It’s February, and love is in the air. While it’s still a long way off from Tu B’Av, which is commonly regarded as the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to get swept up in the romantic feeling of anticipation as Valentine’s Day approaches.
Like with many religions, dating in the Jewish world has its own unique customs and traditions. Most know about getting married under a chuppah and the breaking of the glass at Jewish weddings, but there are many lesser-known traditions related to dating and getting married as a Jewish person.
Here are some romantic Jewish customs you might not know about and the halachic debates that surround their practice, from more recently adopted traditions to ones dating back centuries.
The Double-Ring Ceremony
Traditionally, a Jewish groom would give a ring to his bride, but the bride would not give him one in return. As thought around gender equality in relationships evolves, some couples have opted to trade rings instead, often at the wedding ceremony.
This recent custom has sparked controversy in more Orthodox and Conservative parts of the Jewish community, as it is thought to go against halachic law. In the chabad.org article “Is a ‘Double Ring’ Wedding Ceremony Kosher?” by Yosef Resnick, the author notes that grooms giving their brides a ring is viewed as an exchange for the bride’s hand in marriage.
A bride giving a ring in return is thought to negate this trade, and Resnick suggests that if a bride wants to give a ring to her husband, she should do so after the official wedding ceremony is over.
Another potential solution, proposed by Rabbi Dov Linzer in his article on the subject for My Jewish Learning, is to make a ring exchange part of a groom’s ketubah obligations, or his marriage contract.
“This obligation is assumed through an act of kinyan (acceptance of ownership or responsibility), classically performed by the groom taking an object (often a handkerchief or a pen) from the officiating rabbi in the presence of witnesses,” Linzer writes. “However, since the groom is obligating himself to the bride, it is actually more appropriate that the bride, and not the rabbi, give him the object. … That object can be a ring.”
Regardless of potential controversy, the double-ring ceremony is becoming more popular among Jewish newlyweds.
The Three Weeks of No Marriage
While summer weddings can be very popular, there is a period of three weeks where marriage is discouraged. Between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av, Ashkenazi Jewish law forbids couples from getting married.
The reasoning behind this is that the weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av are a period of mourning, as Tisha B’Av is a day of remembrance for the many disasters the Jewish people have faced. Getting married during such a somber time is thought to be inappropriate and potentially a bad omen for the newlywed couple’s relationship.
However, the Sephardic community does not follow these rules, and some do get married during this period. Scholars are mixed on whether Ashkenazi Jews are allowed to attend these weddings. OUTorah’s article on the subject by Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky presents several different views on the subject, noting that Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l wrote that an Ashkenazi Jewish couple can get married the night before the mourning period begins if necessary.
Getting engaged during this period is allowed, though, so there is no need to reschedule proposals if they happen to fall during these three weeks.
Jewish Dating Rules
For Orthodox Jews, dating is serious business. Rather than dating their friends or using a dating app to find prospective matches, Orthodox Jews usually participate in shidduch, a matchmaking system meant to help people find partners in the Orthodox community. This process starts at the age of 18, when young Orthodox singles are eligible for the mitzvah to marry, according to chabad.org.
Operating under the guidance of a matchmaker, or shadchan, Orthodox singles have to follow a specific set of rules when dating. Jewish people who follow the shomer negiah law are forbidden from physical intimacy before marriage. Interpretations of this law can range from waiting until marriage to sleep with a partner to not even hugging or holding hands with them. Some Orthodox couples will only have dates in public spaces so there is no risk of them breaking this rule.
This law sees criticism from both inside and outside of the Orthodox community. As the Jerusalem Post article “Orthodox Women Aren’t Allowed to Touch Before Marriage but Many Still Do” by Ruthie Charendoff states, some believe that this attitude leads to young Orthodox Jews developing a sense of shame about sexuality and dissuades them from seeking advice from their religious leaders.
But some follow shomer negiah specifically because of the Jewish obligation to avoid breaking others’ hearts. “As Jews, we take relationships between people much more seriously than does ‘society.’ Jewish society cannot tolerate a situation where a young woman or a young man lets her or himself be used, taken advantage of or hurt,” writes Rabbi Pinchas Stolper in an article on Jewish blog Simple to Remember. “Nor can we accept, for all the casualness of society, that kissing, or any form of expressing affection, can ever be regarded lightheartedly or as a game or social grace.”