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June is traditionally the month of marriages in the Western world and judging by the number of wedding invitations that my wife and I have recently received, this June appears to be an especially bountiful month. The institution of marriage is one of the fundamental ideas and supports of Judaism. The Jewish family is the only method of proven continuity in the Jewish world and it has been marriage and its resultant family structure above all else, that has preserved us a people and faith until today. It is distressing in the extreme to witness the erosion and assault on the institution of marriage in our society. The high rate of divorce, many times (though certainly not always) is caused by a low rate of commitment and effort in the marriage itself. The profusion of so-called alternate life-styles, the acceptance (if not even glorification) of promiscuity in sexual behavior outside of marriage, the undermining of all moral behavior and values as vigorously promoted in the general media, and the emergence of an entire culture of "singles" have all contributed to the decline of marriage in our society. A sea change in attitudes regarding marriage is necessary in order to correct the current dire social and demographic statistics that the decline of marriage represents in our society.

The institution of marriage in Jewish life stems from God's original "shiduch" of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden. During biblical and Talmudic times the marriage ceremony was divided into two sections taking place twelve months apart from each other. The first part was called "kidushin" or "eyrusin." This "eyrusin" had no connection with our current general use of the word to mean an engagement to be married. Rather, it consisted of the groom giving his bride a ring or any other object of recognizable and acceptable value in front of two legitimate witnesses and upon declaring that the woman was thereby sanctified to him according to the faith of Moses and Israel. Two blessings were recited before the ring was actually given to the woman. This ceremony now legally forbade the woman from marrying anyone else but still did not allow the bride and groom to live together as husband and wife. The customs then was to wait twelve months and then proceed to the second part of the wedding ceremony - "nisuin." This ceremony was sanctified by the bride's entry to her new home - the "chupah" - and the recitation of the seven blessings of marriage. After the "nisuin" the man and woman were now husband and wife with all that this entailed. Part of the wedding ceremony also consisted of the groom giving his bride a "ketuba" - a document that obligated him and his heirs to provide for her needs and to protect her rights. For the past many centuries, both of these ceremonies of "eyrusin" and nisuin" have been combined into one ceremony which take place one immediately after the other under the enclosure of a "chupah."

The rabbis of Israel were always careful to inject a note of holiness and of God's participation, so to speak, into the wedding ceremony and the marriage itself. This was done in order to instill a sense of commitment and responsibility into the relationship. God was always seen as an essential partner in any Jewish home and family. Concepts such as civil marriage or trying it out were never countenanced or even seriously considered as societal options. Marriage was seen as the foundation upon which Jewish society was built and how it flourished. Not all marriages worked out and not all were blissful and satisfying. Yet, the institution was always viewed as positive, holy, necessary and ultimately the true and only guarantee of Jewish survival. Though not all individuals necessarily thrived within this institution, the institution itself was considered inviolate. This attitude has changed in much of our society today and its attendant result, of bleak demographic predictions and its plethora of personal problems weighs heavily upon the Jewish world and its future. The large number of wedding invitations that we have received lately cheers me. Traditional Jewish marriages are still not out of style, no matter what the modernists tell us. May there be many more true, faithful and happy households built in Israel in love, commitment and contentment.

Berel Wein

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