Welcome to The Kiddushin Variations

As a rabbinical student, I became interested in a question that has both interesting theoretical layers and serious practical implications.

In the first part of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony (called Kiddushin), the groom hands the bride a ring, and, by doing so, acquires her (the technical word for this transaction is kinyan.) Some (Judith Romey Wegner, among others) argue that he is “just” buying her sexuality, the right to monogamy, and others argue that the aquisition is more general than that. But in any case, the sources are pretty clear about what’s happening.

My question was, is there any way to have an egalitarian, kosher (halakhic) wedding ceremony–in which nobody is bought or, possibly, both groom and bride buy each other?

I wrote a little research paper on the question, and then discovered that I couldn’t escape it. Friends getting married were asking me for help, I took a class on the halakah [Jewish law] that turned out to be all about the problems of kiddushin. I was invited to join a feminist study group, and it turns out they were already knee-deep in the question of kiddushin.

In short, I’ve started to hear a lot of ideas on what Jews who are both committed to tradition and to a more egalitarian sensibility might do in a wedding ceremony. I don’t agree with all of them, but for the purposes of the site, that’s not the point–rather, it’s a space to catalogue all of the various ideas people are having on this question, and to make space for discussion and debate.

I’m pretty sure there’s not one perfect solution, certainly not one that’s perfect for everybody. For some, a more traditional kiddushin might be important, and perhaps folks’ll be happy to see some ways to do that give the bride more of a role in the ceremony. For others, discarding the notion of acquisition altogether is important, and they’re looking for a meaningful substitution. And other folks might want to have their cake (a halakhically binding ceremony) and eat it too (that is also feminist). Filter the advantages and disadvantages as you like; my bias is all over this project, and you’re encouraged to chuck it for your own biases instead.

As I get the time (and then, as I hear of more ideas), I’m going to post what I know on this site, so that it can be a good general resource for people who might be looking for something like this. I’ll more or less describe the idea, offer whatever I might have in terms of its textual basis, and offer some very off-the-cuff thoughts on its advantages and disadvantages for couples who are trying to figure out how to do this, from my own vantage as a feminist committed to the tradition. Obviously, the gender thing looms large in a lot of these suggested rituals, but some should also be of interest to same-sex couples as well.

If you’re reading this site and not the type who’s well-versed in the ins and outs of Jewish law, please discuss whatever you’re thinking re: your own ceremony with a rabbi who is. I don’t claim authority or halakic purity for any of these methods; they’re just things that smart people have suggested to me, and I wrote them down. Please do not try to operate this heavy legal machinery without a serious understanding of how it works.

It’s not meant to be comprehensive or the final word on anything–it’s more of a sketchbook of the ideas I’ve been hearing in various places. I’ll cite the idea’s author whenever I have one (and/or I’ve been given permission to do so). For more information about me, and who the heck I am, feel free to check out my personal site here.

If you have a shita (method) that you don’t see posted here, please, by all means–contact me!! And, obviously, please offer comments on these ideas–other factors that I haven’t mentioned, information I don’t have, and so forth.

1 Comment

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One response to “Welcome to The Kiddushin Variations

  1. Will

    Hi — I was referred to your page by Hatam Soferet, who thought I might be intrigued by your site. I’m quite sympathetic to both the project you’ve undertaken here and to many of the stated and unstated motivations of those for whom this project is a live and/or theoretical concern.

    My main suggestion, both in terms of a direction to take this site and for those involved in studying these issues, is to try to think about what kiddushin is trying to accomplish, what individual human and broader societal needs it fulfills and values it embodies, and how the various mahlokot surrounding the manifestations of kiddushin reflect different needs. This methodology of learning is sometimes called “consequentialism” — that is, examining not the legal language of a pesaq, but rather the consequences of that pesaq.

    To do such a study well, one would have to examine not just pesaqim and attitudes towards kiddushin as a ceremony for entering marriage, but also attitudes towards marriage itself as well as attitudes towards divorce (the dissolution of kiddushin). E.g., it might be that kiddushin is designed primarily as a legal ceremony to enter a relationship that requires a get for its dissolution, because the consequences of hilkhot gittin were the primary concern. (This might be reflected structurally/literarily in that masekhet gittin precedes masekhet kiddushin.)

    Such an analysis, I think, would help in two ways. First, it would clarify whether what was needed for our society was an alternative to kiddushin or a revamping of our idea of what kiddushin is. (That is, while we might agree that kiddushin as single-sided acquisition is a problem, perhaps that’s a mistaken, or at least less than complete, lens through which to view what’s happening during kiddushin.) The second is that if we do decide an alternative is needed, this analysis might help us come up with an alternative that fulfills the same full range of human and societal needs, without missing some or all of them.

    I have some materials both on consequentialism as a shitat ha-limmud and on gittin that might prove helpful, if you’re interested. Feel free to get in touch via email.

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