“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in favour and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness and trust. Then you will intimately know the Lord.” -Hosea 2:19-20
There are many localized variations regarding minor elements within Jewish betrothal and marriage customs, however, the primary themes are consistent throughout Jewish history and practice, and continue to find a place of prominence in the modern Jewish wedding ceremony. It’s these common primary themes that I’d like to share with you. They’re themes that are evident in both Scripture and tradition and have been perpetuated for thousands of years. They are a living allegory for the great mystery of God’s relationship to Israel (empirical, ethnic) and of the relationship between Messiah Yeshua and the body of believers (Ecclesia). As such, they transcend their temporal function and become a picture of our eternity as believers. Having received Yeshua’s proposal we have been betrothed at great cost and have entered into intimate love relationship with God.
Much of the information that follows is taken from both Biblical and Talmudic sources. The information from Talmudic sources, while not codified until a much later date, does pass on an oral tradition dating back to a time long before the Messiah’s birth. Many of the Talmudic articles on the subject of marriage affirm the spiritual allegory attributed to Messiah and His bride and are therefore a valid commentary on the events that continue to transpire regarding the second coming of Yeshua our Mashiyach and Chatan (groom).
Here are some Scriptures from the Habrit Hachadashah (NT) that use Jewish betrothal & marriage rites as a foundation for comparative teaching (derashot) regarding the Gospel.
The Tanakh (OT) requires that a Jewish bride be:
The ancient Jewish practice which is based on the Tanakh (OT) requires a:
The ancient Jewish practice which is based on the Tanakh (OT) requires a:
Let’s take a look at the chronology of Jewish betrothal beginning with the selection of a
Shidukin (Arrangement) – Selection of the Bride:
From ancient days it’s always been the father of the groom who selects his son’s bride. In cases where it is not practical for the father to go to the home of the bride to arrange things, he sends a Shadkhan (arranger/matchmaker). This is exactly what happened in the case of Abraham’s selecting of a bride for his son Isaac:
“Abraham said to his servant (Eli-eytzer/My God is my helper, comforter), the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by HaShem, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, 4 but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Yitzak.” –Genesis 24:2-4
The Scriptures remind us that we were chosen by The Father (God) from before the creation of the world:
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” –Ephesians 1:4
Yeshua reminds us that:
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.” –Yochanan/John 15:16
The Bride Must Accept the Proposal:
In Jewish culture no woman may be forced to marry. Without the prospective bride’s acceptance of the marriage proposal there can be no marriage.
In Rebekah’s case, she had not seen her husband to be (Yitzak), but accepted his proposal based on the word of the servant (Eli-eytzer, My God is a helper). This is also true of each of us who have accepted Yeshua’s proposal having had it offered to us at the hands of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit/The Helper).
“The servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?’” –Genesis 24:5
“Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’” –Genesis 24:58
However, we must remember that it is Yeshua as the Jewish bridegroom (Chatan) Who initiates the love relationship. It is God Who selects us and not the other way around:
“We love Him because He first loved us.” –1 John 4:19
The Mohar (Bride Price):
From ancient times brides in Israel were purchased, a bride price (mohar) was paid as a means of showing that the groom valued the woman he was to marry. The price varied depending on the circumstances of those involved. In Yaakov’s (Jacob) case, he worked seven years as the bride price for each of his wives Leah and Rachel respectively. (Genesis 29:20)
To the modern reader this may seem to denigrate women, treating them as property rather than valued equals, however, in the context of ancient Biblical society the opposite was true. The pagan nations surrounding Israel were taking women to wife without ceremony or consideration of a woman’s value. When a wife displeased a husband in these communities she was tossed aside and replaced without consequence, often left to fend for herself and in many cases would die without provision because men were the providers of a family’s income and protection at that time in history.
The value placed upon a Jewish bride was a means of protecting her and valuing her as a person rather than an object of property for men to abuse. The fact that a husband, “owned,” his wife was not demeaning in the least, it was a sign to other men and to the bride, that she was cared for and valued. One of the Hebrew words for wife, Be’ulah, means, “owned,” and the Hebrew word for husband, Ba’al, means, “master or owner”.
“52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before HaShem. 53 The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.” –Genesis 24:52-53
Yeshua has paid the highest price as a mohar for His bride by dying on the tree:
“You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” –1 Corinthians 7:23
“Who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” –Ephesians 1:14
“18 Knowing that you were not purchased with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah.” –1 Peter 1:18-19
“19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” –1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Ketubah (written)/ Eyrusin (betrothal)/ Kidushin (sanctification):
Following the shidukhin (arrangement) by the father via his shadkhan (emissary), the acceptance of the proposal by the bride and the offering of the gift by the groom; a binding covenant was entered into and a ketubah (written) document was signed. This process, known as both Eyrusin (betrothal) and kidushin (sanctification from Kadosh, meaning set apart, holy), was conducted approximately one year prior to the actual marriage ceremony and was considered binding. So much so, that a divorce or get (Hebrew) must be obtained by the husband in order to dissolve the betrothal. It’s important to note that Biblically speaking, only a husband can initiate a get (divorce) Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Figuratively, this is an affirmation of eternal security for the believer. Our security is not dependent on us, because we’re not able to break our engagement once we’ve entered into the agreement. Only the groom can break the betrothal covenant and Yeshua has no intention of doing so:
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” –Yochanan/John 10:28-30
“If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot disown Himself.” –2 Timothy 2:15
Prior to the Eyrusin rite, both the groom and the bride immerse (tevilah) themselves in a ritual bath (mayim chayim—living water) of purification called a mikveh. Yeshua was immersed by the forerunner Yochanan in preparation for Eyrusin (betrothal). Likewise as believers we enter into the mikveh of immersion (baptism) as a sign of our new beginning, identifying with Messiah’s immersion.
