Ketubot 7

A blessing on your head.

Over the years, I have been privileged to attend many Jewish weddings, both as an invited guest and as the plus one for my husband who, in his 30 years as a congregational rabbi, has officiated at the weddings of over 100 couples. Upon reading today’s daf, I was particularly struck by the language of the blessing for erusin, or betrothal, which has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries. 

In rabbinic times, this blessing was recited up to a year or more prior to the wedding, particularly for couples betrothed as minors who waited out the engagement period in their respective parents’ homes. Nowadays, this blessing is said at the outset of the wedding ceremony itself, just before the couple shares their first cup of wine under the huppah

In all the times I have heard the melodious chanting of this blessing, though, I never stopped to consider the actual words being recited by the rabbi standing before the soon-to-be newlyweds, the text of which we find on today’s daf:

With regard to the benediction of the betrothal, what formula does one recite?

Ravin bar Rav Adda and Rabba bar Rav Adda both said in the name of Rav Yehuda: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us through His mitzvot, and commanded us concerning the forbidden unions, and prohibited to us those women who are betrothed, and permitted to us those women who are married by means of the wedding canopy and betrothal.

Rav Aha, son of Rava, concludes the blessing in the name of Rav Yehuda: Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel by means of the wedding canopy and betrothal.

This lovely blessing starts off the wedding festivities by reminding the couple (really, the groom) not to engage in sexual relations with forbidden partners, including those who are already betrothed — namely, his own fiancée. This phrase — “those women who are betrothed” — served in rabbinic times as a warning to the bride and groom not to preempt the wedding itself by having sexual relations. Today, it has no practical application, since the marriage itself is effected just moments after this blessing is chanted. 

Interestingly, while the Torah does in fact command Jews not to engage in various forbidden relationships (see Leviticus 18), it says nothing about eschewing sexual relations with one’s betrothed. The Talmud here is referring to a rabbinic law that prohibits a man from secluding himself with an unmarried woman (see Ketubot 80b and Avodah Zarah 36b), including his own fiancée. As we have seen throughout the Talmud, laws — and certainly traditions — evolve, which brings us to the matter of heteronormativity.

In the Talmud, a wedding takes place only between a man and a woman. In our day, members of the same gender also get married, and some do so in traditional Jewish ceremonies. How might a same-gender couple grapple with a text that refers specifically to betrothed women, and includes the phrase “commanded us concerning forbidden unions,” which was traditionally understood as forbidding same-sex relationships? 

For same-gender couples — and even some mixed-gender couples — the traditional erusinblessing (and other elements of the wedding ceremony that we will cover later in our Daf Yomi journey) can be problematic. Efforts to make the blessing more inclusive have included suggestions such as utilizing both masculine or feminine language for the couple, substituting different formulations for the phrase about forbidden unions, replacing the blessing with something else or skipping it entirely. A 2006 paper from the Conservative movement’s Committee for Jewish Laws and Standards, for example, suggests this language for the erusin blessing:

“Our God and God of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless these loving companions who are together creating a Covenant of Lovers. Praised are You, Adonai, who is good and does good.”

In Pirkei Avot 4:20, we are told: 

Rabbi said: don’t look at the container but at that which is in it: There is a new container full of old wine, and an old [container] in which there is not even new [wine].

This passage reminds us that we can keep the essence of a teaching while putting it in a “new container” — considering it through a new lens. After all these years, I am looking forward to paying more attention to the words being said under the huppah and to marveling at how traditions — old and new — continue to frame sacred occasions. 

Read all of Ketubot 7 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 13th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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