Betrothal: Wikis


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Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry depicting a betrothal

Betrothal (also called espousal) is a formal state of engagement to be married.

Historically betrothal was a formal contract, blessed or officiated by a religious authority. Betrothal was binding as marriage and a divorce was necessary to terminate a betrothal. Betrothed couples were regarded legally as husband and wife - even before their wedding and physical union. In Jewish weddings the betrothal is now generally part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, and is known as erusin or kiddushin; it is accomplished when the groom gives the bride the ring or another object of at least nominal value[1]. Typical steps of a betrothal were:

  • Usually done by the couple's families with bride and groom having no input.
    • This is no longer widely practised, with the exception of a small number of cultural communities (e.g. limited groups of conservatives in Israel, India), and most of these have a requirement that the bride be at least allowed veto power.
  • Negotiation of bride price or dowry
    • In modern practice these have been reduced to the symbolic engagement ring
  • Blessing by clergy
  • Exchange of Vows and Signing of Contracts
    • Often one of these is omitted
  • Celebration

The exact duration of a betrothal varies according to culture and the participants’ needs and wishes. For adults, it may be anywhere from several hours (when the betrothal is incorporated into the wedding day itself) to a period of several years. A year and a day are common in neo-pagan groups today. In the case of child marriage, betrothal might last from infancy until the age of marriage.

The responsibilities and privileges of betrothal vary. In most cultures, the betrothed couple is expected to spend much time together, learning about each other. In some historical cultures (including colonial North America), the betrothal was essentially a trial marriage, with marriage only being required in cases of conception of a child. In almost all cultures there is a loosening of restrictions against physical contact between partners, even in cultures which would normally otherwise have strong prohibitions against it. The betrothal period was also considered to be a preparatory time, in which the groom would build a house, start a business or otherwise prove his readiness to enter adult society.

In medieval Europe, in canon law, a betrothal could be formed by the exchange of vows in the future tense ("I will take you as my wife/husband," instead of "I take you as my wife/husband"), but sexual intercourse consummated the vows, making a binding marriage rather than a betrothal. Although these betrothals could be concluded with only the vows spoken by the couple, they had legal implications; Richard III of England had his older brother's children declared illegitimate on the grounds their father had been betrothed to another woman when he married their mother.

A betrothal is considered to be a 'semi-binding' contract. Normal reasons for invalidation of a betrothal include:

  • Revelation of a prior commitment or marriage,
  • Evidence of infidelity,
  • Failure to conceive (in 'trial marriage' cultures),
  • Failure of either party to meet the financial and property stipulations of the betrothal contract.

Normally a betrothal can also be broken at the behest of either party, though some financial penalty (such as forfeit of the bride price) usually will apply.


Orthodox Church

In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches, the Rite of Betrothal will traditionally be performed in the narthex (entranceway) of the church, to indicate the couple's first entrance into the married estate. The priest will bless the couple and give them lit candles to hold. Then, after a litany, and a prayer at which everyone bows, he places the bride's ring on the ring finger of the groom's right hand, and the groom's ring on the bride's finger. The rings are then exchanged three times, either by the priest or by the best man, after which the priest says a final prayer. Originally, the betrothal service would take place at the time the engagement was announced. In recent times, however, it tends to be performed immediately before the wedding ceremony itself. It should be noted that the exchange of rings is not a part of the wedding service in the Eastern Churches, but only occurs at the betrothal. Traditionally, the groom's ring is gold and the bride's ring is silver[2]


  1. ^ See Talmud Kiddushin, Mishna 1:1 and the main article
  2. ^ Hapgood, Isabel F. (1922), Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, Englewood NJ: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (published 1975), pp. 291 ff, 604–5 

