Monday, August 11, 2008

To wed or not to wed

This note copes with the Tu Be'Av - 15th of Av festivity (cf. related note).

What marriage means today and why should people bind their lives in wedlocks? How can we, both with regard to Jewish and Christian rites, match today in Israel with the first stated mitzvah/commandment: "p'ru ur'vu umil'u et haaretz\פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ - be fertile, and increase and fill the earth and master it"? (Gen. 1:28). After God fashioned the rib (or "side - tzela\צלע'") into a facing-up help and soul-mate for Adam (ezer kenegdo\עזר כנגדו), it is said: "Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife (be'ishto) so that they be "bassar echad\בשר אחד = one, one flesh, one good prophetic announcement" (Bereishit. 2:24). It should be noted that Jesus refers and insists and confirms the importance of this commandment. It is also a human right and requirement. He added: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7, that continues about divorce).

The "Ten Paroles/Divrot\דברות" consider the matter as a prohibition: "lo tin'af\לא תנאף - You shall not commit adultery" (Shemot 20:13), though the midrash explains that "God strongly sneezes out of furious anger (Heb. "af")" (Midrash Shemot Rabba 20,3).The real purpose maybe stressed by Paul of Tarsus quoted Genesis 2:24, concluding: "This is a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:32). The apostle meant a mystery of connection between God and His Kahal\קהל (Community). His views about Jesus are thus important in this context because it shows that Christianity fully took up the Jewish tradition for which "marriage, wedding, match, betrothal" are the key and utmost vital mark of holiness between humans and, indeed, called "kiddushin\קדושין - sanctification".

There is no civil marriage in the State of Israel. We face a paradox: the whole Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of getting married; it is essentiel to establish a family, have children and see the children of their children… in a legal way that also relies upon a strict and very developed understanding of the status and role of women. Marriage is a must, a blessing. Divorce (get\גט= divorce bill) would deeply affect every partner. The Talmud states that it causes God to weep upon His heavenly altar (Gittin 62b) because the only thing He is doing since He created the world is to marry people.

The problem is that there is no majority to accept to be married by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Nu-nu... Or they may not be able to go through the procedures. An Israeli citizen or a pious Jewish person may totally belong to the children of Israel and still not be recognized as a Jew by the Rabbinate. Then, the Orthodox Rabbinate is the only body to be legally entitled to perform weddings and deliver the required ketubah\כתובה (certificate of marriage). Generations of North American people would not be able to show their ancestors' ketubot as the people from the former Soviet Union. In the former USSR, "being a Jew" was a "nationality" that often showed to be in full contradiction with the real origin of the person. Anyone could simply be declared a Jew because of their paternal or maternal lineage.

The Law of Return accepts civil marriage certificates. But very few were married under the chupah\חפה - canopy and as "Jews, officially recognized by the Rabbinate". Local sabras, born in the country, or people who were raised here, often prefer to travel abroad or contact some authorized foreign delegations (embassies). In some cases, this raises very serious cultural problems with psychological identity interrogations: whatever statistics, it is evident that a lot of non-Jews, people of any faith arrived and settled in Israel in the past 60 years. During the war in some parts of Central Europe and Balkans, a lot of newcomers arrived showing documents of some parents or relatives who had lived some time in Israel in the 50ies, then left back to their home countries. In case, they had both Jewish and Christian documents.

Biographies can be absolutely amazing and it often appears that people are all together Jewish, Christian and Muslim, i.e. legally, according to the right of the concerned denominations. This chidush/new unique aspect of the Israeli society shows how terrific, wild and off-the-wall we are in a civilization that develops its energetic socializing capacities. There is another hint: people can get married abroad in any legal country - and then renew many times the same manifold marriage-divorce process in the officially recognized Christian Churches or at some Islamic Courts. Yes, many people are legally compelled not to marry or to cope with problematic lawless give-and-takes.

This is the legal identity dash. There is also the individual clue. In the "new-old"State of Israel, wandering Jews often turned to risky and gambling sort of adultery journeys or settlements. They grow because of the general hedonistic or self-centered tendency to selfishness and loneliness. Stability requires a lot of efforts in matching with the special one. This is a long-term experience. Now, the real touch is love. This does not concern some odd desires, but to make these efforts for the sake of love. And not necessarily because two got damned crazy about each other, share common views or interests as also their families.

