How are Jewish-Orthodox marriages arranged?

Jewish marriage and divorce

The Jewish wedding

The institution of marriage is a sacred command in the Jewish faith. The celibate person is considered imperfect. A person who consciously decides for celibacy violates the divine commandment to ensure the continuation of the faith through offspring. The man should leave his father and mother and join a woman and they should become one flesh, it says in 1st B. Moses, 2:24. "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" it also says in the 1st book of Moses. So it is divine intention to increase the human species. The wedding is therefore of particular importance, which is why, according to the Talmud, even the Torah study may be interrupted in order to celebrate with bride and groom.

When a young man and a young woman have found each other, the wedding will take place. In very strictly orthodox circles, marriages are still arranged by a "Schadchen" (marriage broker) who concludes a "Schidduch", an agreement that is satisfactory for all parties.

Outside of Israel, i.e. in countries in which a civil marriage exists, this is mandatory before a religious marriage.

An engagement in the civil sense does not exist in Judaism; rather, with the engagement the marriage is already consummated and legally binding. Originally, the engagement ceremony was separated from the housekeeping, i.e. from the establishment of a common household, by a period of 12 months. Since the 12th century, both acts have been united in a ceremony and the wedding consists of the ceremony of engagement - the sanctification - and the home.

In principle, a Jewish wedding can take place on any working day of the week, not on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays, because the witnesses are not allowed to sign on these days (writing ban). Tuesday is preferred, i.e. the 3rd day of the week (Sun = 1st), of which it is mentioned in 1st B. Moses I, 12f. twice means: "…God saw, it was good".

It is not possible to get married in the Omerzeit, the mourning period between Passover and Shavuot, with the exception of the half-holiday “Lag Ba’Omer” on the 33rd day, nor in the three weeks before “Tischa Be’Aw”, the day of commemoration of the destruction of the temple. A wedding in the 10 days of penance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (days of serious reflection) would also be unusual. One should not mix one joy with another, so that the days between Passover and Sukkot are also out of the question.

The Jewish wedding traditionally begins with a special “Kabbalat Panim” reception in honor of the groom and the bride. Two separate receptions are given in parallel in adjacent rooms: one for the groom and one for the bride. According to tradition, the bride and groom avoid seeing each other a week before their wedding. The bride sits on an elaborately decorated throne chair, her friends and family surround her, wish her luck and speak words of encouragement. The groom's reception is a little different: songs are sung and words of the Torah are taught. At both receptions, a light buffet is served and a toast is served.

After these receptions the bride is “covered”. The groom, accompanied by a whole procession of men, goes over to the reception of the bride, whose face the groom covers with the bridal veil.
The veil emphasizes the groom's intention not to marry his wife because of her external beauty, which wears off over time. Rather, he marries her because of her inner beauty that will never run out. It also emphasizes their modesty. The bride's face will remain covered during the entire ceremony, which gives her some privacy during these sacred moments.
The custom of covering the bride's face with a veil originated from our matriarch Rebekah. When she met Isaac, her face was covered.

The wedding day is a solemn and solemn day in Judaism. On this day, the newlyweds submit to a strict fast from early in the morning until after the wedding ceremony. Repentance and humility should be awakened in them, for this reason it is also common for the bridegroom (chatan) to pray the “eighteen prayer” Schmone Esre from Yom Kippur, the festival of atonement, with the confession of sin before the wedding. As a sign of humility, devout women have their hair cut off and as an outward sign of purity, the future husband turns his pockets over (with the lining facing outside). In addition, the bride (kalla) must first take a ritual bath in the mikveh.

Bride and groom are accompanied to the wedding ceremony under the chuppah. The chuppah is a wedding canopy made of fine fabric (satin, velvet), which is held by four rods, usually decorated with flower garlands, and which is open on all four sides. This symbolizes the willingness of the bride and groom to build a house open to all guests, like the tent of Abraham and Sarah. The chuppah can stand in the synagogue or outside, where God's blessings can be received directly and unhindered. (In modern Israel for members of the military, the canopy often consists of a prayer shawl (tallit) that is attached to four guns and held up).

The groom is accompanied first to the chuppah, where he awaits the arrival of his bride. Slow solemn music is usually played when the bride and groom walk to the chuppah. In Ashkenazi communities, the bride walks around her groom seven times when she arrives under the chuppah before standing by his rights. In doing so, she creates an invisible shelter around her husband. Only she will enter this; all others will be excluded.

As soon as the bride and groom stand next to each other under the canopy, the cantor greets them musically with a few Hebrew hymns and a request for God's blessing on the new couple.
The wedding ceremony that follows is led by a rabbi and is carried out in the synagogue or outdoors. The bride's face is still covered with her veil. In some communities the groom wears a white smock over his suit during the chuppah, his later shroud, which is traditionally worn on Yom Kippur, a symbol of atonement and purity towards God, as does the bride's white dress.

In the first part of the ceremony, the "Erussin" swearing in, the rabbi gives the blessing over a cup of wine from which both bride and groom drink. Then the actual legal act follows in the presence of the two male witnesses who are not related to the bride and groom. The bridegroom slips a ring on the finger of the woman's right hand and says: "With this ring you are sworn to me according to the law of Moses and Israel".

Then the rabbi reads out the marriage contract, the “ketuba” (= “it is written”), which he then hands over to the groom, who hands it over to the bride. The ketuba is kept in a safe place during the wedding. In the ketuba, the text of which is written in Aramaic and which is usually beautifully decorated, the man's obligations to his wife are recorded. With the ketubah, the man undertakes to honor his wife, to clothe, to feed and to satisfy her sexual needs. He also promises to give the bride 200 sus. As a result, the woman is financially secure. If the husband dies or in the event of a divorce, the entire ketuba sum will be paid out to her. But if the woman causes the divorce, her right to the money expires.
There are no obligations for women in the ketubah.

