(Even Ha’ezer 27:8)
Question from a graduate of the Schechter Institute: Is it permissible for the bride to give a ring to the groom as part of the wedding ceremony? Is it permissible for her to say “harei ata mekudash li” [behold you are betrothed unto me] or another verse or statement?
Responsum: Since I have been asked this question quite a few times, I have decided to publish a formal responsum on the subject.
In the past, I published a responsum in which I have shown that it is permissible for women to actively participate in various parts of the wedding ceremony (Golinkin, Chapter 12). Thus, I understand the desire of many brides to create a more egalitarian ceremony. Indeed, we shall see below that such a desire already existed among Jewish brides from the most cultured families in Berlin in the year 1871! On the other hand, in classical halakhah according to the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud and codes of Jewish law, the groom betroths (mekadesh) the bride and not the other way around. Therefore, we must investigate whether the bride can play a more active role in the wedding ceremony within the framework of halakhah (cf. what I wrote in Golinkin, p. 41).
I) Kiddushin/Erusin/Betrothal as an act of Kinyan by the Groom
The first part of the marriage ceremony is called Erusin or Kiddushin [betrothal or sanctification]. After the rabbi recites the blessing over wine and the Erusin blessing, the groom says to the bride: Harei at mekudeshet li b’taba’at zo kedat Moshe viyisrael [behold you are sanctified to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel] and he puts a ring on her finger. This statement and the placing of the ring are a legal act called Erusin or Kiddushin through which the groom “koneh” [possesses] his wife. It says in in the Torah: “When a man takes [yikah] a woman and possesses her” (Deut. 24:1), and the Talmud expounds: When he takes [yikah] and not she takes [tikah] (Kiddushin 4b with Rashi and Tosafot), that the man performs kiddushin and not the woman. The Tosefta (Kiddushin 1:1, ed. Lieberman, p. 276; cf. Bavli Kiddushin 5a) also rules that if a woman gives money or its equivalent to a man “and says behold I am betrothed /mekudeshet to you… she is not mekudeshet” and this was codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Even Ha’ezer 27:7).
There is a disagreement among the Rishonim and among modern scholars regarding the essence of the kinyan [possession] and Rabbi Picar has summarized some of the approaches. The Ramban (Nahmanides, Spain, ca. 1200-1270) wrote in his Hiddushim to Gittin (9a, s.v. Im): “for this woman is not the property of the husband, but she is in her own dominion to marry”. Rather this kinyan is a kinyan of prohibition, i.e. that henceforth she is forbidden to other men as hekdesh [something dedicated to a sacred purpose or to the Temple]. And so wrote the author of Avnei Miluim (Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller, 1745-1812; fol. 42a): “her body is not acquired by the husband, and the kiddushin only means that she is forbidden by him [to have sexual relations] with the entire world”. Indeed, it can be added that according to many commentators “kadosh” in the Bible, usually translated as “holy”, really means “set apart”, and therefore “kiddushin” means that the bride is now set apart from other men and is special only to her husband.
On the other hand, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv (1817-1893), gives another explanation (Responsa Meishiv Davar, Part 4, No. 35): “A man does not have on his wife any kinyan, except for sexual relations, but other than that, the husband has no kinyan”. (Cf. further discussions by Rabbis Picar and Lamm).
II) The approach of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to the bride giving a ring to the groom
Since most of the rabbis today who wish to rule stringently regarding our topic relied on Rabbi Feinstein who related to our topic in five of his responsa, it behooves us to carefully study his rulings. We shall summarize three of his responsa on our topic:
In Part 3, No. 18 from 1969, Rabbi Feinstein writes to an Orthodox rabbi about a bride who, after the Kiddushin ceremony performed by the groom, gave him a ring and said “I am hereby betrothed unto you” or “you are betrothed unto me”. Rabbi Feinstein ruled that, after the fact, she is still betrothed, and what she gave him and said after the Kiddushin “are words of foolishness”.