The Jewish marriage is short: a) Kiddushin\קידושין (Sanctifications) are immediately followed by the Nissu'in\נשואין (marriage under canopy). Talmud Kiddushin 1:1 states that the woman can be married (acquired/qanah\קנה) by receiving some value - or a contract (the Ketubah is a part of the marriage today) or by having sexual intercourse with the man. Thus, during the Kiddushin, the woman does not say anything, doing more in accepting her husband. The Kiddush and cup of wine reminds: "Your wife shall be a fruitful vine within your house, your sons like olive saplings around your table" (Psalm 128:3).

The bridegroom puts a ring on his bride's index and says: "at mekudeshet\מקודשת/ you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Aaron". "Mekudeshet\מקודשת/being consecrated" points out, in return, that the woman blesses and brings "some sanctifying abilities" to her husband. Curiously enough, the Eastern Orthodox marriage service has about the same words. In Bessarabia-Romania, some Christian Orthodox rituals, in the 19th century, included the Hebrew word said to the bride, showing a strong ritual proximity (when the bridegroom gives the ring to his bride).

In the Jewish tradition, the whole service recalls that the "chatan\חתן - bridegroom" is welcomed by his wife, as entering the Temple (Mikdash\מקדש): "Ve'ani berov chasdekha\ואני ברב חסדך (and I with Your abundant love) avo veytecha (enter Your house)" (Psalm 5:8). Then, she is given the Ketubah/bill of marriage ("writ") that is strictly legal and aims to protect her financially in case of a divorce. A second cup of wine is given with seven blessings about, God's glory, man's fashion, the barren (ekeret\עקרת) fertility, children and the return to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 33:10-11) climaxing in the full jubilance (10 different words) of the new "one flesh" (Isaiah 62:5) as each marriage restores this unity of joy between Adam and Eve (Tractate Bava Bathra 75a). Thus, "chatan\חתן = to covenant, tie, be connected, protect" means "bridegroom" who "by his fructifying rain" (Berachot 59b), gladdens his "kallah\כלה = fulfillment help-mate", contrary to "ba'al\בעל" (husband) who exercises apparent power (Taanit 6b). The cup of wine is then broken, which is usually considered as a memorial of the Temple destruction.

Judaism insists, on Shabbat eve that the husband praise his "eshet chayil\אשת חיל - woman of virtue" by reading verses from Proverbs/Mishaley 31:10-31. Indeed, he acknowledges: "Batach bah lev ba'alah\בטח בה לב בעלה /in her confides the heart of her husband - veshalal lo yechsar\ושלל לא יחסר / and he lacks no good thing - g'malat'hu tov ve lo ra kol yemei chayeiah\כל ימי חייה / she is good not bad to him all the days of HER life" (Proverbs 31:2-3).

The Eastern Orthodox marriage celebration consists in two parts: the betrothal is followed by the wedding. The interesting point is that all the readings come back again and again to the fact that the bridegroom leaves his father and mother in order to cling to his wife. And these portions show the importance of the spiritual clutch that is set up, in one flesh - progressively into a new family entity. In contrast with the Roman Catholics who often celebrate a mass, the Byzantine tradition cancelled the Liturgy a long time ago (11th c.), considering that the new spouses dedicate themselves, individually and to each other. There is also a cup of wine and the kiss. Strangely enough, people show very shy. It is the first "life" kiss. The last one is given during the burial of a dead person.

There is a tremendous paradox: Jews - and thus the Christians - have described how womanhood saves humanity and manhood. Women pay a huge price for the sake of their identity and dignity. Male power and stubborn machism often disregarded marriage, somehow deconsecrating themselves. "No man can live without a woman, nor a woman without a man because both of them cannot live without the Presence of God (Shechinah)." (Talmud Berachot 9:1).

טו באב is, on the 15th of Av, the Day of love... Wooing, flirting, dating, speed dating or matchmaking can evolve into wedlocks, i.e. unity, oneness as God with us. Marriage is not horizontal. It is a typical move toward high verticality toward the Most High.

Jewish Yemenite wedding
Jewish Dutch wedding (Rembrandt)
Greek Eastern Orthodox wedding (crowning)

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