You go to a wedding and it’s all about the bride and the groom, so when you see that in the Jewish wedding vows there is no commitment of the bride, you must be in shock. Click here to find out why, you’ll love the reason!
Is the Ketubah text sexist?
While attending a Jewish wedding you must have noticed the abundance of food (Yeah, us Jews, we’re just great at partying). But you may have also noticed something else. It’s the Jewish wedding contract, you know, the one that hasn’t missed a single Jewish wedding.
The Ketubah has been around and in use for over 3,000 years! [See; History of the Ketubah.] Now, you may be thinking something along these lines; If the Ketubah has been around for so long, is it possibly, umm… I’m not exactly sure how to say it nicely… slightly outdated?
Let’s look at it this way. Marriage is a combined effort, which entails two individuals coming together and becoming one. That being so, everything related to the marriage should include involvement of both bride and groom.
It’s not merely that there are numerous details to the wedding vows, there are two different people, each making this vow! Granted the vows are for one purpose, and to make a union, but separate they are. So why in Judaism is it different?
How Judaism is different
When attending a Jewish wedding, one won’t see the ‘vows’ declared at the ceremony. Yes, there will be many commitments, but none are enumerated at the ceremony! Those vows are stipulated in what we call the Ketubah, otherwise, referred to as, the Jewish wedding contract.
Now, if I were to tell you, that the Ketubah has all of the ‘usual’ vows, you probably wouldn’t be so shocked. You’ll reckon, OK, so most people verbalize them, and by a Jewish wedding, they are read from a written contract, no biggy — I can handle that. But when you are informed that it’s not the case, your ears perk up.
In a Ketubah, the groom mentions a number of promises and agreements — to which the bride agrees. The groom proposes the marriage by placing a ring on the bride’s finger, and once again, the bride accepts. In no way does the bride proclaim or declare, a way of committing to this marriage. This is the basis of the question. If a marriage is about two, why the taboo on the bride? Is it not her wedding too? Should she not be apart of the ceremony as well?
Worrier or warrior?
So, we have established what is so bothersome, why, in a Jewish marriage, does the bride not verbalize or sign to any commitment?
Understanding the answer
To properly understand the answer that addresses this question, allow me to momentarily take you off topic.
In the beginning of Genesis, which is the first of the 5 books of Moses — the Bible, we learn about the creation of Man. G-d, having created night and day, vegetation of all kinds, animals of all sorts, now looked to his next move. The creation of man. It is taught, that contrary to all other creations which were created in the multiple, man was created individual. It was only later, after man requested a partner, that a woman was created.
Make up of all creations
Personally, I was always fascinated as to the details of creation, and there is a specific part that I would like to share with you. Each and every creation existing in this world is created with the same elements, (Yes Snapple, we are all made from the best stuff on earth): Fire, Water, Air and Earth. These 4 elements are the ingredients of creating. The creation of one differing from the other, is all a matter of recipe. A little more fire, a little less water, or vice versa — all depending on what you are looking to achieve.
Man, was created primarily from earth. As is explained, the form of man is made of earth, after which G-d blew in the soul — upon him doing so, all elements were present enabling man to come to life. Woman on the other hand is different. Woman was created from a rib of the man. Yes, G-d performed a surgery on Adam, and from him created Eve.
Now, back to our case at hand. Look again at the previous paragraph. Man, created from earth, woman, created from man. Who do you think are more refined? Who is going to be more family inclined? The man is represented by earth, the heaviest of the 4 elements, and mystically, the heaviest, means less refined. So, man is an unrefined product, woman is a refined creation with a perfect balance.
What is a marriage?
So, what is a marriage? We’ll get there soon enough, but one thing is certain already now, A Woman is more refined. Therefore, a woman will naturally stick more to her man to be one with him. Likewise, she will naturally be more loyal to the family image. (I write naturally, not to impose that men do not contain this loyalty, merely, it is women that inherently poses this character trait more.)
Jewish or not, who decides?
Another example brings out this point of coarseness. Tribal decent is a matter decided by paternal lineage. If the father is a Levite, so will the son be. If the father is an Israelite, the son is an Israelite, and so on. Whereas on the other hand, Jewish determination, is a matter of maternal decent.
Why is that? When we look at the most refined part of the person, that being the soul, its root is in the more refined — which is presented by the women. When we deal with matters that are more external, such as tribal affiliation, we look at the less refined — which is presented by the man.
Doing mitzvot (Jewish commandments that connect us with G-d / Good deeds.)
Now, after setting all that straight, take this. In regard to mitzvot, there are way more of them associated with men. Why so? Are women less Jewish?
In truth, the reasoning is very similar to the way we look at who determines Jewishness vs. Tribal affiliation. Mitzvot are our way of connecting to G-d. As well, they act in refining the world. Man, is coarser, therefore has more of a responsibility to refine himself, and the world around him. Women, not as much. It is for this reason that man is obligated in so many more mitzvot than woman, for they have far more refining to do.
So, who is the worrier and who the warrior?
Now, if you go into a marriage and you specifically know, that the nature of your spouse — according to the way they were created, is to possibly get distracted by other things, it won’t look too cool. Issues can arise in many ways, either by ‘placing his wife on the back burner’ to pursue wealth, or even worse, if he starts looking to ‘marry’ a second spouse. Either way, would you not worry? To whom will you turn if something goes wrong?
A mechanism needs to be in place, one that will protect this perpetually unsettled spouse. It is not fathomable to expect one to settle in and fully invest themselves in a marriage, if it can so easily be lost. This is another reason as to why the Ketubah specifically uses money as a payment to be paid in case of divorce. Money, is something which speaks to mans heart.
You see the Ketubah is one of the most amazing documents created of all time. It’s greatness and fairness are its imbalances. If the Ketubah, and as a result, the wedding vows are equal, the marriage is not. For this reason, it is the husband that must commit in writing to provide the security to his wife, and not vice versa.
Let’s sum it up — and give the punchline, for those that only have 10 seconds to spare!
The Ketubah is indeed a one-sided document to which the groom is bound. It purposely doesn’t dish out even responsibilities, but it very much advocates for equality. The imbalance of the 3,000-year-old text makes for the most balanced marriage.
So yes, the bride does not commit nor sign, but it is her to which we relate.
To see another article with a similar question, see here.
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