Celebration & Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism

By Rela M. Geffen | Go to book overview
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that they will resume sexual intercourse. By and large, however, the custom is observed only in the Orthodox community.

Back to the Covenant

Over the course of fifteen hundred years, the Jewish tradition has developed an ornate and sophisticated set of rituals and liturgies for marriage. It is the purpose of these customs not only to perform the simple task of ushering a couple into the state of matrimony but also, and perhaps even more importantly, to do so while stating for the couple and the entire Jewish community the crucial nexus that exists between marriage and other basic tenets of Jewish faith.

The sages hoped that these ceremonies would convey to the couple the need to maintain the conventional element of their relationship in the years beyond their wedding, and would encourage men to make much use of affectionate language and other means of establishing intimacy in the relationship.102 They claimed that "one who loves his wife more than himself, about him did Scripture state, 'You will know that all is well in your tent'" ( Job 5:24).103 In general, the sages' admonitions about relationships between spouses center on the theme of derekh eretz, or common decency and appropriateness.

Given the tradition's view of the cosmic and Godly nature of marriage, it is perhaps fitting that the rabbis chose as the verse to be recited when one dons phylacteries, another symbol of the Jew's relationship with God, these poignant words of the prophet Hosea:

And I will espouse you forever:
I will espouse you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy,
And I will espouse you with faithfulness,
Then you shall be devoted to the Lord. ( Hosea 2:21-22)

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations in this chapter are taken from The Tanakh--The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation Accordingto the Traditional Hebrew Text


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