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'BETROTHAL (A.S.' treowth, " truth"), the giving "one's truth," or pledging one's faith to marry. Although left optional by the church and not necessary in law, betrothal was anciently a formal ceremony which in most cases preceded the actual marriage service, usually by a period of some weeks, but the marriage might for various reasons be delayed for years. The canon law distinguished two types of betrothal: (1) Sponsalia de praesenti, (2) Sponsalia de futuro. The first was a true though irregular marriage, and was abolished by the council of Trent as leading to clandestine unions and therefore being inimical to morality. The second, or betrothal properly so called, was a promise to marry at a future date, which promise without further ceremony became a valid marriage upon consummation. The church never precisely determined the form of the ceremony, but demanded for its validity that it should have been entered into freely and at a legal age, i.e. after the seventh birthday. The church further declared that females between the ages of seven and twelve, and males between seven and fourteen, could be betrothed, but not married, and that all such betrothals were to be public. The ill-defined laws as to betrothals tended to encourage abuses; and the people, especially in the rural districts, inclined to hold betrothal sufficient justification for cohabitation. Such pre-contract is known to have existed in the case of Shakespeare. Francis Douce (Illustrations of Shakespeare and of Antient Manners, 1807) says that betrothal consisted of the "interchange of rings - the kiss - the joining of hands, to which is to be added the testimony of witnesses." In France the presence of a priest seems to have been considered essential, and though this was not so elsewhere it was customary for the couple to get their parish priest to witness their promise. In England solemn betrothal was almost universally practised. Among the peasantry the place of rings was taken by a coin which was broken between the pair, each taking a part. But almost any gift sufficed. A case in 1582 is recorded where the lover gave the girl a pair of gloves, two oranges, two handkerchiefs and a red silk girdle. Sometimes the bride-elect received a bent or crooked sixpence. At the conclusion of the ceremony, which by no means always took place in a church, it seems to have been usual for the couple to pledge each other in a cup of wine, as do the Jews and Russians to-day. This drinking together was ever the universal custom of parties in ratification of a bargain. Joseph Strutt (1749-1802) states that by the civil law gifts given at betrothal could be recovered by the parties, if the marriage did not take place. But only conditionally, for if the man "had had a kiss for his money, he should lose one half of that which he gave. Yet with the woman it is otherwise, for, kissing or not kissing, whatever she gave, she may ask and have it again. However, this extends only to gloves, rings, bracelets and such-like small wares." Though the church abstained from prescribing the form of the ceremony, it jealously watched over the fulfilment of such contracts and punished their violation. Betrothal, validly contracted, could be dissolved either by mutual consent, or by the supervening of some radical physical or social change in the parties, or by the omission to fulfil one of the conditions of the contract. But here the church stepped in, and endeavoured to override such law as existed in the matter by decreeing that whoever, after betrothal, refused to marry in facie ecclesiae, was liable to excommunication till relieved by public penance. In England the law was settled by an act of 1753, which enacted that an aggrieved party could obtain redress only by an action at common law for breach of promise of marriage (see Marriage).

Formal betrothal is no longer customary in England, but on the European continent it retains much of its former importance. There it is either solemn (publicly in church) or private (simply before witnesses). Such betrothals are legal contracts. They are only valid between persons of legal age, both of whom consent; and they are rendered void by fraud, intimidation and duress. In Germany if the parties are under age the consent of the parents is needed; but if this be unreasonably withheld the couple may appeal to a magistrate, who can sanction the betrothal. If the parents disagree, the father's wish prevails. Public betrothal carries with it an obligation to marry, and in case of refusal an action "lies" for the injured party. In Germany the betrothal is generally celebrated before the relatives, and the couple are called bride and bridegroom from that day until marriage. In Russia, where it was once as binding as marriage, it is now a mere formal part of the marriage ceremony.

Among the ancient Jews betrothal was formal and as binding as marriage. After the ceremony, which consisted of the handing of a ring or some object of value to the bride and formal words of contract, and the mutual pledging of the couple in consecrated wine, a period of twelve months elapsed before the marriage was completed by the formal home-taking; unless the bride was a widow or the groom a widower, when this interval was reduced to thirty days. Latterly the ceremony of betrothal has become a part of the marriage ceremony, and the engagement has become the informal affair it is in England.

For betrothal customs in China, the East and elsewhere, consult Miln, Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (London, 1900), and H. N. Hutchinson, Marriage Customs in Many Lands (London, 1897). On early English law as to betrothals see Sir F. Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law before the time of Edward I. (2nd ed., 1898). See also J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (London, 1848, 1883).

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(Redirected to ḲIDDUSHIN (Jewish Encyclopedia) article)

From BibleWiki

Name of a treatise in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; it is devoted chiefly to discussion of the various modes of betrothal and the conditions which must be fulfilled to make a marriage valid. "Ḳiddushin" is the rabbinical term for betrothal, because the wife becomes thereby the sacrosanct possession of the husband. In the mishnaic order of Seder Nashim this treatise is the seventh and last. Strictly, it should precede Giṭṭin, but the Mishnah follows the Scriptural order, which mentions marriage after divorce (Deut. xxiv. 1-2). In the Mishnah, Ḳiddushin is divided into four chapters, and comprises, in all, forty-seven paragraphs.


Ch. i.: The husband obtains his wife in three ways: by money, however small the sum; by a written announcement; by sexual intercourse; the wife becomes free by divorce or the death of her husband (§ 1). This leads to a discussion of the acquisition and emancipation of Jewish and heathen slaves of both sexes (§§ 2-3), of the acquisition of cattle (§ 4) and real or personal property (§§ 4-6), and of the distinctions between man and woman regarding fulfilment of the laws, those pertaining only to a definite time not being binding on a woman (§§ 7-8); laws dealing with real estate apply only to Palestine (§ 9).In the last paragraph, which is haggadic in nature (§ 10), the reward for the observance of a law is described, and it is further stated that he who is learned in the Scriptures, possesses a knowledge of the Mishnah, and has good manners is fairly guarded against sin, whereas he that knows neither the Scriptures nor the Mishnah, and is devoid of manners, can not be regarded as a civilized being.

