Erusin: The First of the Two Ceremonies

Erusin, the ancient betrothal ceremony, includes two blessings and the ring ceremony, and is followed by the reading of the marriage contract.

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Excerpted with permission from Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism edited by Rela Mintz Geffen (Jewish Publication Society).

The Jewish wedding ceremony comprises two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). When the bride and groom have reached the huppah [marriage canopy], the erusin ceremony begins. It is a simple ceremony, marked by two blessings recited by the presiding rabbi, who holds a cup of wine. The first blessing, over wine, is one said at almost all joyous occasions. The second blessing is unique to this occasion and reads as follows:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Master of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding forbidden unions, and Who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by huppah and kiddushin. Praised are You, Lord, Who sanctifies His people Israel with huppah and kiddushin."

After the completion of the second blessing, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who drinks of it; the cup is then presented to the bride, who drinks from the same cup, symbolizing their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on.

What Does the Blessing Mean?

Several crucial themes of the Jewish wedding are expressed in the seemingly simple language of these few lines of this second blessing. First, the liturgical language points to older customs, for in earlier times the Jewish wedding took place in stages over the course of an entire year. At the first ceremony, erusin, the couple were reserved for each other and were forbidden to have relationships with anyone else. But it was not until approximately a year later, at the nissuin ceremony, that they were permitted to consummate their relationship sexually and that the bride moved into the groom's home.

The language of the second blessing, "who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by huppah and kiddushin," reflects this earlier practice, and apparently served in ancient times as a warning to the couple not to cohabit until the completion of the second ceremony.

Another perhaps more subtle theme emerges from this blessing as well. The language clearly enunciates the central Jewish tenet that marriage is not a private affair but one that affects and involves the entire community. It is not only the couple who are sanctified by their marriage; the sanctification touches the entire people Israel. Why? The marriage of a man and woman tells the community that it has the capacity to survive. Marriage reflects the first union between Adam and Eve, who set not a private stage, but a stage for the playing out of all of human history. Marriage is ultimately a reflection of the survivability of the covenant, and God's covenant with humanity was made not individually, but collectively. All of this, and more, emerges from the simple words of this blessing.

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Rabbi Daniel Gordis

Rabbi Daniel H. Gordis is Director of the Jerusalem Fellows program and a member of the Senior Staff of the Mandel Foundation Sector on Jewish Education and Continuity. His most recent book, on the demise of peace in Israel, is entitled If a Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State; other books include God Was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism.