• The History of Erusin
• The Erusin Ceremony:
Kiddush - Wine Blessing
• The Erusin Ceremony: The Erusin
The Erusin Ceremony: The Ring and the Ring Ceremony
• The Witnesses' Role
• The Groom's Declaration
• Guests Response to
• Is Double Ring Ceremony Allowed?
History of Erusin
Two separate ceremonies were joined to create today’s wedding proceedings. Time was the first introductory blessing, the Erusin, marked a couple’s engagement. Nesuin is the more familiar ceremony involving a Chuppah, the seven marital blessings, and breaking the glass. Together the ceremonies are known as Kiddushin.
The root of the word “Erusin” means “bound” from the root asar. At the ceremony, the couple created a bond with each other and set about to plan for their wedding and their lives together. Or Erusin may come from the word “aras,” which is “to speak for. ” From Erusin onward, the couple is already spoken for and cannot commit to marrying anyone else.
Originally, the ketubah, marriage contract, was drawn up at the Erusin. The woman’s acceptance of a man’s marriage proposal was symbolized by her acceptance of a coin or of something with monetary worth. This agreement was binding, as the name Erusin implies, and required a Jewish divorce to dissolve.
In some communities, a year would elapse between the Erusin and the actual wedding. Given the amount of work that had to be done by hand, this year was used to sew trousseaus, construct homes and create the goods now found ready and waiting at the shopping mall.
There was a long yawn of time between the ceremonies. As a reminder to the incomplete nature of Erusin, the ceremony’s blessing thanked God for sanctifying sex between a couple – but emphasized the couple had to first stand under the Chuppah before enjoying pleasures of the flesh with each other.
Hosting separate Erusin and Nesuin celebrations proved to be expensive. The long period in between the two events was a problem as well. Who knew what sorts of sickness, strife and temptation would arise in the intervening year? By the end of the eleventh century, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), a preeminent Torah commentator better known by the acronym Rashi, reported the two ceremonies had been combined.
The Erusin Ceremony
Kiddush – Wine Blessing:
Today, the ceremony opens with a Kiddush blessing over wine or grape juice. Afterward the rabbi will hand the cup to the groom, who sips the wine. Then the maid of honor, bridesmaid, or bride’s mother raises the bride’s veil just before the groom lifts the cup to his bride’s lips. She drinks. Sipping from the same cup is symbolic of the entwined lives the couple will share.
Kiddush is a mainstay of Jewish events. Opening with a cup of wine before beseeching God’s blessing is a tradition based in part on Psalms. King David wonders how he can repay God for His goodness and kindness. “I will raise a cup [because] of salvation, and call in God’s name” (Psalms 116:13).
Wine is a spiritual beverage, consumed properly, responsibly and with limits. Drinking and driving horrors and alcoholism are results of the abuse of wine, but “Wine,” says the Prophet , “cheers the God and man” (Judges 9:13). Wine frees a soul and allows for true uninhibited devotion to God. Once a person learns how close he or she can come to God, loosened up, that bond can be reestablished with out the aid an alcoholic drink. Though the amount sipped under the Chuppah is not likely to have much of an affect, wine possesses the ability to relax a couple as a prelude to closeness. Drunkeness, no. Openess, yes.
Special wedding Kiddush cups used for this ceremony are part of an old European tradition. Jewish artists, glassblowers, silversmiths, and ceramic sculptors have renewed this tradition, creating special wedding cups.
Following this the Erusin blessing is recited. Texts vary, but a standard blessing translates: “We bless you God, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has commanded us regarding sexual propriety, forbidding to us those who are merely betrothed, but permitting to us those who are married through Chuppah and Kiddushin. We bless you, God, who has sanctified us with Chuppah and Kiddushin.”
The Ring and the Ring Ceremony
Erusin ends with the groom giving a ring to his bride.
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.
Here is the heart of the ceremony. Before the ring is presented some technicalities need to be cleared up. With the ring in hand, the rabbi asks if the ring belongs to the groom. (The correct answer is “yes,” and it should be true, too.) Then the rabbi will ask if the ring is worth more than a
p’rutah, and, from the bride’s point of view, it ought to be. In today’s measurement a p’rutah, which an ancient coin, is valued at 25 mg of silver or 4/5th of a penny.
After answering this question with a “yes,” the groom steadies his trembling hands enough to slide the ring on his bride’s finger. Like the Torah that was figuratively given “from His right hand” (Deuteronomy 33:2), the groom presents the ring with his right hand.
A thoughtful bride will extend her right index finger to guide the overwhelmed groom. One reason a ring is placed here is because it is easier for the witnesses to see the ring when it is placed on the index finger.
Counting from the pinky on the left hand, the right index finger is the seventh, like the seventh day of creation. Rabbeinu Bachya adds each finger is linked to one of the five senses: pinky for hearing, ring finger for sight, middle finger for touch, index finger for smell, thumb for taste. The sense of smell is associated with sexuality, which finds its holiest expression in marriage.
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Witnesses are required to watch the ring’s placement and should be aware a real commitment – similar to a business deal – is being struck. Some customs require the witnesses to see the bride’s face without a veil during the ceremony.
Jewish law requires witnesses to be males, thirteen years and up. They cannot be related to the bride or groom by blood or marriage. Nor can the witnesses be related to each other. Each witness should be a person of virtue who observes Shabbat, keeps kosher and the rest of Jewish law.
Once when Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995) was to be the messader Kiddushin, the officiating rabbi, at a wedding of a student, a qeustion arose whether one of the witnesses, a distinguished rabbi in his own right, was valid, as he may have been a distant relative of the bride or groom. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman managed to uphold the letter of the law without offending the witness. “You’ll be the messader Kiddushin and I’ll be the witness,” he said. (The Weekly Vort)
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 Israel."
Smart grooms memorize this line, but should not fret over forgetfulness. Except for the all-important “lee,” which means “unto me,” each word will be cued by the officiating rabbi. This custom was instituted to shield less a knowledgeable groom from embarrassment on his wedding day.
Thirty-two Hebrew letters join to create this statement of love and obligation. In Hebrew, the numerical value of the word for “heart,” “lev,” is 32.
Among all the rituals and ceremonies in Jewish life, the ring statement is the only one to use the phrasing “law of Moses and Israel.” Torah is the “law” referred to. Torah is a gift from God, and so is a bride who is married in this tradition. Rabbi Yehudah Prero, in a Project Genesis Lifecycles lesson on this topic, notes: “An extraordinary gift must be given extraordinary care.”
Response to Groom's Declaration
Some guests chime “mekudeshet” - “she is holy/sanctified” – at the completion of the ring ceremony. Others add “mazal tov.” More often the crowd under the Chuppah: bride, groom, in-laws, rabbi, and two witnesses block the guests’ view, and the ring ceremony will whiz by unanswered.
Double Ring Ceremony
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 romance. The ring signifies a bride’s acceptance of the marriage proposal. Therefore a double ring ceremony is not a Jewish tradition. A bride who hands her groom a ring may be exchanging gifts and not entering a marriage. (See Iggrot Moshe, Evven HaEzer 3:18)
Part III: The ketubah and Readings
Formally, the ketubah is read as a way to keep the division clear between the Erusin ceremony and the Kiddushin ceremony. Apprarently Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), a preeminent Torah commentator better known by the acronym Rashi, created this custom to refresh the groom’s memory of his obligations to his wife.
The rabbi may choose to share a wedding sermon during this pause between the Erusin and Nesuin ceremonies.