A Brief History of Marriage

Although no wedding ceremony is described in the Torah, the institution of marriage began with Adam and Eve. The Book of Genesis portrays God as saying: "It is not good that man should be alone-I will make him a helpmate" (Genesis 2:18).

Most scholars agree that "marriages" originally constituted a man's "reserving" a particular woman or women as his property. This was accomplished simply by bringing a woman into his tent or cave (or palace) and having sexual relations with her. As such, it was referred to as "taking a wife." By the time of the Bible, however, the Jewish people had already begun to invest the man/woman relationship with far more than sexual significance. In Genesis 24:67, we read that "Isaac loved her," referring to Rebekah. This is the first mention of love between spouses. A series of customs arose that laid the groundwork for Judaism's elevation of marriage to a status of great legal and religious significance.

Judaism's emphasis upon the value of marriage is reflected in the fact that it calls marriage kiddushin, from the word kadosh, "sacred" or "holy." Marriage, in other words, is a sacred union, according to the essential meaning of that Hebrew term. The sacred belongs to God, and it is the only social arrangement of human life that our tradition describes in this way.

Many of these customs (i.e., arranged marriages, compensation to the bride's father for her acquisition by the groom, and the establishment of specific conditions (t'nai-im) prior to the marriage) reflected the biblical times in which they originated and today, most Reform Jews do not adhere to these particular customs. There are, however, a number of customs associated with Jewish marriage that still are observed by liberal Jews today. A number of these are discussed elsewhere on this website.