Jewish Marriage


Marriage is as old as mankind beginning with Adam and Eve. God saw it was not good for man to be alone so he provided a helper suitable for him. So, Adam and Eve became the first married couple.

With the Hebrews, it was always God’s plan that they marry those who were believers in the one true God. In the case of Isaac and Jacob special care was taken that they even marry within the family.

Under the Law of Moses, they were even expected to marry within their tribe. There was a reason for this. To marry an unbeliever put them in a situation where they could be led into the idolatrous practised by the wife. Even Solomon with all his wisdom fell into this trap.

In addition, a priest was forbidden from marrying a prostitute, a widow or a divorced woman. However, Rahab a prostitute did marry a Hebrew. Daughters who inherited their father’s possessions had to marry within their tribe or lose their inheritance.

In the period leading up to Christ, the parents chose the mate for their son. The primary reason for this was that the bride became a part of the clan. Although they were married and became ‘one flesh,’ the couple remained under the authority of the bridegroom’s father.

The parents were careful to choose someone who would best fit into their clan and work harmoniously with the mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. Sometimes parents would consult with their children to see if they approved of the one selected to be their mate for life. Rebecca was asked if he was willing to marry Isaac, Genesis 24:58. Frequently couples would marry at a very young age which surprises us somewhat.

By the time of the New Testament period, Jewish leaders had decided to establish a minimum age for which a marriage contract could be drawn up. The age was set at 13 for boys and 12 for girls.

If a young wife lost her husband in war or an accident, she remained within the clan and was wed to her brother-in-law or next of kin. This arrangement is known as Levirate Marriage. This is the basis for the story of Ruth and Boaz even though Ruth was a Moabite and not a Jew, she married into her adopted Hebrew clan.

Romance and courting were unknown before marriage although both bride and groom might already have known one another. They did not marry the person they loved: they loved the mate that they married. In other words, love began at the time of marriage. When Isaac married Rebekah, the Bible records that ‘she became his wife, and he loved her’, Genesis 24:67. In the case of Jacob, he loved Rachael from the moment he first saw her, but this was not the usual situation.

There were several customs that were involved in finalising a marriage. The first was agreeing on a price to be given to the father of the girl. The payment was compensation for the loss of a worker. The sum was mutually agreed upon. It could consist of services instead of money. Jacob agreed to work seven years for Rachel. After the agreement was made, the couple was considered engaged.

The settlement (a written document securing property rights to the wife.) did not come into use until the period between the Testaments. Betrothal for marriage was a binding agreement that set the young woman apart from other young men. Death or a divorce could only void the agreement. The amount paid would be proportional to the position of the bride.

A poor man could not afford to marry a rich wife. During the engagement period, the bridegroom had certain privileges. It was declared, that he was exempt from military duty, Deuteronomy 20:7. Usually, a period of time elapsed between the betrothal and the marriage ceremony. During this time the groom began preparing a place in his father’s house.

On the day of the wedding, the groom and his friends dressed in their finest clothes then would go to the home of the bride. Together the couple went back to the groom’s house. On the way, they were preceded by a band of musicians or singers. Friends joined them singing and dancing their way to his house. The inhabitants of the area would press out into the street to watch the procession.

At the house, a feast was prepared to which all the friends and neighbours were invited. The guests were even provided with wedding clothes by the host. The first act in the ceremony was the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber where a canopy, named a ‘huppa’ was prepared. The bride was still completely veiled.

This explains the deception practised on Jacob. The marriage was then consummated through sexual union. Once this fact was announced the wedding festivities continue. Usually, the wedding party lasted for a week. Considering the social and domestic life of a married Hebrew there is abundant evidence that women, whether married or unmarried, went about without their faces being veiled.

Women sometimes held important offices. They took part in matters of public interest. They enjoyed as much freedom in ordinary life as the women of our own country do today.

The use of wine at Jewish wedding feasts and the presence of Jesus at a feast where He turned water into a wine that tasted better than the previous wine, they had been using have caused some concern in the minds of some. In order to protect the Lord from being involved with fermented wine, efforts have been made to deny the miracle produced real wine (fermented), that he only produced grape juice.

The answer to this is very simple. A former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Rabinowitz states that the Jews have never used anything other than the ordinary red wine of Palestine mixed with three parts water, as in the Passover.

McGarvey points out that the alcohol content was so low that it would not have produced drunkenness. Certainly, Jesus would not have produced an intoxicating wine for the feast. The miracle began by filling the pots with water. All Jesus had to do was add red wine.

The improvement in taste was part of the miracle. Thus far we have only considered the marriage of single couples but what if one or both has been married previously?

The Law stated ‘When a man hath taken a wife and married her, and it comes to pass that she find no favour in his eyes because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.’

Notice she was free to remarry. There were two schools of thought on this passage resulting in differences of opinion among the Jews. The school of Rabbi Shammai said the word ‘uncleanness’ meant unchastity (sexual sins). The school of Hillel said it meant anything that displeased a husband.

Interested in which side Jesus would take. His critics ask him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’ Jesus did not answer them directly either way. He said, ‘From the beginning, it has not been so.’

God’s plan from the beginning was for marriage to last until death separated them. It would seem that Jesus was saying that divorce was a sin, not remarriage. It has been calculated that about 30% of Jewish marriages on the average have ended in divorce over the last 2,000 years, better than the Gentile average in the U.S. today.

Marriage was considered more binding than it is today in the UK.


"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."