The actual marriage "Nissuin" follows. The rabbi speaks the seven wedding blessings and again the bride and groom have a sip of wine. Friends and relatives can also be honored by reciting the blessings. At the end of the ceremony, the man crushes a glass wrapped in a napkin in memory of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. At the same time, this custom admonishes people to have to dampen cheerful moments with serious thoughts. When the glass is broken, the guests traditionally shout “Masal Tow!” (Good luck!).
Immediately after the chuppah, the groom and bride are led into a lockable room, the “Jichud” room, where they have a few minutes to themselves. The bride and groom usually break their fast in the yichud room. It is also the right moment when the bride and groom give each other their gifts. (At Sephardic weddings, the newly wed couple traditionally wait until after the wedding reception in the evening with the Jichud room).

Now the happy and exuberant part of the celebration, the wedding reception, follows. It is a great mitzvah (good deed) to please the bride and groom on their special day of honor. As soon as the bride and groom step out of the Jichud room, they are greeted by their guests with happy music, singing and dancing. The men with the groom and the women with the bride traditionally dance on separate dance floors. After the first dance, the bride and groom take their place at the bridal table. Her parents, grandparents, rabbis and other dignitaries sit at her side. Traditionally, the groom gives the blessing over bread, on this day a huge challah, which he then cuts into small pieces and distributes to those present. Then the feast is served, which later ends with grace and the seven blessings (as before under the chuppah).

The Jewish divorce

Marriage, of course, is not always happy and successful. That is why there is also the institution of divorce "Geruschin" in Jewish marriage law. However, Judaism does not like a divorce. According to the Talmud, marriage is a sacred contract, the dissolution of which would be an impious act.

Possibility, formalities and requirements for a divorce are already mentioned in 5th B. Moses 24,3. The certificate of divorce is called "Sefer Kritut" (Book of Separation). The legal requirements were laid down in the Gittin Talmud tract.

However, the procedure is complicated. A rabbinical college of 3 rabbis is necessary as well as a minyan (ten men) and the husband has to have the woman issue a divorce letter "Get" (the word originally only meant certificate and then got the meaning divorce letter). In order to prevent a man from indiscriminately divorcing on a whim, a number of rules must be meticulously followed: A ready-made form must not be used, but the divorce letter must be specially written at the negotiation. The paper or parchment, the ink and the quill must be the property of the man. The document must be written in Hebrew square script, the letters must not be connected to one another, it must not be erased, the entire piece must be exactly 12 lines, and the thirteenth, which is divided into two parts, shows the names of the witnesses.

For the Ashkenazi area, the consent of the woman has been necessary since the 10th century, i.e. that the woman expresses her consent by touching the divorce letter. The woman does not need to be present at the hearing. The get / divorce letter can also be delivered to her by a third party. If the woman accepts the get, the divorce is final; the document is torn as a sign of its validity and archived at the rabbinical court.

Since the divorce requires the initiative of the man who has to give the divorce notice, however, considerable difficulties can arise. So it happens that the man is missing; For example, he went to war as a soldier and is considered missing or the man has embarked on a sea voyage for professional reasons but has not returned. According to Jewish marriage law, this problem can only be solved if the man is aware of the danger he is going into and, as a precaution, has a get written that only becomes valid if he has not returned at a certain point in time. It is also conceivable that a man has simply left his wife and moved to a distant country without his whereabouts can be determined. A woman who waits in vain for her husband to return is called an abandoned woman (aguna). The competent rabbinical court has to deal with the case and will try to find a solution in the interests of the woman, but this requires a very difficult and lengthy process. In principle, the case of the aguna has not yet been resolved by religious law.

The fact that only the man can apply for a divorce and have the get, the divorce letter issued, results in a serious and consequential disadvantage for the woman. The woman has a rudimentary divorce law, but it was never worked out and consolidated. So she cannot achieve her divorce wish without her husband's consent.

There has always been a right of divorce for women only for a few objectively very serious reasons, namely when
- the man refuses to have sexual intercourse with his wife
- the man does not meet his maintenance obligations,
- the husband is unfaithful to his wife,
- the man habitually beats his wife,
- the man suffers from a repulsive disease.

However, if the man does not consent to his wife's wish for a divorce, it becomes extremely difficult for the woman, even with a recognized reason for divorce, because she cannot officially apply for a religious divorce herself.
She can go to the community rabbi and ask him, if one of the reasons mentioned above can be proven, to influence the man, to give the divorce letter or to convene a religious court, which can force the man to divorce if the recognized reason can be proven. If the rabbi is helpful, the woman can hope. If he refuses, or if he insists that all possibilities must first be exhausted to save the marriage - and despite provable reasons, many orthodox rabbis insist on this, then a long path of suffering of bondage and dependency begins for the woman. The man is spoken to and if he promises improvement, deadlines of up to seven years can be set before the woman can return to speak with her divorce request.

Of course, in most diaspora countries these women can apply for a civil divorce, which at least regulates the separation from the husband, the maintenance for them and the children. The wives of missing men also receive an official death certificate from the state after a statutory period. But these divorces and death certificates are not recognized by orthodox rabbinates. Women whose husbands refuse religious divorce are therefore still considered married after a civil divorce. A new relationship or civil marriage is adultery. Children from such a relationship or civil marriage are “mamserim”, bastards who are only partially integrated into religious life.