Yet it is forbidden to do this before the fact for four reasons: a) this is a non-Jewish custom and is therefore forbidden as “hukot hagoyim” [the laws of the Gentiles];` b) it is similar to the gezeirah [rabbinic decree], found in Shabbat 14a, that originally they poured drawn water on themselves after immersing in a mikveh in order to remove the bad smell from the stagnant water in the mikveh, but the Sages then decreed that drawn water is impure because the people began to think that drawn water can purify. So too here “one has to be concerned that this [i.e. the ring given by the bride] will lead to people saying that a woman may also betroth a man”; c) that as a result of doing this practice, many of the laws of Kiddushin will be forgotten, and this is a negative commandment according to Resh Lakish in Menahot 99b “that whoever forgets one item of his learning transgresses a negative commandment” and to Ravina two negative commandments and to Rav Nahman Bar Yitzhak three; d) and according to the Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria, d. 1574; Yam Shel Shlomo to Bava Kamma 4:9) “to change the law even for a great need and even when there is a fear of Pikuah Nefesh [saving a life] is forbidden because he is like a denier of the Torah of Moshe”. At the end of the responsum, Rabbi Feinstein returns to the second reason — the wedding guests will think that the law is that both the groom and bride must betroth.
With all due respect, most of these arguments do not stand up to careful scrutiny. Even if one could claim that in the United States in 1969 they wanted to do a double ring ceremony as an imitation of the Gentiles, that is not the situation in the State of Israel in 2018. Women in Israel today desire equality and want to take an active part in Jewish ceremonies and this has nothing to do with the laws of the Gentiles. The second argument is also not convincing. If we allow a bride to give a ring to her groom, we will forget the laws of Kiddushin?! And the fourth argument is very similar to what Rabbi Feinstein wrote in his responsum about whether women may wear a tallit (Orah Hayyim, Part 4, No. 49). After he says that according to Jewish law it is permissible for women to wear a tallit, he forbids it because her motive is to change the Torah and that is heresy. Therefore, we are left with only one concern – that the wedding guests will think that a woman may betroth a man, but this has a simple solution which Rabbi Feinstein himself suggested in another responsum which we shall see below.
In Part 3, No. 25 from 1970, Rabbi Feinstein discusses a Reform wedding ceremony which did not include Kiddushin at all. The rabbi asked the groom “if he wants to take her for a wife and he answers yes, and he asks her if she wants that he should be her husband or that she should be his wife and she answers yes, and these are not words of Kiddushin but words that they want ishut [matrimony], and afterwards they give each other rings”. It is evident from the end of the responsum that Rabbi Feinstein wanted to invalidate this Reform Kiddushin as a leniency, in order to prevent some children from being considered mamzerim. In any case, even if that is what happened at that particular Reform wedding, that is not relevant to a Kiddushin ceremony performed according to Jewish law, where the groom betroths the bride according to the laws of Moses and Israel and then the bride gives the groom a ring as a gift (see below).
In Part 4, No. 13, paragraph 4 Rabbi Feinstein discusses Kiddushin performed by a Conservative rabbi. He again debates whether the Kiddushin are valid since the bride gives a ring to the groom and says something “and it is not clear who is betrothing whom, whether the groom the bride or the bride the groom, and maybe it is only an act of jest of exchanging gifts as a general sign that they are man and wife and not an act of kinyan (see above) which the Torah required, and maybe she was not betrothed at all, and this is for me a big doubt for which I have not yet found a proof”.
Thus far Rabbi Feinstein’s attack against Conservative rabbis. Then he adds a simple solution to the problem he raised in the responsum quoted above: For if “a rabbi [i.e., an Orthodox rabbi]… is forced for the sake of his livelihood to perform a Kiddushin in which the bride also gives a ring to the groom, he must inform them and also the witnesses that only the giving [of the ring] by the groom to the bride is a kinyan of Kiddushin, but the giving of the bride to the groom is not connected to the Kiddushin at all, but is only a general gift, and her statement must be in a style of giving a gift out of love and affection after he is already her husband”.
