Jewish weddings in the Greco -Roman Period: A reconsideration of received ritual

Susan Marks, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This study explores the evidence for Jewish weddings in the Greco-Roman Period and in late antiquity. It uses methods from practice theory for interpreting ritual in order to distinguish between prescribed rites that later emerge as authoritative and the ever-evolving practice from which prescriptions spring. There is no doubt that many Greco-Roman Jews married, although this study also considers the portion who found themselves barred from entering licit marriages. Nonetheless, this study probes the evidence for whether the process by which Jews married mattered and to whom. A comparison of Jewish and contemporaneous “pagan” and Christian wedding customs reveals limited early rabbinic interest. The 2nd and 3rd c. CE authors/redactors of the Mishnah emerge as less concerned with weddings than previously thought. Their attention to betrothal emphasizes boundaries similar to Roman citizenship regulations rather than to the manner in which Jews betrothed. The importation of later notions of “rites of passage,” as well as expectations of finding rabbis involved in these matters, has hitherto misled categorization. Internal factors such as debates about asceticism and procreation, especially in light of eschatological concerns prompted by the destruction of the Temple, may be seen to have forestalled rabbinic involvement in weddings. There appears to be a shift in approach between the aloof mishnaic consideration of marrying in the 3rd c. CE and the appearance of the first prescribed and articulated Jewish wedding blessings a century or more later as described in the Babylonian Talmud. Moreover, later rabbis not only script blessings, they also exhibit a variety of concerns about weddings, including the weddings of their neighbors. The appearance of Christian officials who begin saying Christian wedding blessings at this time argues for the need to contextualize carefully the appearance of rabbinic involvement in the wedding practice of late antiquity. These observations in turn contribute to a composite picture of who the rabbis of these periods were, the authority they may or may not have wielded, and how and when this situation changed.

Subject Area

Religious history|Ancient civilizations|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Marks, Susan, "Jewish weddings in the Greco -Roman Period: A reconsideration of received ritual" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3087427.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3087427

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