Jewish Husbands, Jewish Wives, and Jewish Partners

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Although procreation is a major role of sexuality and marriage, we see from their approbation of Rebekah and Isaac that the sages saw value in marriage apart from childbearing and preferred monogamy. Though permitted by Jewish law and common in the biblical period, male polygamy was rare by the time of the Talmud. Eventually, European Jewish communities forbade it. (Female polygamy was forbidden.)

MarriageMarital Structures

Monogamy logically grows out of the focus on holiness (kedushah) in Jewish life. Intrinsic to the holiness concept is the idea of setting apart; here, each spouse sets himself/herself apart in relation to his/her spouse by abstaining from sexual activity with others. The wedding ceremony itself is known as kiddushin ("sanctification"). Husband and wife are to model the holiness and peace desired for the whole world. Thus, it is considered especially meritorious to contribute to peace between a husband and wife.

In recent decades, traditional gender roles in Judaism, including within marriage, have been subject to analysis and much criticism. Rabbinic law attempted to protect the rights of women in marriage (to sexual pleasure, financial security, and protection from abandonment). On the other hand, perceptions of "rights" are determined by social setting. Most infamously, while some Jewish communities prohibited domestic abuse and marital rape, as offenses to a peaceful household, others allowed them. Differences between communities in the rights, privileges, and honors granted Jewish wives have been largely shaped by the context of the local non-Jewish culture.

Gender roles are not the only aspects of marriage subject to contemporary reassessment. The norm of male-female marriage has also been called into question, with a variety of responses. Gays and lesbians have sought communal support for their partnerships, evoking a range of responses. Jewish community institutions, to varying extents, have become aware of the needs of such couples, and of single Jews as well, whose family patterns depart from the pattern of heterosexual marriage that was a nearly universal feature of pre-modern Jewish life.

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