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Marriage

Modesty and Sexuality in Halakhic Literature

Modesty (zeni’ut), in its broad sense, represents a mode of moral conduct that is related to humility. A person who behaves modestly refrains from extroverted behavior that is supposed to speak of him- or herself. This expansive view also includes sexual modesty.

Modern Jewish Family in the United States

In some respects, little has changed since Esther Jane Ruskay took pen in hand over a century ago to celebrate the virtues of the Jewish family and to champion the intimate connection that exists between domesticity and Jewishness. Although attenuated, that intimate connection endures: flickering to life at a Passover seder or a bat mitzvah, Jewishness continues to rest in the family.

Merab: Bible

Merab is the older of two daughters of King Saul (reigned c. 1025–1005 b.c.e.) according to the genealogical summary presented in 1 Sam 14:49 and one of six children by his primary wife, Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz (compare 1 Sam 31:2, 1 Chr 8:33; 9:39; these note the fourth son, Abinadab, who is not mentioned in 1 Sam 14:49).

Merab, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah

Merab was Saul’s eldest daughter. According to the Bible, she was meant to marry David, but she was given in matrimony to Adriel the Meholathite, while David married Merab’s younger sister Michal.

Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348)

The Jewish communities of Northern France and of Germany who constituted Medieval Ashkenaz were situated along the trade routes of the time. These communities were well known for their prominent and accomplished scholars as well as their flourishing businesses. These Jewish communities flourished during the High and Late Middle Ages (1050–1450) as urban centers grew and thrived and centers of Jewish learning expanded.

Martha, daughter of Boethus

Martha, daughter of Boethus, was a widow from the respected Boethus family of Jerusalem who remarried a future High Priest of Israel. According to tradition, she paid a large sum of money to buy the position for her betrothed, Joshua ben Gamla, from King Yannai (BT Yevamot 61a). In the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:418]Tannaitic[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (mishnaic) tradition, the marriage of Martha daughter of Boethus and the High Priest Joshua ben Gamla (first century c.e.) is tied to a change in the laws of marital status pertaining to the High Priest. “[A priest who] betrothed a widow, and was subsequently appointed High Priest, may consummate the marriage. It once happened with Joshua b. Gamla that he betrothed Martha the daughter of Boethus, and the King appointed him High Priest, and he consummated the marriage.” ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:361]Mishnah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] Yevamot 6:4; Sifra, Emor 2:6). A High Priest may not marry a widow, but Joshua ben Gamla and Martha are an example of a High Priest married to a widow, although he betrothed her prior to becoming a High Priest. It can be assumed that Martha saw to it that her future husband achieved a high position, and perhaps even used her wealth to bring about the change in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:317]halakhah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary].

Mariamme I The Hasmonean

Mariamme was the daughter of Alexander, Aristobulus II’s son, and Alexandra, Hyrcanus II’s daughter. Her grandfathers were the two rival Hasmoneans who invited Rome to intervene in Judaean internal affairs and eventually brought about the downfall of the Hasmonean kingdom. Abraham Schalit calculates that her father and mother could have been married only between 55 and 49 B.C.E., after Alexander’s revolt against Rome was crushed and before his own execution at the hands of the Romans (Ant. 14:125). She was thus probably born in 54 B.C.E.

Levant: Women in the Jewish Communities after the Ottoman Conquest of 1517

Far-reaching changes began to take place in the Jewish world at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492 there was a period of wandering and political, demographic and social upheaval. On the one hand, this led to an encounter between the Jews who had left Spain and Portugal and the traditions of Ashkenaz, North Africa, Italy and the Orient; it also led to many personal crises, sundered families, and other disasters, which left women as agunot and widows.

Legal-Religious Status of the Virgin

The basic [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:339]ketubbah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] of a virgin (two hundred maneh [one maneh=fifty shekels]) was double that of a non-virgin (one hundred maneh) ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:361]Mishnah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] Ketubbot 1:2). Those who were divorced or widowed while betrothed but before marriage retain their status of virgin. This difference was doubled in the case of the daughter of a priest who was a virgin, whose basic ketubbah was four hundred maneh (Mishnah Ketubbot 1:5). This distinction emphasizes the value of virginity and the significance of sexual exclusivity on the part of the woman to her husband and, in the case of the priest, the value of caste status. A number of situations were described biblically which deal with the seduction or the rape of a virgin who is either unattached or betrothed. Consensual sexual intercourse of the betrothed or married woman with someone other than her husband would put both the woman and her paramour in the category of adulterers. Seduction is considered to be consensual but the cases discussed in the Bible according to rabbinic interpretation were dealing with minor girls who did not have the legal right of consent. [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:383]Rambam[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] covers this material in Hilkhot Na’arah Betulah.

Legal-Religious Status of the Suspected Adulteress (Sotah)

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing and humiliating situations for a man, particularly in the Middle East, is infidelity on the part of his wife. Suspicion of infidelity creates a similar dynamics in the Jewish legal system but is moderated by issues of doubt. A man’s suspicion of infidelity on the part of his wife is one of the most prejudicial legal situations for women, clearly demonstrating inequality in the marriage relationship. When a man acquires a woman as his wife, he acquires exclusive rights to her sexuality. The reverse, of course, is not true, since a man (until the decree of Rabbenu Gershom [c. 960–1028] for Ashkenazic Jews and the rise of the State of Israel also for Sephardic Jews, with some anomalous situations still existing) is permitted to have more than one wife as well as concubines, and his legal status is unprejudiced by fornication.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Marriage." (Viewed on December 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/marriage>.

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