The mikveh is a symbol of a fresh start, a new beginning, a new family unit which is to be born of the married couple.
Following their immersion in the mikveh the Eyrusin ceremony took place under a chuppah (canopy). In ancient times the chuppah was a separate room in the groom’s father’s home, later the tradition of a canopy developed.
The chuppah is a symbol of a new household and of God’s protective covering over the couple and their future progeny. It is also a sukkah (shelter) which promises that God will one day shakan (dwell) in the midst of His people for all eternity:
“As a bridegroom coming out of his chuppah (chamber);
rejoicing as a strong man to run his course.” –Tehillim/Psalm 19:5
“Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his chuppah (room)
And the bride out of her bridal chuppah (chamber).” –Yo’el/Joel 2:16
The Kiddush Cup:
During the Eyrusin ceremony gifts/rings are exchanged and a cup of wine is shared. The cup used for this Kiddush cup is kept to be used again at the wedding ceremony in a years’ time. In ancient times the cup was most likely made of hardened clay: today a thin wine glass is used.
On the night He was betrayed, Yeshua offered His bride to be (Israel—empirical, ethnic, religious, and the birthing body of believers Ecclesia), a new covenant in blood, a wine cup, a kiddush (sanctifying) cup. This cup, the third cup of the Pesach/Passover Seder, taken after the main meal, is called Kos Geulah (cup of redemption):
“In the same way, after the meal He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you all.’” –Luke 22:20
“‘For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’” –Luke 22:18
Following the Eyrusin ceremony the couple is considered married in every way except for cohabitation (sexual relations). Both bride and groom live apart for approximately one year. Something similar is seen in the length of time between Rebekah’s acceptance of Isaac’s proposal and their marriage in Canaan.
The betrothal year was used by the groom as a time of preparation. It was traditional in the ancient Middle East for the groom to leave the bride’s home town and return to His father’s house where he would build a room onto his father’s dwelling place that would serve as the couple’s chadar wedding chamber following their marriage ceremony. The parallels with Yeshua and His bride are obvious. Yeshua has gone to prepare a place for us:
“2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Likewise, the bride spends the year in preparation for her groom’s return. She is to be ready at any hour of the day as the year draws to a close. She prepares items for her future home and a pure white dress for the wedding day.
We are reminded in the Scriptures that we should invest our time in those things which are eternal in preparation for our groom’s return:
“‘19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;’”
The Return of the Groom:
Tradition dictates that only the father of the groom may decide on the time for the groom’s return, neither the groom nor the bride know at what hour the groom will return to carry the bride to the wedding feast.
“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” –Mark 13:32
In many cases, as the year of waiting drew to a close, the bride’s household would wait late into the night, keeping oil lamps lit in case of the groom’s return. This tradition became common among certain groups and is still practised in some communities today. The groom would often return at night.
“But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
The implications for us as believers are clear, we are to prepare ourselves and be constantly ready for our groom’s return.
The groom would return, often late at night, with a procession of family and friends from his father’s household, shouting out, with torches burning and the shofar sounding to herald his coming.
“16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the shofar of God, and the dead in Messiah will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be carried away (nisuin) together with them in the cloud (of the presence) to meet the Lord in the open air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” –1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
The groom’s entourage would be carrying an aperion (a seated canopy, carried on the shoulders of men). He would pick up his bride and place her in the aperion thus carrying her away to her new home.
The bride would cover her face with a veil and intermittently along the way the groom would check under her veil to ensure he had carried away the right bride. This tradition is called bedeken and came about due to the problems experienced by Yaakov (Jacob) at the hands of Laban his father in law, when Laban deceived him on his wedding night by substituting Leah for Rachel.
Nisuin (to carry) Under the Chuppah:
The Nisuin ceremony is the last stage of the betrothal and marriage. The chuppah is a specially made embroidered canopy or a tallit (prayer shawl) held up by four poles. It was representative of the bridal chamber.
The groom enters the proceedings first, as the rabbi calls out, “Baruch haba b’shem Adonai,” blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. The groom stands on the left hand side, then the bride enters to the call, “B’rukhah haba’ah b’shem Adonai,” blessed is she who comes in the name of the LORD.
“O Lord, do save, we beseech You;
O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
26 Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God, and He has given us light;
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.”
