HAPTER FOUR - The Question of Marriage
This chapter addresses the question of marriage in Judaism. We will try and understand the meaning of the marriage ceremony in Judaism and examine a number of significant issues that arise in the ceremony. This is followed by text and activity sections to explore the issues a little deeper, in an educational setting.
Having addressed birth and adolescence, two periods of life that - for obvious reasons - have attracted entire clusters of rituals and ceremonies, this chapter follows into the next major transitional point in the life of women and men: the time of marriage. For the first time in the chain of development, there is both a ritual and a ceremony, which - by their very nature - are common to men and women: this simplifies the approach to the subject. The questions connected to marriage,however, are many and complex.
Perhaps the first significant point about the institution of marriage in human society is that it is based on the concept of human choice. Of all the major stages of the human life cycle, marriage alone represents an institution that humans have chosen to adopt, not because it corresponds to any objective moment of change - such as birth, adolescence or death -, but because it is perceived as responding to human needs. This automatically puts it into a different category from the other stages.
The sexual urge is biological and objective. One might argue that the need for communication and companionship among human beings also has an external, objective basis. But how human beings react to that need for sexual expression, and for companionship, is a matter of choice.
Because it is an institution of human choice, it can be argued that the particular approach of each culture to the question of marriage - and to the type of marriage that it validates - can provide a set of extremely clear and pertinent insights into the culture. In contrast, for other life cycle moments - such as birth, adolescence or death - a particular life cycle ritual is the response of a culture to a biological moment that demands some kind of reaction. However, as marriage is not an “inevitable” institution - despite its virtual universality in human society - it can be suggested that it offers a deeper and “cleaner” cultural picture. A society might choose not to sanction the institution of marriage and not to mark it with ritual , or celebrate it with ceremony. The moment that a society decides to validate the idea and the institution of marriage, it is making a deep cultural statement that it could have ignored or rejected.
For this reason, a close examination of the question of marriage in Judaism is likely to yield the deepest insights into the Jewish cultural system and its underlying values.