Thus, if the wedding ceremony is halakhic, there is only one substantive concern: that the wedding guests understand that the ring given by the bride to the groom is only a gift and not an act of Kiddushin, and this can be easily solved by the rabbi explaining the difference between the two rings.
III) What may the bride say to the groom?
She may respond “Yes” after the groom says “Harei at” or she can say: “Harei ani mekudeshet lekha” [Behold I am betrothed unto you]. So ruled Rabbi Adler in accordance with Rabbi Moshe Rosen and Yad David in Otzar Haposkim. Rabbi Rosen based himself on the Rosh, the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh (Even Ha’ezer 27:8) “that when he gives [the value of a perutah/small coin] and she says [a correct formula of Kiddushin], if he was discussing with her matters of Kiddushin, it is definitely Kiddushin”. And this was also the opinion of the Meiri (Kiddushin 5b, ed. Sofer, p. 23) and the Shitah Lo Noda Lemi (Kiddushin 5b, ed. Nisan Zacksh, Jerusalem, 1955, p. 8); and so ruled Yad David.
According to Rabbi Linzer, it is permissible for the bride to respond in a more expanded fashion: Hareini mekabelet taba’at zu umekudeshet lekha kedat Moshe veyisrael [“Behold I accept this ring and am betrothed unto you according to the laws of Moses and Israel”].
According to many rabbis, it is forbidden for the bride to say “Harei ata mekudash li” etc. [Behold you are betrothed unto me etc.] and to put a ring on the groom’s finger, because a bride may not betroth a groom as explained above and we do not want to confuse and mislead the wedding guests. (Rabbi Rabinowitz and Summary Index – Conservative; Rabbi Picar – Orthodox; Rabbi Freehof – Reform, is opposed but does not forbid). Rabbi Adler even claims that if she says “Harei atah mekudash li” as is the custom among the Reform, one can question whether she annulled the Kiddushin and therefore her Kiddushin is in doubt (Rabbi Adler based on Rabbi Grosnas in Otzar Haposkim).
On the other hand, most of the rabbis who discussed our question ruled that the bride may recite a verse and then put a ring on the groom’s finger. They suggest verses such as:
a. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3) (Rabbis Aub, Rank and Freeman, Klein). It is worth noting that the first rabbi to suggest this practice was the moderate Reformer, Rabbi Joseph Aub (1805-1880), at the Reform Augsburg Synod of 1871, and his suggestion was adopted. He stressed that he wants to permit, not to require the double ring ceremony. He relates that in Berlin most of the couples desire to have two wedding rings. He explained that the brides belong to the most cultured families. “These ladies stated that they did not wish to be completely passive at the marriage altar, as if they were objects and as though the marriage ceremony could be performed without their equal participation.” His motion was adopted at the Synod, though the resolution says that the bride can say “a few appropriate words” instead of the specific verse from the Song of Songs.
b. Or: “Let me be a seal upon your heart, like the seal upon your arm” (, 8:6) (Rabbi Astor; Rabbi Picar recommends this verse).
c. “I am your beloved and you are mine.” (Rabbis Rank and Freeman).
d. “I will betroth you unto Me forever” etc. (Hosea 2:21-22) (Rabbis Rank and Freeman; but Rabbi Linzer is opposed because this verse uses the verb for Erusin three times).
e. Or she may recite something she has written on her own (Rabbi Rabinowitz).
f. “Be thou sacred to me as husband according to the law of God” (Rabbi Freehof).
On the other hand, there are some rabbis who are of the opinion that the bride may recite “harei ata mekudash li bitaba’at zu kedat Moshe veyisrael”.
