Our opening mishnah describes the actions a man takes to betroth a woman, but those who have been to a contemporary Jewish wedding will recall that in addition to presenting his bride with a ring (the modern version of the monetary payment), the groom says to her: “Behold! You are consecrated unto me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”
Our mishnah didn’t mention a declaration, but today the Gemara asks: Does the groom have to say anything at all? And if so, are there words that work and words that do not?
The sages taught in a beraita (early rabbinic text) that if a man says to a woman: “You are hereby my wife,” or: “You are hereby my betrothed,” or: “You are hereby acquired to me,” — then she is betrothed. If he said to her: “You are hereby mine,” or: “You are hereby under my authority,” or: “You are hereby bound to me,” — then she is betrothed.
Our modern language of consecration is not here (though it is found further down the daf), but these are similar sorts of statements and, according to the rabbis, any of these is sufficient to effect a betrothal (along with one of the three actions outlined in the mishnah — a gift, a contract or consummation — and the woman’s consent). Are there other formulas that work?
A dilemma was raised before the sages: If a man betrothing a woman said: “You are hereby unique to me,” — what is the halakhah?
Similarly, if he said to her: “You are hereby designated to me,” — what is the halakhah?
Or if he said: “You are hereby my helper,” “You are hereby my counterpart,” “You are hereby my gathered one,” “You are hereby my rib,” “You are hereby my closed one,” “You are hereby from beneath me,” — what is the halakhah?
“You are hereby my seized one,” — what is the halakhah?
Finally, if he said: “You are hereby my taken one,” — what is the halakhah?
Most of these examples have their roots in the biblical narrative of creation, in which the first woman is singled out for the man, designated as his helper, emerges from his rib and so on. The words “seized” and “taken” come from elsewhere in scripture. In other words, these utterances are all connected to the biblical relationship between husbands and wives.
But are all of them effective to signify a marriage betrothal?
The Gemara states: Resolve at least one of these dilemmas, as it is taught in a beraita: With regard to one who says to a woman: “You are hereby my taken one,” she is betrothed, because it is stated: “When a man takes a woman” (Deuteronomy 24:1).
Pointing to the source text for divorce (and, as we are already seeing in this tractate, betrothal), Deuteronomy 24:1, the Gemara notes that marriage is described as a man “taking” a woman, and therefore, if a man says to a woman “you are my taken one,” it’s effective in declaring betrothal.
And the others? The answer seems to be that it depends on the context of their conversation.
As we learned in a mishnah (Ma’aser Sheni 4:7): If one was speaking with a woman about matters of her bill of divorce or her betrothal, and he gave her a bill of divorce or her betrothal (i.e., the money or a document of betrothal), but did not clarify his action, Rabbi Yosei says: “This is sufficient for him.” Rabbi Yehuda says: “He is required to clarify the meaning of his behavior.” And Rav Huna says that Shmuel says: “The halakhah is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yosei.”
The majority here seem to say that if the couple is talking about marriage, we can assume that the woman understands what’s going on, and any of these statements constitute effective betrothal. But later opinions differ. The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 27:3) notes that these statements constitute “doubtful betrothal” and that even if the couple was discussing marriage, and the man gave the woman money or a contract, he would need to take them back and give them to her again, stating plainly that they are for the purposes of betrothal.
So how do we get to the boilerplate statement used in most Jewish weddings today? The language of “mikudeshet,” or consecration, seems to have originated in part from the conversation on today’s daf, and in part from the evolution of Jewish marriage ceremonies which, beginning some time in the late Middle Ages, included the presentation of a ring.
In the time of the Talmud, though, the bottom line is that the language of betrothal is both necessary (though no specific formula is) and must be plainly understood by both parties. What a great way to start a marriage — with clear communication.
Read all of Kiddushin 6 on Sefaria.