The Torah in Exodus (22:15) tells us that “if a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall pay the bride price, and make her his wife.”
The notion of paying the bride price for the acquisition of a woman is extended to the Mishnah, (Kiddushin 1:1) which explains, “A woman is acquired [in marriage] in three ways…She is acquired by money, by writ, or by intercourse. ‘By money,’ Beit Shammai maintain, a dinar [an ancient cash value] or the worth of a dinar. Beit Hillel rule, a peruta [another ancient value] or the worth of a peruta.”
This idea is developed in the gemara (Talmudic discussion) on this mishnah (Kiddushin 2a-2b), when it asks,
How do we know that money effects betrothal? By deriving the meaning of “taking” from the field of Ephron. Here it is written, “A man takes a wife” (Deuteronomy 22:13) and there it is written, “I give you money for the field; take it from me” (Genesis 23:13). Moreover, “taking” is called acquisition [kinyan], for it is written, “the field which Abraham acquired” (Genesis 49:30). Or, alternatively, “They will acquire fields with money” (Jeremiah 32:44). Therefore, it is taught, “A woman is acquired”… The Tanna [mishnaic voice] initially uses the language of the Torah [that is to say, of acquisition, kinyan] and at the end uses the language of the Rabbinic tradition [that is to say, of dedication, kiddushin]. And what does the language of the Rabbinic tradition connote? That he [the groom] makes her forbidden to all [men] [mikudeshet] like something that is hekdesh.
This text reveals several important things. A woman is acquired in very much the same way that one might acquire a field—using the same means, i.e. money. The fact that she’s being bought is pretty hard to avoid, here. Secondly, it makes explicit the meaning of kiddushin. Contrary to popular sentiment, the betrothal ritual is not named according to is ability to sanctify [l’KDSH] to render holy the new union. Rather, the woman is rendered hekdesh, forbidden to other men just as an object dedicated (made hekdesh) to the Temple is forbidden for all other purposes.
In contemporary practice, this acquisition generally executed by kinyan kesef [aquisition through money], most commonly by the groom’s placing of a ring (worth a peruta or more) on the bride’s finger and reciting a formula of dedication/acquisition.* The bride need not utter a word, as her silence is understood to be consent to the kinyan**.
These, then, are some of the issues present in one part of the traditional Jewish wedding, kiddushin. The wedding is comprised of several parts (the signing of the ketubah, or wedding contract, and the recitation of the seven wedding blessings are also key, among other things).
I want people to be able to make informed decisions about the ritual that symbolizes their entering into a lifelong relationship. This site, then, is intended to educate and help people make informed decisions.
* See: Tur, Even Ha-Ezer 26; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 3:1; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer 27, 32, and the Rema on 32.
**Kiddushin 12b-13a, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 5:11, Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer 2:4, Rema commentary, and others.