In the Reform Rabbi’s Manual from 1988 there are four versions of the wedding service, none of which are halakhic. In all of them, the bride says to the groom “harei atah mekudash li betaba’at zu kedat Moshe veyisrael”. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut explains in the back of the manual that the motive is “full equality” (Plaut and Polish, p. 238).
Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, who was a Conservative rabbi, ruled that the bride may recite “harei atah mekudash li”, without citing any sources. He maintains that “there is no valid halakhic objection to anything that the bride wishes to say after the bridegroom has voiced the traditional words which establish the halakhic validity of the marriage”. His opinion was accepted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1973-1974 (Rabbi Blumenthal).
The Conservative posek (halakhic authority) Rabbi Isaac Klein relates that there is a new custom of the double-ring ceremony and sometimes the bride recites Song of Songs 6:3 or other verses. “Some authorities object to this practice since it is a deviation from the traditional pattern, especially if the formula used by the bride is the same as the one used by the groom [i.e., harei atah mekudash li; DG]. Legally, however, there can be no objection. Once the traditional formula has been recited, the betrothal is binding, and whatever is added is of no legal significance (Nedarim 87a).” Interestingly enough, the Orthodox posek Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg quoted this same passage from the Talmud in connection with a bride giving a ring to the groom “and if so, what do we care what the woman did after the husband betrothed her with a ring” (quoted by Rabbi Jachter, p. 90), but he does not relate explicitly to the phrase “harei atah mekudash li”.
IV) When in the ceremony may the bride give a ring to the groom and recite a verse?
Some of the rabbis who allowed the bride to give a ring to the groom and to recite a verse did not relate to the question as to when in the ceremony this should be done.
But other rabbis ruled that it is forbidden for the bride to give the second ring immediately after the Kiddushin ceremony by the groom, in order to avoid the impression that the second ring is also a ring of Kiddushin. In order to avoid misunderstandings or misleading the wedding guests, they ruled that the rabbi must explain immediately after the Kiddushin ceremony: “Now that we have completed the Kiddushin ceremony, the bride will give a gift to the groom as a token of her love” (Rabbi Feinstein, Part 4, No. 13 as above; Rabbis Wolowelsky and Linzer).
Alternatively, they ruled that the bride will give the ring at a different point in the ceremony, such as: after reading the Ketubah (Rabbi Novak); or after the Sheva Berakhot and before breaking the glass (Rabbis Novak; Wolowelsky; Picar); or during the Yichud after the ceremony (Rabbi Novak).
Finally, other rabbis have suggested other customs, such as the groom and bride giving each other rings after the Sheva Berakhot in addition to the ring which the groom gave the bride during the Kiddushin ceremony (Rabbi Linzer; and cf. Rabbi Meyersdorf and Nava Bernstein for a slightly different practice; and cf. Rabbi Linzer, p. 5 also summarized by Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David for a complicated suggestion which I do not recommend).
V) Summary and Conclusions
After examining all the approaches which I have found, I would like to summarize my conclusions:
It is perfectly permissible for the bride to respond to the groom after he recites harei at and gives her the ring as explained above in section III, 1-2.
If the bride gives a ring to the groom, it is important that the wedding guests understand that it is a gift and not a legal act of Kiddushin. Therefore, the bride should not say “harei atah” but rather one of the verses listed above or another appropriate verse.
If the bride gives the second ring immediately after the groom does the Kiddushin, the rabbi should explain that “now, after the Kiddushin ceremony, the bride will give a gift to the groom”.
Alternatively, the bride can give the second ring at another point during the wedding ceremony, such as after reading the Ketubah or after the Sheva Berakhot and then it will be clear that the second ring is not an act of Kiddushin.
These suggestions enable the bride to actively participate in the wedding ceremony without changing the ancient tradition of Kiddushin as found in the Torah, Mishnah, Talmud and codes of Jewish law until today.
May the couple about to be married have the merit of rejoicing as “beloved friends”, and of building a Jewish home based on “love and harmony, peace and companionship”.
