Parshat Ki Teitzei: Husbands Do Not Own Their Wives

“If a man takes a wife, is intimate with her and despises her.” ( Devarim 22:13)

One of the mitzvot discussed in this week’s parasha is the mitzvah of marriage. The above passage introduces the Torah’s discussion of a man who libels his wife and the penalty for this crime. However, this passage is also the source for the mitzvah of marriage.

According to the Torah, two people that wish to live together as man and wife must first enter into a formal betrothal agreement. There are various ways to create this agreement. However, the most common method is through kinyan kesef – a transaction executed by the payment of money or an object of significant financial value. In general practice, the perspective husband gives a ring to the women he wishes to marry. Her acceptance of the wedding band creates the required betrothal agreement between the parties.

It is important to appreciate that the use of kinyan kesef in the marriage process does not indicate that the husband is “purchasing” the wife. In Torah law husbands do not own their wives. Instead, kinyan kesef is used to express full agreement between the parties to the marriage.

As mentioned above, the general practice is to perform kinyan kesef through the transfer of a ring from the man to the woman. What is the reason for this practice? Sefer HaChinuch discusses this issue. He explains that the agreement that the man and woman enter into renders a halachic change in the status of the woman. She is now regarded as betrothed. Intimacy with a man other than her husband is a violation of the mitzvah prohibiting adultery. The ring that the woman accepts she wears as a physical representation of the halachic change that has taken place in her status.[1]

It is worth noting that Sefer HaChinuch would probably not approve of an exchange of rings between the man and woman. The man does not undergo an equivalent change in his halachic status. According to the Torah, adultery only occurs through intimacy between a married woman and a man other than her husband. In such a relationship both the man and the woman are adulterers and have violated the mitzvah prohibiting adultery. However, an intimate relationship between a married man and an unmarried woman does not constitute adultery. An exchange of rings undermines the essential message communicated by the wedding band. If both the man and woman wear rings, the ring worn by the woman no longer communicates a change of halachic status.

Of course, these comments are not intended as a halachic ruling. Instead, these comments are merely a reflection upon the implications of Sefer HaChinuch’s position.

One of the most interesting elements of the Torah’s formulation of marriage is that the man must betroth the woman. Although marriage is a mutual agreement between the parties, the man must be the active party in kinyan kesef. The woman must fully agree the marriage. But betrothal cannot take place through the woman giving the wedding band or some object of monetary value to the man.

In order to understand the reasoning behind the formulation it is helpful to consider the blessings that are recited at the wedding. Two sets of blessings are recited. Each corresponds with one of the two steps of the process of marriage.

What are these two steps? The process begins with the betrothal. This is the agreement between the two parties to enter into marriage. As we have explained, the step is typically accomplished through kinyan kesef and specifically through the man giving the woman a wedding band. This step does not complete the marriage. At the juncture at which the man gives the woman the wedding band the parties are betrothed. But the marriage is not complete. The second step is nesuin – marriage proper. This is accomplished through the man bringing his betrothed into his domain or home. These are various opinions regarding precisely how this is accomplished in the conventional marriage “ceremony.” According to many authorities the presence of the couple under the chuppah – the wedding canopy – accomplishes nesuin. Others maintain that nesuin is not completed until yechud – when the man and woman are alone together in a private room.

Two blessings are recited prior to the betrothal. These blessings correspond to the betrothal that will be performed immediately after their recitation. After the man gives the woman the ring and betrothal is completed, seven other blessings are recited. These blessings correspond to and relate to the nesuin.

Let us focus on the third and forth blessings. The third is very brief. We acknowledge Hashem as the creator of humanity. The forth blessing is somewhat more elaborate. It recognizes that humanity is created in the image of Hashem. It continues and states that Hashem prepared for man or humanity a permanent structure. The blessing’s ending is exactly the same as the ending of the prior blessing. It recognizes that Hashem is the creator of humanity.

These two blessings present a number of problems. First, they seem repetitive. Their endings are identical. The first seems to be a brief acknowledgement of humanity’s creation and the second seems to be a more elaborate recognition of the same idea. Second, in the second blessing, we state that Hashem created for man or humanity a permanent structure. However, it is not clear to what structure this blessing refers. Finally, both of these blessings are an acknowledgement of humanity’s creation by Hashem. Why is this acknowledgement essential to the marriage process? Why are we reviewing the first two chapters of Sefer Beresheit under the chuppah?

In order to understand the commentaries’ explanation of these blessings, we must review the Torah’s account of creation. The first chapter of Sefer Bereshiet provides a brief summary of creation. In that summary, the Torah tells us the humanity was created on the sixth day. The Torah explains that humanity was formed with two genders. Man and woman were created.

The next chapter elaborates upon the creation of humanity. The Torah explains that Adam – the male gender – was initially created. Adam recognized that he did not have a mate. Hashem then took a portion of the man and created Chavah – woman.

It is notable that according to the Torah, Chavah was created in response to Adams’s longing or sense of deficiency. Only after, and in response to, Adam’s realization that he was lacking a partner was Chavah created.

From this account it is clear that Adam’s cognition of his own incompleteness was a precursor to Chavah’s creation. In other words, before Chavah was formed Adam was required to have an appreciation of her significance and his own inadequacy without his partner.

Now let us consider the comments of the Sages regarding the two blessings discussed above. Etz Yosef and others comment that the first of these two blessings refers to the initial formation of man – prior to the creation of Chavah. The second, more elaborate blessing refers to the creation of humanity with its two genders. This second blessing communicates that the completion of the creation of humanity as an intelligent species – in the image of its creator – was only accomplished with the formation of Chavah. This explains the reference to a permanent structure. Humanity achieved permanence through the structure of a man/woman unit. Prior to the creation of Chavah, Adam was still a “work in process.” Only with the emergence of Chavah was the creation of humanity complete. Only at this point did humanity emerge as a creation deserving permanence.[2]

Why are these blessings a fundamental aspect of the process of marriage? Apparently, every marriage should be a reenactment of the drama of creation. Marriage cannot be an agreement of convenience between two parties. Neither can marriage be a means for the pursuit of lustful desires. Marriage requires a cognitive recognition. The man must recognize that by divine design he is incomplete and inadequate. He can only complete himself and find fulfillment through entering into a relationship with his partner.

Each time the process of marriage takes place, the plan and design of creation is reenacted. The man and woman must recognize that their relationship is an expression of the design of creation and an expression of the will of the Creator.

We can now understand the respective roles of the man and woman in the betrothal. The man must betroth the woman. He must be the active party in the kinyan kesef. The betrothal reenacts the original union between Adam and Chavah. In order for the betrothal to reenact this drama, each party must recreate the role of his or her ancestor. The man takes on the role of Adam. He must recognize that through marriage he completes himself. The woman assumes the role of Chavah. She must appreciate that through her role in this union, she completes the design of creation of humanity.

[1] Rav Aharon HaLeyve, Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 552.

[2] Rav Aryeh Lev Gorden, Etz Yosef Commentary on the Siddur.

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