Egalitarianism Confronts Kiddushin

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Before the wedding of Cheryl Beckerman and Joel Berman in 1995, they struggled to create a ceremony that was both traditional and egalitarian. This article explains what the author perceives as an inherent lack of mutuality in the traditional kiddushin (betrothal) ceremony, and in a second article she describes the marriage ceremony they created that retained kiddushin, with additions to increase its mutuality, but also included a new segment they called kesharin, or connection. Despite the fact that they retained the language of kiddushin--adding to it, but neither subtracting nor modifying--most traditional Jews would not accept this marriage ceremony as binding. Excerpted by permission of the author from Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism, 1997 issue.

In the months before our wedding, my then-fiancé Joel and I struggled mightily with kiddushin, the part of the ceremony that effectuates a marriage according to halakhah [Jewish law]. The root of kiddushin means "holiness," with a connotation of separateness, being set aside. Traditionally, the groom gives the bride a ring (or other gift) in the presence of two witnesses and says, Harei at mekudeshet li b'taba'at zo k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael ("Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel"). When she consents, through her silent acceptance of the gift, a marriage has taken place, even if all other familiar aspects of the wedding are missing.

What's the Problem?

Joel and I were drawn to this ancient language that we found beautiful and meaningful--as long as we ignored the halakhic implications. In Jewish legal terms, kiddushin is an unambiguously one-sided monogamy clause, forbidding the wife to all other men. We saw a spiritual side to kiddushin, but the more we studied the issue, the more we came to understand it in the context of an entire system of marriage and divorce that is fraught with problems from a feminist perspective. I was hard put to reconcile this meaning with nissuin, the second part of the Jewish marriage ceremony, with its seven blessings [sheva berakhot] celebrating covenant and partnership between wife and husband and the start of a new family unit as an echo of covenant and partnership with God.

Thus began an exploration of numerous paths on our way to a ceremony that could work for both of us. Through research, text study, and extensive discussions we weighed a variety of approaches, including leaving kiddushin out altogether. Several considerations ultimately precluded this step. Our solution was to supplement kiddushin and develop a new segment of the wedding service, which we called kesharin [connection]. Thus, however unconventionally, we remained within the confines of halakhah while expressing values not explicit in the standard ceremony….

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Cheryl Beckerman is a writer and editor living in Jerusalem with her husband, daughter, and son.