Gay Marriages


This following is something to think about when considering whether American society should allow gay marriages.

The principle argument against gay marriages is that it is opposed by the Hebrew Bible. Actually, the Bible does not mention marriages. No marital ceremony is mentioned or even implied. In fact, the manner of joining of man and woman, as described in the Bible, is somewhat brutal and male-oriented, and the rabbis changed it drastically. Thus basing the argument that only men and women can marry each other upon the Bible is unwarranted. Furthermore, if one wants to base marriage upon the Bible, polygamous marriages should be allowed in America and Americans should prohibit women initiating marriages.

What does the Bible say about marriages and how did the rabbis change the biblical view?

The Torah speaks of the joining of male and female as a “taking,” which clearly means that a marriage occurs when a man takes a woman and has sex with her with the intention of it being a marriage; that is, a long-term relationship.[1] Neither a religious leader nor any other person was required in the biblical marriage, or today. In the post-biblical period, when the rabbis felt that an act of marriage should have witnesses so that there would be no questions about the relationship at a later time, they realized that having witnesses of the sex act was revolting. Therefore the Talmudic rabbis added two other ways to affect a marriage: a contract or a gift of money or something that is worth at least the smallest amount of money.[2]

Soon thereafter, Jews began to feel that giving a contract, which turns marriage into something like a commercial affair, and giving a penny to one’s proposed wife to marry her, was demeaning, and the practice arose not to marry with a contract and to give the wife something more precious, such as a wedding ring.

However, while the giving of a wedding ring became ubiquitous and a man could still marry a woman by giving her a contract or a penny, there remained a problem. What do we do with the Torah’s method of marriage, the sex act? There were two possible solutions: (1) ignore the Torah method entirely and (2) incorporate it into the marriage ceremony in some way. The second method was chosen so that the Torah rule would not be forgotten entirely. This is done symbolically in two ways.

First, the marriage ceremony is performed under a canopy, called a chupah in Hebrew. The canopy symbolizes the room or area where the man and woman are having sex. Second, similarly, after the wedding ceremony, many Jews have the bride and groom isolate themselves in a room for enough time to have sex and consummate the marriage in this biblical way. The couple is encouraged not to have sex at this time because this is only a symbolic action. However, many Jews do have two witnesses outside the room who could attest that they (symbolically) had sex. This segregation of the bride and groom is called in Hebrew yichud, “privacy” and “joining.”

The idea to continue a Jewish practice even though outdated and unnecessary occurs frequently in Judaism. The canopy and the privacy room are not the only ceremonies that continue an outdated practice. In ancient post-biblical times, marriage was performed in two stages: a betrothal, called kiddushin in Hebrew, a ceremony in which the couple promised to marry, which was followed around a year later by the nuptial ceremony, called erusin. The betrothal and the financial stipulations, called tena’im, that were made during the betrothal were solemnized by throwing a glass on the floor and shattering it.[3] This has changed. The betrothal and nuptial ceremonies are performed back to back today during the wedding ceremony. While the breaking of the glass at the betrothal is unnecessary today since the nuptial ceremony follows the betrothal, many Jews do it today anyway.[4]

The custom today is that the wedding ring has no jewels on it to avoid the possibility that the bride may say later – even years later – that she had agreed to the marriage because she understood that she would receive a wedding ring that was valued at a certain amount but now she discovered that the jewel on the ring is worth far less, and the marriage was based on an error and should be annulled.

There were other changes made regarding the union on a couple such as the prohibition against polygamy, which the Bible allowed, and the requirement that the husband give his wife a contract, called ketubah, promising to give his wife money in the event of his death or a divorce.

In short, today’s marriage customs differ enormously from the biblical concept that a marriage is set when a couple has sex with the intention that they are doing so to form a marriage. Many changes were made, including a wedding ceremony establishing marriage with a ring. Thus it is unrealistic to say that the Bible only describes marriages between a male and a female. However, the Bible does consider a man lying with a man an abomination.



[1] Deuteronomy 22:13. Until 1958, Orthodox rabbis felt it was improper to talk about sex. In that year, my dad, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, published “Marriage Made in Heaven,” which discussed marital laws and problems openly. Some rabbis criticized him for writing this book. However, the book sold widely and was reprinted both in English and in Hebrew. Dad’s book opened the issue and many books were later published in the Orthodox and other Jewish communities soon thereafter, including one by his brother-in-law, my uncle Rabbi Mendel Lewittes.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 2a and the following pages.

[3] Reminiscent of the groom breaking a glass at the end of the current marriage ceremony. The usual reason given for the breaking of the glass at the ceremony is to remember the destruction of Israel in 70 CE. The reason for the shattering of the glass at the betrothal is said to be a way of sealing the agreement. However, one my wonder: are both a superstitious curse: if you break the vows made today, may your life be shattered as this glass? Louis Jacobs (from England who began the mesorati movement ) wrote that the breaking the glass custom began in Middle Ages in Europe to scare the devil away from the happy wedding. Later, it was rationalized by saying- it commemorates the loss of the temple. (I thank Tzvi Adams for this information about Jacobs).

[4] Another example of the conservative nature of Judaism, of retaining an ancient practice that is no longer necessary simply because this is “as it was always done,” is the adding of an extra day to the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Still another of many is the lighting of the Sabbath candles rather than electric lights, simply because this is the way our ancestors did it.