Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 November 2011
Is Jewish marriage and divorce law essentially covenantal or contractual? The answer to this ancient question – and the extent to which the answer is an amalgamation of the two choices – has changed over time. Different authorities have disagreed about this question in profound ways, and the answer is still in flux today.
On the one hand, Jewish tradition is replete with references to the sacred nature of the marital relationship. The Talmud recounts that a person is not complete until he or she marries, and he or she is not even called a person until two are united. Further, the classical sources recount the profound Divine hand in the creation of marriage. One Talmudic source goes so far as to state, “Forty days prior to birth, the Holy One, Blessed be He, announces that so-and-so should marry so-and-so.” Marriages appear to be holy relationships that embrace and are embraced by the Divine. For example, the earliest commentaries on the Bible posit that God performed the wedding ceremony between Adam and Eve. Indeed, the blessings recited at Jewish weddings recount that it is God who “commanded us with regard to forbidden relationships, forbade [merely] betrothed women to us, and permitted wives [to husbands] through the Jewish wedding ceremony.”