianic Era will usher in the age of nisu'in, when our relationship will be tangible, fully enjoyed, and revealed for all to see.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Mishna, beginning of tractate Kiddushin.

2.

This document should not be confused with the Ketubah ("marriage contract"), which doesn't produce a betrothal or marriage, rather it stipulates the husband's financial obligations which result from the marriage.

3.

If the betrothal is effected through sexual intercourse, it is sufficient for the witnesses to see the couple entering a private room with their stated intention of being intimate.

4.

See The Betrothal.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
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Discussion (2)
October 14, 2013
Shabbat fulfilling kiddushin
A very insightful comment.

In fact, the "kiddushin" portion of the wedding ceremony, the"engagement" and "betrothal", took place between the time that the Jewish people passed through the Reed Sea and their encampment at Marah when they were first given the commandment of keeping the Sabbath. And all of this happened before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

At the Reed Sea, Israel was quite literally distinguished and sanctified from the other 70 nations by passing through the sea on dry land. The nation of Israel was allowed to pass through the sea and the other nations, like the Egyptians at the time, were prevented from passing through. Likewise, with engagement and betrothal, the groom chooses his bride and the bride is committed exclusively to the groom from that moment forward.

That the commandment of Sabbath was given to us with love at the encampment of Marah corresponds to the groom giving something of value to the bride at the betrothal ceremony, the giving of the "ring" so to speak. For an agreement to be binding, "material consideration" must be offered by the one proposing the agreement and accepted by the other party to the agreement. This distinction about the encampment at Marah and the giving of the commandment of the Sabbath is discussed in Sefer Avuderham on the subject of making Kiddush for the Sabbath.

This also helps to clarify an anomaly in the textual version for Friday night kiddush which the Alter Rebbe uses in his prayer book. He adds to the traditional written text, "Because You chose us and sanctified us from all the nations." The "choosing and sanctification" corresponds to the earlier betrothal ceremony.

These words are written in the prayer book even though the Ari z"l, Rabbi Isaac Luria states explicitly that one who "says" them is wrong. These words are written, meaning we look at them and remember them, but they are not to be said because the rest of the paragraph which connects the Sabbath to the ten utterances of creation is referring explicitly to the "Nesuin" portion of the wedding ceremony, the time when bride and groom stand under the wedding canopy which corresponds to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Like it says in the Talmud, Shabbat 88a, "And they stood under the mountain: Rabbi Abdimi ben Chama ben Chasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He overturned the mountain above them like a roof, and said to them 'If you accept the Torah it will be good (It will lead to life...); if not, there shall be your graves." And also, Taanit 26b, "...On the day of His wedding, this is the giving of the Torah..." And also in the Zohar, (VaYikra) section 3, 11b it says in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, "Why is the word 'ten' doubled? Once to allude to the works of creation and once to allude to the Torah. There are ten utterances in the creation of the universe, and ten utterances in the Torah (the ten commandments). What does this tell us? That the universe was created for the sake of the Torah."
Yaacov
Philadelphia
November 24, 2010
The Sabbath Fulfulling Kiddushin
G-d gave the Jewish people the gift of the Sabbath. It seems that the Sabbath fulfills the requirement of kiddushin ("sanctification") as a gift of an object of value. Exodus 31:13."And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: 'Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy (sanctified). Thus shall the children of Israel observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel, it is forever a sign that [in] six days The Lord created the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased and rested."
Anonymous
santa maria, California

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