Monthly Archives: July 2006

Kinyan via Pleasure

It’s written in Kiddushin 7a:

Raba said, ‘What [if a woman declares,] ‘Here is a maneh and I will become betrothed to you’? Mar Zutra ruled in R. Papa’s name, she is betrothed…. In return for the pleasure [she derives] from his accepting a gift from her, she consents to the betrothal.

In her book Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, R. Haviva Ner-David suggests that this could be a useful basis for a wedding ceremony.

While the woman is still unilaterally acquired–here, through receiving the pleasure of gift-giving rather than through an object–the kinyan according to this logic is affected by means of her active giving of an object (say, a ring) to her husband-to-be.

Ner-David, in the book, suggests that this might be taken further, to make the ceremony more parallel on all sides. In her formulation, after the bride gives the groom a ring (and receives pleasure from doing so) he then takes a vow of monogamy to parallel the sexual dedication of his wife-to-be. She declares that she has received pleasure from giving a ring and hearing this vow, and then he can give her a ring, declaring her betrothed by means both of this second ring, and the pleasure she had received.

R. Ner-David herself acknowledges the problems inherent in this solution. She writes, “this ceremony… would not solve the problem of the unilateral nature of the marriage, since a kinyan is still the basis of the ceremony…Nevertheless, it does give a different feel to the ceremony….”

ADVANTAGES: It’s halakhic kiddushin, the bride’s giving of a ring has an integral halakhic role in the ceremony, the groom (in Ner-David’s addition) obligates himself to monogamy just as he obligates the bride to monogamy.

DISADVANTAGES: The kinyan here is still very much the acquisition of a woman, vows are tricky in Jewish law (see link below).

More on vows here.


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The Linzer Model

Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh Yeshiva at the left-leaning Orthodox Chovevei Torah, wrote this article on increasing women’s roles under the chuppah.

The practice in Sephardic communities and in Jerusalem is for the groom to assume his ketubah obligations under the chuppah, immediately following the kiddushin. This obligation is assumed through an act of kinyan, classically performed by the groom taking an object (often a handkerchief or a pen) from the officiating rabbi in the presence of witnesses. However, since the groom is obligating himself to the bride, it is actually more appropriate that the bride, and not the rabbi, give him the object. This object can be a ring…. Such a ceremony makes it explicit that the bride is not doing an act of kiddushin, but rather initiating the groom’s acceptance of the ketubah obligations. It allows for the bride’s giving of the ring… to play a central halakhic role.

This practice, if not detailed explicitly as such, has philosophical roots in the Hatam Sofer, who very much envisions the taking on of the ketubah as a parallel to kiddushin. He writes,

In the case of betrothal, there is no buyer or seller, but rather halifin [exchange]. The groom ‘sells’ himself, giving over his person to his betrothed by assuming specified obligations, namely, sustenance, clothing and cohabitation. In return, [the bride] ‘sells’ herself, giving over her person by assuming the obligation of cohabitation by Torah law, and handing over her handiwork by rabbinic law. This is halifin. (Hiddushei ha-Hatam Sofer to Bava Batra 47b.)

Note the Hatam Sofer’s use of language, shifting the emphasis from acquisition to sale, emphasizing the fact that both parties are “selling” something, and de-emphasizing the fact that the groom is, in both places, doing the “buying.”

While Linzer’s model is not bad, there remains still a discrepancy between the kinyan of the male and the kinyan of the female—he acquires the responsibility for food, clothing and sheltering her, and he also acquires her monogamy.

There are ways that this idea can be extended to make the exchange more equal on both sides, as will be discussed in other posts.

in brief:

ADVANTAGES: This kiddushin is halakhically sound, gives the woman more agency under the chuppah, and there is a feeling of equal trade going on, the woman gives the man a ring that is halakhically significant.

DISADVANTAGES: It’s not technically equal; the groom still buys the bride, and though he also acquires his ketubah responsibilities (as he does in every traditional Jewish wedding), she acquires nothing from him, technically, and his sexuality is not regulated in any way.

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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.

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