Mothers, Daughters and Wives in Israel
A father was bound to provide a dowry for his daughter that was equal to her station in life, and the second daughter could then claim an equal portion to that of her older sister. If the father died, then the sons were his sole heirs and they were bound to provide for their sisters even if it meant that things would be hard financially for them.
The dowry that the father gave might be money, property, or jewelry, and it was entered into the marriage contract. This belonged to the wife and her husband was obliged to add to it one-half more if it consisted of money, or four-fifths of its value if it was jewelry.
If the couple separated, the husband had to give the wife proper alimony and also had to re-admit her to his table and house on the Sabbath-eve. A wife was entitled to one-tenth of her dowry for pin-money. There was a nominal amount that a father was bound to give for his daughter’s dowry, and this amount was the same for orphans so that every woman would have something that was hers.
A husband could not force his wife to leave the Holy Land nor the city of Jerusalem. She also did not have to move out of a town to follow him to live in the country, or the opposite. These provisions mentioned are only a few of the many that were made to protect the interests of women. It really took something that was a definite breach of the marriage contract that was deemed valid ground for dissolving the bond once formed.
According to Rabbinical law there were certain formalities that were needed for a betrothal to be legal and valid. These consisted either in handing to a man a piece of money (directly or through messengers) or a letter (opened when witnesses were present) that the man thereby intended to espouse the woman as his wife. The marriage followed after an interval that was fixed by law.
The ceremony itself consisted in leading the bride into the house of the bridegroom and having certain formalities that mostly dated from very ancient times. Marriage with a maiden was commonly celebrated on a Wednesday afternoon, which allowed the first days of the week for preparation, and enabled the husband time to make a complaint to the Sanhedrin if he had a complaint about the previous purity of his bride. The Sanhedrin met every Thursday.
On the other hand, the marriage of a widow was celebrated on Thursday afternoon, leaving three days of the week left for her friends celebrating with her over her good fortune.
This circumstance could lead to some certainty to arrange the date of the events which preceded the marriage in Cana. From the festivities mentioned, it seems that it was the marriage of a maiden, and would have taken place on a Wednesday.
From knowing these certain things, we can put together the days of some of the events that happened right around the marriage of Cana: Thursday was the testimony of John the Baptist to the Sanhedrim-deputation from Jerusalem. Friday is when “John seeth Jesus coming unto him” and preached the first sermon about the “lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” Saturday was John’s second sermon on the same text with the conversion of St. John and St. Andrew and the calling of St. Peter. Sunday our Lord preached His first Messianic sermon and called Philip and Nathanael. On the third day after it was the marriage in Cana of Galilee, which was Wednesday.
There are other things to be learned from the marriage in Cana also. Of course there was a marriage-feast as would have been expected by the people attending. For this reason, marriages were not celebrated on a day close to the Sabbath, lest the feast might run over into the Sabbath. It was also not lawful to wed on any of the three annual festivals, so they wouldn’t mingle one joy with another joy.
It was deemed a religious duty to give pleasure to the newly-married couple, but the merriment at times became greater than the strict Rabbis approved. It was said of one Rabbi that he broke an expensive vase so that it would produce some gravity and tame down the merrymaking.
The Biblical narrative of this marriage does not mention the friends of the bridegroom, or the groomsmen. This was in strict accordance with Jewish custom, for groomsmen were customary in Judaea but not in Galilee. This would also cast light on the locality of John 3:29 where “the friend of the bridegroom” is mentioned. In Judaea there were at every marriage two groomsmen – one for the bridegroom and the other for his bride. Before marriage, they acted as a kind of intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts and waited on the bride and groom. Then they attended them to the bridal chamber, being the guarantors of the bride’s virgin chastity. The term “children of the bridechamber” that is mentioned in Matt. 9: 15 simply means the guests who were invited.
This implication of the “friend of the bridegroom” is used several times in the New Testament as symbolical meanings. The “friend of the bridegroom” was also after marriage, to maintain proper terms between the couple, and more importantly to defend the bride of any bad things that might be said against her. Moses is talked about as the “friend of the bridegroom who leads out the bride” in Exod. 19: 17.
