Ceremony Part III: The Ring
Perspective by Rivka
• The Ring
• Jewish Ring Traditions
• Plain Wedding Bands
• Significance of the
• The Ring Ceremony
• Double Ring Ceremony
Formal wedding ceremonies are an extra measure in the eyes of halacha. Traditionally, when a woman accepted a wedding ring, she was signaling her change of personal status and her agreement to the provisions in the ketubah.
Coins, property deeds, or even fruit qualified to establish a marriage, but rings became customary. Some Syrian-Jewish grooms present special marriage coins to their brides. A deed, fruit, prayer book, or anything with real monetary value is valid.
Talmudic rabbis decried the use of rings at first. Roman men presented rings
because they looked like chain links, symbolizing their acquisition of their
wives. A ring’s beauty and convenience as a wearable symbol of marriage
prevailed. Rings were regularly presented at Jewish weddings by the eighth
century in Israel and by the ninth century in Babylon (modern day Iraq).
When the groom places the ring on his bride’s finger, he says: “Harei at
mekudeshet li b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael,” “Behold you are
consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moses and [the
People of] Israel.”
Jewish Ring Traditions
A smooth golden band is traditional because it has a definite value. No stones
or filigree mask the ring’s true worth, just as there should be no false
pretenses or deception in a marriage.
In halacha, a jeweled ring whose actual value was less than it appeared
to be could be ground for contesting the marriage. For this reason, twelfth
century rabbis decided in favor of plain rings. A jeweled ring may be accepted
on condition that all jewels are genuine.
Marriage is a contract of love and responsibility between specific two people.
Consequently, the ring should be the groom’s own, not borrowed. To use an
heirloom ring, it should first be given as a gift to the groom. That way it will
be his to give to the bride.
Plain Wedding Bands
One reason Jewish tradition favors smooth bands, without engraving, frills, or stones is because they have readily ascertainable value. halacha
gets technical here, but part of the nuptial formula translates as “Behold you
become holy unto me with this ring.” If “this ring” was not what it appeared to
be, then a marriage’s status as a legal entity would be called into question.
When plain wedding rings are used by all, poor brides are not embarrassed by
their unadorned wedding rings. Kabbalistic sources suggest smooth rings would
portend an untroubled life. Yet in 17th and 18th century Eastern Europe, some
Jewish communities used rings fashioned to look like miniature houses to
symbolize the home a couple would build together.
Georgian Jews adapted a local custom and placed the ring into the Kiddush
cup used at the ceremony.
Significance of the Ring’s Shape
Where does a circle end? A ring has no perceivable ending point. Neither should love between husband and wife.
Basic to the Jewish understanding of gender is the idea that men and women have very different spiritual strengths. In marriage these forces are shared. A bride circles her groom, symbolizing the spiritual characteristics she contributes to her husband. Men wear a tallit after they marry (according to some customs) as physical evidence of the spiritual aura gained in marriage. Women wear wedding rings, which encircle the finger, as a tangible reminder of the new holiness that envelopes them thanks to their husbands.
Once the nesuin blessing is over, the groom will be directed to put the
ring on his bride’s finger. The ring ceremony needs to be witnessed. It is
easier for the witnesses to see the ring when it is placed on the index finger.
This is the traditional spot for the ring. Once the ceremony ends, the general
tradition is to move the ring to the fourth finger.
Next, the groom utters the nine life-altering words of the marriage declaration:
“Harei at mekudeshet lee b’taba’at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael,” "Behold you
are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and
At its heart, a Jewish wedding ceremony is the creation of a new legal entity, a
couple, who has new rights and privileges. In the eyes of halacha, the
wedding ring is not a symbol of throbbing romance. The ring signifies a bride’s
acceptance of the marriage proposal and the terms spelled out in the ketubah.
Therefore a double ring ceremony is not a Jewish tradition. A bride who hands
her groom a ring may appear to be returning the gift she just received.
Since social convention has made a ring-less married man appear to be of
spurious fidelity, rings are often given at the ceremony. To keep with Jewish
tradition, the ring a bride gives her groom is a token of love, not an act of
In a double ring ceremony, the bride places the ring on the groom’s finger and
says either, “Harei atah mekudash li b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.”
The meaning is the same as the groom’s statement except for the use of the male
conjugation. Or a bride may choose to say: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li.” “I am
my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 7:11, 2:16). In egalitarian
ceremonies, a bride presents her groom with a ring and says the same words the
groom says, using the male verb conjugation. “Harei atah mekudah li,”
“Behold you are holy unto me…”