The Jewish engagement process, historically known as Erusin (Betrothal) or Kiddushin (Sanctification), has a rich history dating back to ancient times. In traditional Jewish law, the process of engagement is the first step towards marriage and represents a legally binding commitment between a man and a woman. Let’s explore the historical and modern aspects of the Jewish engagement process:
Historical Erusin Process:
- Arrangement: In ancient Jewish communities, marriages were often arranged by parents or matchmakers. The groom’s family would propose to the bride’s family, and negotiations would take place regarding the terms of the marriage, including dowry, responsibilities, and obligations.
- Betrothal Ceremony: Once the agreement was reached, the Erusin ceremony would take place. During this ceremony, the groom would give the bride an item of value, often a ring or a piece of silver, as a symbol of their betrothal. This act represented the union of the bride to him. This meant he had all the responsibilities to go out and make money and a house to support them, but none of the benefits of an actual marriage. No modern similar concept exists wherein the couple are joined together but not yet living together. Though the modern Hebrew word for an egagement is ‘erusin’, this is very different to the halachic erusin process.
- Waiting Period: After the Erusin ceremony, there was a waiting period, typically lasting about a year. During this time, the couple would often prepare for their future life together, and in some cases, they might be allowed to spend time together under the supervision of family members, but crucially were not wed.
- Wedding Ceremony: At the end of the waiting period, the second part of the marriage process, Nissuin (Marriage), would take place. This involved the Chuppah (wedding canopy) ceremony, after which there would be music and merriment before they began their married life together.
Modern Jewish Engagement: In modern times, the engagement process has evolved, but still carries with it the excitement and planning as ever:
- Dating: In every Jewish communities, the engagement process is preceded by dating, though of course this will look different for everyone. Unlike in ancient times, today, the couple has far more of a say in the process of whom to go out with, for how long, and whether to terminate the relationship, even if families still have their own preferences and opinions.
- Celebrations and Festivities: Jewish engagement parties and celebrations have become more elaborate in modern times. Family and friends come together to celebrate the couple’s commitment and to offer blessings for their future life together. The vort as it’s sometimes called, may feature singing, dancing, a festive meal, and decorations.
- Pre-Marriage Period: In modern times, the waiting period between the halachic erusin and marriage is short, from a year in previous eras to a matter of minutes near the same time as the chuppah. Since modern engagements don’t have a halachic status like a proper erusin, couples can make what they want of the pre-wedding period, depending on personal preferences and circumstances.
- Ring Ceremony: The exchange of rings is still an essential part of the engagement process for most these days, even though it is not an official erusin. In fact, one should make a point that it is only a gift, or else the couple might end up in a complicated situation, being already married within Jewish law. Later during the wedding ceremony, the groom will present the bride with a ring, usually unadorned, and he will say Harei at m’kudeshet li, b’taba’at zo, k’dat Moshe v’yisrael (with this ring I bethroth you to me in the laws and ordinances of Moshe and Israel) which makes the wedding ring the real erusin in a sense.
- Legal Formalities: While there is not anything that links a modern Jewish couple together when they are getting married, many couples choose to speed up the process ahead of the wedding by signing documents (tanaaim in Hebrew) that lay out the promisses and duties each partner has towards the other. This part can be done weeks and months ahead of a wedding, or minutes before standing under the chuppah.
It’s important to note that while the core elements of the Jewish engagement process have remained consistent throughout history, cultural variations and individual preferences may influence how the process is carried out in different Jewish communities around the world.