The groom then walks out to meet his bride half way to the chuppah and the Jewish bride makes either three or seven circuits around the groom. The circling itself represents Israel returning to God after her rebellion and becoming part of the “new thing” which God brings about through the redemption found in the King Messiah. This is based on the text of Jeremiah 31:22 “For YHVH has created a new thing on the land (of Israel): A woman will encompass a man.”
The number three relates to the threefold Biblical phrase concerning Israel’s betrothal to HaShem (God/YHVH): “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in favour and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness and trust. Then you will intimately know the Lord.” -Hosea 2:19-20.
The threefold circling also reflects the threefold commitment of the groom made to the wife in the ketubah agreement. He covenants to provide, food, clothing & shelter, and conjugal relations.
Seven is a symbolic promise of the bridal week and the completeness found in marriage. Mirroring the completeness of the creation week and the Shabbat rest of God.
The bride then stands to the right of her groom.
Sheva Brachot (Seven blessings):
The Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) are pronounced beginning with the blessing over the Kiddush cup (the same cup used during the betrothal rite), but the cup is not drunk until the blessings are completed. These blessings are also known as Birkot Nisuin (blessings of being carried away):
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן.
Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, bo'rei p'ri hagafen.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine."
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, שהכל ברא לכבודו.
Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam shehakol bara lichvodo.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who created everything for His Glory."
The phrase is connected to Talmudic incidents in which the Sages said this phrase after failing in attempts to replace both the bakers of the showbread and those perfumers who made the holy incense in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. It reflects both the grace to accept what one cannot change and recognises that everyone has unique and irreplaceable talents which act as essential tools in a harmonious marriage.
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, יוצר האדם.
Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, yotzer haa’dam.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates man."
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, אשר יצר את האדם בצלמו, בצלם דמות תבניתו, והתקין לו ממנו בניין עדי עד. ברוך אתה ה', יוצר האדם.
Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, asher yatzar et ha-adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem d’mut tavnito, v’hitkin lo mimenu binyan adei ad. Baruch atah Adonai, yotzeir ha-adam.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who creates man in your image*, fashioning perpetuated life. Blessed are You, LORD, creator of man."
שוש תשיש ותגל העקרה, בקיבוץ בניה לתוכה בשמחה. ברוך אתה ה', משמח ציון בבניה.
Transliteration: Sos tasis v’tageil ha-akara b’kibutz baneha l’tocha b’simcha. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameach Tzion b’vaneha.
Translation: "May the barren one exult and be glad as her children are joyfully gathered to her. Blessed are You, LORD, who gladden Zion with her Children."
שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם. ברוך אתה ה', משמח חתן וכלה.
Transliteration: Sameiach tesamach reiim ha-ahuvim k’sameichacha y’tzircha b’gan eden mikedem. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameiach chatan v’chalah.
Translation: "Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, LORD, who grants the joy of groom and bride."
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, אשר ברא ששון ושמחה, חתן וכלה, גילה רינה, דיצה וחדווה, אהבה ואחווה, ושלום ורעות, מהרה ה' אלקינו ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים, קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה, קול מצהלות חתנים מחופתם, ונערים ממשתה נגינתם. ברוך אתה ה', משמח חתן עם הכלה.
Transliteration: Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher bara sason v’simcha chatan v’kallah, gilah rinah ditzah v’chedvah, ahavah v’achavah v’shalom v’reut. M’hera Adonai Eloheinu yishammah b’arei Yhudah uv-chutzot Y’rushalayim kol sason v’kol simcha, kol chatan v’kol kalah, kol mitzhalot chatanim meichupatam u-n'arim mimishte n’ginatam. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameiach chatan im hakalah.
Translation: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony and peace and companionship. Soon, LORD our God, may there ever be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of groom and bride, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, LORD, who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride."
The Kiddush Cup #2:
Following the blessings the Kiddush cup (the same cup used in the Eyrusin ceremony of betrothal) is drunk by both groom and bride and is then wrapped in a napkin and shattered beneath the groom’s foot.
“‘For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’” –Luke 22:18
The breaking of the cup is a more recent addition to the ceremony but it holds great significance. Originally the rabbis added the shattering of the cup in order to remind those present that even in joyous times we remember the destruction of the temple and Israel’s suffering and that our joy cannot be complete until the temple is rebuilt and the Messiah comes (returns). However the symbolism is also powerfully representative of the fact that no one else can ever drink from the cup that the married couple have shared. The covenant of marriage is sacred and sealed for ever in the sight of God. This is also the case regarding our marriage to Yeshua.
The marriage is then consummated in the bridal chamber, following which the groom calls out to the shadkhan (matchmaker) or friend of the groom, letting him know that the marriage has been consummated.
“And Yeshua said unto them, ‘Can the attendants of the bride chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” –Mattitiyahu/Matthew 6:15
The couple then celebrates an elaborate wedding feast with their guests. The feast is followed by a seven day period together in seclusion, in order to complete the marriage week.
All of these events remind us of the Messianic community’s coming marriage to Yeshua. We will be carried away, and joined with Him in spiritual marriage. He will finally drink again of the Kiddush cup with us and we will celebrate with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God.
“‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.9 Then he said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’” –Revelations 19:7-9
Copyright 2022 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.