After all this had taken place, the bride was handed over to her husband and the wedding festivities commenced. The pair were led towards the bridal chamber and the bridal bed. The bride went with her hair unloosed, while ordinarily it was a strict law that the woman would have her head and hair carefully covered. This meant that she was a modest woman, which was very important to the Jews. A woman who was convicted of adultery would have her head shaved so that everyone would know what she had done. Some of the people believed in an ancient Jewish belief that the evil spirits gained power over a woman who went with her head bare. This may have been why they used a bridal veil, since this was also a very ancient custom also.
Palm and myrtle branches were spread out before the couple, grain or money was thrown about, and music preceded the procession, and all who were there were expected to join in as part of their religious duty. This sheds much light also on the Parable of the Ten Virgins expecting the bridegroom. Such lamps were frequently used, and ten was the number always mentioned in connection with public solemnities. The marriage festivities generally lasted a week, but the bridal days extended over a full month.
The Bible mentions some of the bans on particular marriages, but the Rabbis added others to the list. They came under two headings: the laws of kindred, and laws intending to guard morality.
The first extended over the whole line of direct kindred and to where the line became indirect. One example was being the wife of a maternal uncle. In regards to morality, a divorced woman might not marry her seducer, nor a man the woman to whom he had brought her letter of divorce, or in whose case he had borne testimony when she had married another; or of marriage with those not in their right senses or in a state of drunkenness; or of the marriage of minors, or under fraud, etc.
A widower had to wait over three festivals, a widow three months, before remarrying. If the woman had a small child or was pregnant, she had to wait 2 years. A woman could not marry a third time; no marriage could take place within 30 days of the death of a near relative, nor on the Sabbath or a feast day. Even though in early Old Testament times, if a woman’s husband died her brother was supposed to take her as his wife for the bloodline, this trait ceased with the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth.
A priest was to inquire into the legal descent of his wife back for several generations, except if the bride’s father was a priest in actual service or a member of the Sanhedrin. The high-priest’s bride was to be a maid not older than six months beyond her puberty.
A person could obtain a divorce much easier in Jesus’ day that in the earlier Jewish ancestry. The following are the kinds of things that a man could divorce a wife for: going about with loose hair, spinning in the street, familiarly talking with men, ill-treating her husband’s parents in his presence, brawling (speaking so loudly that the neighbors would hear her in the adjoining house), a general bad reputation, or the discovery of fraud before marriage.
On the other hand, the wife could insist on being divorced if her husband were a leper, or affected with polypus, or his occupation was a disagreeable or dirty trade , such as that of a tanner or coppersmith. One of the cases in which divorce was obligatory was, if either party had ceased to profess Judaism.
Even if they got a divorce, there were checks and balances that must be followed. The husband was obligated to pay the wife her portion, there must be a formal letters of divorce or it was not legal. This had to be written in specific terms, handed to the woman herself, and all this had to be done in the presence of two witnesses.
There were other things that a husband had to do for the wife, also, by which he was bound: her settlement, medical treatment in case of sickness, redemption from captivity, a respectable funeral, provision in his house so long as she remained a widow and had not been paid her dowry, the support of her daughters till they were married, and a provision that her sons would also share in what settlement was given to her, plus receiving their own settlements.
The obligations upon the wife were: that all her gains should belong to her husband, as also what came to her after marriage by inheritance; that the husband should have the administrative rights of her dowry and of any gains made by it. He was also responsible for any losses made, also; that he should be considered her heir-at-law.
The family life among a Godly family in Israel must have been wonderful. They were very loving, and the mothers and daughters were very devoted to their families. There are many great women mentioned in the Bible that must have kept the moral atmosphere of the home sweet and pure and shed precious light on their homes and also society, as it was corrupt to the core because of the heathenism of the day.
They taught their households even under the most disadvantageous of circumstances. It was the custom of the mother to teach her child a verse of Holy Scripture that began or ended with precisely the same letters as the child’s Hebrew name. This verse became the guardian-promise of that child and he or she inserted the verse into their prayers each day. These guardian prayers would have been familiar to the smallest of children from as far back as they could remember. It would also remain with the youth in life’s temptations, and come back when he faced battles as an adult.
Assuredly, of Jewish children so reared, so trained, so taught, the verse Jesus spoke about them was much understood by the people of that day: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.”
Matthew 18: 2-4 – He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”