Since the previous post described Hillel’s happy marriage, I thought it would be interesting to give some information about betrothal, the marriage contract, and the ceremonies involved. By the time of Hillel, the ancient idea of selling a bride to her husband as the accepted betrothal have changed into a symbolic act of transferring a tiny sum of money from the hand of the bridegroom to the hand of the bride’s father. “Market value” had nothing to do with it, particularly since the level of class consciousness changed dramatically. The higher classes in antiquity were the priestly families and the very wealthy, often both. During Hillel’s time, it already started the shift, which would last two thousand years. The new status was based on spiritual wealth and Torah scholarship. Even the name of the betrothal changed – it was no longer “Acquisition of the Bride” (Kinian in Hebrew), but “Consecration of the Bride” (Kiddushisn in Hebrew and Aramaic. The word lasted to this day and is still in use. This ceremonial agreement led to the next, involving the Marriage Contract. It may have been done on the same day, or on a separate date.
The word for the Marriage Contract (Ketubbah in Hebrew and Aramaic) is also still used today. It states the legal, monetary, and administrative issues regarding property, and possible situations such as divorce or widowhood. Originally, the groom had to post some money in his wife’s name in her father’s hands until needed, but this commercial aspect was reformed together with the bride price mention above. The groom simply had to state “All my property is a guarantee for the value of your Ketubbah” and the requirements thus became symbolic. Poor fathers of brides… they lost the bride price, the money of the Ketubbah, and still had to give a dowry… but the reforms also allowed the father of the bride and the groom to agree that the dowry was not required. Many other statements were included, such as assuring the future of both male and female children, and a promise to redeem the wife if she is taken captive by enemies.
The particular issue of a woman taken captive while still only betrothed, but not married, came before Hillel. Several women in Alexandria were still living in their fathers’ houses after betrothal, awaiting marriage. They were still virgins, of course, probably not much mmore than children. The girls were kidnapped and then taken as wives by their kidnappers. Some had babies, and since the betrothal to the other men was as sacred as the marriage itself, these children were considered illegitimate, a terrible stigma the sages wanted to avoid. Hillel resolved it in his usual brilliant and practical way. He quoted the wording of the Ketubbah: “When you enter my house you will be my wife according to the religion of Moses and Israel.” Hillel stated that the bride becomes officially a wife only when she enters the bridegoom's house and lives with him. Since that did not happen, their children with the other men became legitimate.
Once the Ketubbah was signed by all parties, the couple (who were usually be between the ages of eleven and fourteen, but could be younger) were considered legally married, but the marriage would not be consummated until a later day. The sages believed a young woman was not fit for pregnancy and childbirth until she was at least twelve, and to avoid mother and child mortality, it was advised to wait until the girl was deemed strong enough for intercourse, pregnancy and childbirth.
The marriage ceremony, when the day arrived, consisted of simply consummating the marriage. This took place at the bride’s house, and the couple had sex in a special room while a group of friends and relatives celebrated outside with food, wine, and singing. The proof of virginity, consisting of some blood on a cloth, was discreetly handed to special witnesses chosen by the bride’s parents. The witnesses examined it and then gave it to the bride for safekeeping.
After that, a procession followed the bride and groom from her father’s house, with all the friends and relatives, and go to her husband’s home, all singing joyous marriage songs. The bride generally was carried in a litter. Her hair was unbound and let down and she often wore a crown. Sometimes, the groomsmen handed out roast corn and fruit to everyone the procession passed on the road, to spread happiness to all. At the new house, the procession met many other guests, and the wedding feast last well into the night.
In the next installment I will tell about the new bride’s life. Stay tuned!