12 Tammuz 5778
Adler – Rabbi Binyamin Adler, Hanisuin Kihilkhatam, Jerusalem, 1984, Chapter 7, paragraph 39, pp. 223-224
Astor — Rabbi Carl Astor in Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz, editors, The Observant Life, New York, 2012, p. 270
Aub — Rabbi Joseph Aub, “One or Two Wedding Rings?” in: W. Gunther Plaut, The Rise of Reform Judaism, New York, 1963, pp. 217-219, followed by the Resolutions of the Augsburg Synod, 1871 (I based myself on the translation ibid.; the translation found in Plaut and Polish, p. 238 is very different!)
Ben David – Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David, srugim.co.il, 13/11/14 (Hebrew; he summarizes the last suggestion of Rabbi Linzer)
Blumenthal — Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, Conservative Judaism 31/3 (Spring 1977), p. 30, with the agreement of the CJLS 1973-1974
Feinstein – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer:
Part 1, No. 77 (re a bride giving a ring to the groom at a Reform wedding)
Part 3, No. 18 (ditto at an Orthodox wedding)
Part 3, No. 25 (ditto at a Reform wedding)
Part 4, No. 13, paragraph 4 (ditto at a Conservative wedding)
Part 4, No. 32, paragraph 2 (re the difference between Nos. 18 and 25 above)
Freehof — Rabbi Solomon Freehof, Reform Responsa for Our Time, 1977, No. 41
Frimer — Rabbis Norman and Dov Frimer, Tradition 21/3 (Fall 1984), p. 12
Golinkin – David Golinkin, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012
Grosnas – Rabbi Aryeh Leib Grosnas, Responsa Leib Aryeh, London, 1958, No. 31, paragraph 6, summarized in Otzar Haposkim, p. 122
Halevi – Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, Aseh Lekha Rav, Part 5, No. 94
Jachter – Rabbu Hayyim Jachter, Tehumin 18 (5758), pp. 89-91
Klein — Rabbi Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, New York, 1979, p. 396
Lamm — Rabbi Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage, San Francisco, 1980, pp. 148-160
Lev – Rabbi Idit Lev, “Kiddushin Hadadiyim”, a course paper, 2004, 30 pp.
Linzer — Rabbi Dov Linzer, “Ani Lidodi Vidodi Li: Towards a more balanced wedding ceremony”, JOFA Journal IV/2 (Summer 2003), pp. 4-7
Meyersdorf and Bernstein – Rabbi Yerah Meyersdorf and Nava Bernstein, a booklet from their wedding, March 2018
Novak — Rabbi David Novak, Tomeikh Kehalakah, Vol. 2, 1994, pp. 75-79
Otzar Haposkim – Otzar Haposkim, Volume 10, to Even Haezer 27:8; 40:3, pp. 121-122
Picar – Rabbi Ariel Picar, Tehumin 20 (5760), pp. 311-316
Plaut and Polish — Rabbis W. Gunther Plaut and David Polish, editors, Ma’agalei Tzedek: Rabbi’s Manual, New York, 1988, pp. 54, 65, 75, 80, 238
Rabinowitz — Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, Conservative Judaism 39/1 (Fall 1986), p. 22
Rank and Freeman — Rabbis Perry Raphael Rank and Gordon Freeman, Moreh Derekh: The Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi’s Manual, New York, 1998, pp. C-48-50
Rosen – Rabbi Moshe Rosen, She’elot Moshe, New York, 1940, No. 33, paragraph 1, summarized in Otzar Haposkim, pp. 121-122
Summary Index, The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, The Rabbinical Assembly, New York, 2011, 9:5 (not an official position; a letter from the Chair in 1974)
Wolowelsky — Rabbi Joel Wolowelsky, Women, Jewish Law and Modernity, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1997, p. 68
Yad David — Yad David, Piskei Halakhot, summarized in Otzar Haposkim, p. 122