Marriage by Proxy.

Ch. ii.: Rules and conditions for marriage by proxy. A man may wed through a representative; so may a woman (§ 1); but any error or fraud on the part of either invalidates the union (§§ 2-3, 5-6); so does any failure of the proxy to follow exactly his instructions (§ 4). In case the marriage is effected by the gift of some article of value, it must be an object the use of which is not forbidden (§§ 8-10).

Ch. iii.: Further rules and conditions for marriage by proxy (§§ 1-7); regulations for cases in which a father betroths one of his daughters while they are yet minors, but without stating definitely which one (§ 9), or in case either the man or the woman denies that a marriage ceremony has been performed (§§ 10-11); circumstances under which the custody of the child is granted to the man (or the woman), or under which the child is regarded as illegitimate (§§ 12-13).

Ch. iv.: Enumeration of the ten families of diverse origin that removed from Babylonia to Palestine, and as to which of them may intermarry (§§ 1-3); the tests by which purity of lineage is proved (§§ 4-5); rules for the attestation of marriages contracted in distant lands (§§ 10-11). Ethical injunctions: a man must not remain alone with a woman (§§ 12-13); a father must teach his son one of the honorable trades enumerated and discussed, though the preeminence of the study of the Law over every other occupation is emphasized (§ 14). Special interest attaches to the exclamation of Simeon b. Eleazar: "The beasts, created to serve me, find nourishment easily; therefore I, created to serve God, should find nourishment still more easily; yet, for my sins, it is hard for me to gain my food." The chapter closes with the statement that Abraham had observed all the precepts of the Torah even before it was revealed.

In the Tosefta this treatise is divided into five chapters. Particularly noteworthy are the eulogy of craftsmanship (i. 11) and the assertion which was made by Akiba that the Biblical prohibition against intermarrying with certain nations even after conversion to Judaism (see Deut. xxiii. 4-9) had been abrogated, since the conquests and deportations by the Assyrian kings (comp. II Kings xvii.) had so dispersed the peoples that none of them remained in its original abode (v. 4).

Masoretic Divisions.

Both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Gemaras contain elucidations of the individual mishnayot, in addition to discussions and decisions of questions not contained in the Mishnah itself. The Babylonian Gemara has, furthermore, numerous interesting comments and maxims, of which the following specimens may be cited: "Who teacheth not his son a trade teacheth him robbery" (29a); "Rewards for good deeds come not in this world" (39b); "It is the duty of a father to have his son instructed in the Scriptures, the Mishnah, and the Talmud, as well as in halakot and haggadot." The ancients were called "Soferim" because they counted the letters of the Torah; they said that the "waw" in the word (image) (Lev. xi. 42) divided the letters of the Torah into two equal groups, as does the "'ayin" in the word (image) (Ps. lxxx. 14). The word (image) (Lev. x. 16) divides the words, and Lev. xiii. 43 the verses, of the Pentateuch in half, while Psalm lxxvii. 38 plays a similar part in the Book of Psalms (30a).

These Masoretic observations are of special importance, inasmuch as they differ from the present Masorah (comp. the marginal notes to the Wilna edition of the Talmud). A very interesting characterization of certain nations is found in 49b, which says that the highest wisdom is the possession of Israel, and the most perfect beauty the heritage of Jerusalem; the ancient Romans possessed the greatest wealth, while the direst poverty is found in Babylon; the Persians are the bravest nation; magic flourishes best in Egypt, and wantonness in Arabia; women are most inclined to loquacity and slaves to laziness. There is an account of the conflict between John Hyrcanus (here called "Yannai") and the Pharisees in 66a, and in 72b it is related that when Akiba died, Judah ha-Nasi was born; when he died, Rab was born; when Rab died, Raba was born; and when Raba died, Ashi was born. Another reference to Akiba is found in 81b, where it is related that whenever he read Lev. v. 17 he wept: "If he that has unwittingly transgressed must make atonement for his transgression, how much more he that has sinned consciously." It must be noted that the passage from "Ha-ishah niḳnit" (2a) to "We-en dabar aḥer kortah" (3b), at the beginning of the Gemara to the first chapter, is a later addition of the Saboraim (comp. the letter of Sherira Gaon in Neubauer, "M. J. C." p. 26).

Bibliography: Z. Frankel, Hodogetica in Mischnam, p. 260, Leipsic, 1859.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

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