The Virgin Bride

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In recent months I have received a flurry of wedding invitations. I have also been helping plan my sister’s wedding, which is in two weeks.

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With this influx of invitations, I have started to pay closer attention to the Hebrew text which usually mirrors the English text on the invitation.

What I found was quite disturbing:

On the English side of the invitation it says “honored children” and then states the names of the man and woman who are getting married.  On the Hebrew side of the invitation there are two extra statements.  Above the woman’s name it states: “The virgin bride who is praised” or just simply “the virgin bride.” Above the man’s name it states “The young distinguished boy.”

When I pointed out these offensive words to people, many responded by stating that the woman is also referred to as a virgin bride in the marriage contract (ketubah). However, I believe that although it can be taken offensively in the marriage contract as well, I can understand it better, because, after all, it is a contract with both parties entering into the marriage under certain assumptions, in many cases the understanding that the bride is a virgin.

But on an invitation is it really necessary to have the phrase “the virgin bride” placed right on top of the woman’s name?

In my humble opinion, it is not only immodest and tasteless but it belittles the woman to nothing more than a sexual object that is being flaunted and bought by her “distinguished” husband.

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It is surprising to me that in a culture that is so obsessed with modesty or tz’ni’ut such a phrase would be allowed on a document which is sent out to hundreds and sometimes a thousand people.

If you happen to be a woman making a wedding any time in the near future, keep in mind that you are more that just a virgin bride.

Posted on November 21, 2008

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6 thoughts on “The Virgin Bride

  1. Timbrel

    I’m also getting married shortly in a traditional ceremony and have been thinking a lot about wordings like these. One thing that caught me was those tiny letters after the names of the respective bride and groom on the invitation. After my husband-to-be’s name, it has a nun-yud, standing for “light of Israel.” After me, it has another two letters meaning “may she live.”

    Wait a second- he gets to be a spiritual light unto our people, and I get to not die? It was weird.

    We ended up leaving it in, but we’re also adding all kinds of egalitarian elements to the ceremony itself.

    The “virgin” issue is something I struggled with, too. It may be an issue of translation- I’ve also seen it mean “young woman.” But I suppose it could also be interpreted more loosely as a kind of purity, or the idea that the woman is entering into this contract of her own free will, something that would not necessarily be afforded to her in other circumstances.

  2. rejewvenator

    If virgins used the virgin text and non-virgins did not, I’d feel your discomfort much more. The reality is that the Hebrew side of the wedding invite is purely traditional. Almost nobody reads it, and fewer people understand it. In that text, all brides are virgins, all grooms are distinguished, and all families are united in pleasure around the upcoming marriage. That all of these things are often untrue is irrelevant – the marriage ceremony is a ritual with various forms to be observed. They don’t mean anything in and of themselves, they only carry meaning as part of the larger ritual. I say we have bigger gender issues to worry about than this.

  3. Yossi

    Timbrel- I hate to sound patronizing, but whoever you got your acronyms translated by was ignorant. The “Nun Yud” after the grooms name stands for “Neiro Yair” not Ner Yisroel”, as you can find in any acronym list. It is simply saying, in a poetic way, the same thing as the female version, “May he live long”.

    To the Virgin Bride: I agree, the need to announce virginity sounds strange in our time, and thus no halachic authority requires it, rather it is simply a customary thing to do. It is rooted in Talmudic custom, which was based on theneed to financially protect the wife and assure her proper Ketuba amount being paid to her should the husband die. Since this amount was higher for a virgin than for others, her status would be publicly announced via several methods: Writing it in the Ketuba, announcing it (in case the ketuba was lost), and for virgins only distributing candy to the kids on the way to the wedding, so they’d remember it should they, years later be called upon to testify.

    Important disclaimer: Virgin or not may not mean what you think it does, rather it means that the groom accepts her as one, which is his option. Thus the groom simply needs to know and accept her history, and reality is “distorted” to protect her honor.

    There is no halachic need to write it on the invitation, indeed there is no halachic need to have Hebrew on the invite or for that matter to even have an invitation.
    Yossi Ginzberg

  4. Jordanna Birnbaum Post author

    In response to rejewvenator:

    I must say that I agree with you that the Hebrew text is purely traditional, but I disagree that no one reads it or understands it. Their are many people who read the hebrew text and understand it such as myself.
    Furthermore, even though as you stated

    “They don’t mean anything in and of themselves, they only carry meaning as part of the larger ritual. I say we have bigger gender issues to worry about than this.”

    I think that even these tiny words speak a world about how our perception of women in Judaism is formed, along with our view of gender roles within Judaism. Language can shape and reinforce our idea of women and although there are many ‘bigger gender issues to worry about’ we must not ignore the roots of many of these issues and perceptions which can be found in the language of ancient texts and in current traditions. You can pass it off as being minute and ingore the tiny print, but the words on a simple invitation add and continue to reinforce the image of women in orthodoxy today.

  5. jmiles

    I have a question- this “culture that you speak of in the paragraph that states “It is surprising to me that in a culture that is so obsessed with modesty or tz’ni’ut such a phrase would be allowed on a document which is sent out to hundreds and sometimes a thousand people.” Is this the orthodox community at large or a specific part of the orthodox community?

  6. Jordanna Birnbaum Post author

    I believe the issue of modesty has taken a prominent role throughout all parts/communities of orthodoxy. In some more traditional orthodox communities it has taken a more prominent role ie. separation of the sexes in all areas including buses, weddings, sidewalks and in more modern orthodox communities modesty in terms of women’s dress has taken on a bigger emphasis. The idea that modesty is the only ’mitzvah’ for orthodox women today is rampant from the right and left of the orthodox world.

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