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Engagement: The Tenaim and the Vort
An Orthodox Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

 • Proposing Marriage
 • Premarital Counselingr
 • Chatan & Kallah Classes
 • The L’Chaim & Vort – The Engagement Party

 • Genetic Testing Before Marriage
 • The Engagement Ring

Proposing Marriage
Marrying without a formal proposal was considered an immoral act (Kaplan, 22). Ideally the couple announces their happy news and their parents beam. When good hearty wishes do not follow, or even if the parents object, Judaism still permits the couple to marry.

One may ask, “What happened to the commandment to ‘honor thy father and mother’?” Marriage is a mitzvah, a commandment, in part because it leads to the fulfillment of the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Honoring a parent is also a mitzvah with one caveat. In Leviticus, verse (19:3) begins “Every man shall fear his mother and father” and ends “and keep My Sabbaths.” The juxtaposition of the two is interpreted as obligating a child to honor parents short of anything that violates another mitzvah. God’s commandments trump parental demands. Of course, it is best to find ways to keep God’s commandments and

Premarital Counseling
Enrich your ceremony by scheduling pre-wedding meetings with the rabbi. Find time to talk about more than the ceremony details. Judaism offers wisdom tested over thousands of years about marriage, sex, and family. For many Jews, pre-marital counseling is the first time they stepped into the synagogue since a bar or bat mitzvah. Take advantage of this private time with the rabbi to reacquaint yourself with Jewish life.

Chatan/Kallah Classes
Once upon a time, a mother would put an arm around her daughter and explain the whole husband-wife experience, complete with how-tos for the observing the mitzvah of immersing in the mikvah. Modern brides generally receive this instruction at the hands of “kallah class” instructors. “Kallah” is Hebrew for “bride”. The classes may be in a group setting or a one-on-one tutorial. In some larger Jewish communities, word of mouth sends brides to the same kallah class teachers. In other communities, the rabbi’s wife explains the mikva ritual to the bride.

Kallah class topics may cover more than just the mikva ritual. Guidance regarding husband and wife relationship and relationship pitfalls is offered. Tips for creating shalom bayit, a peaceful home, are shared. Chatan and Kallah classes are also a perfect time for posing questions, practical and halachic,” that may resolve some uneasiness felt by an hesitating groom and/or a jittery bride.

Generally, chatan classes for the groom have much of the same focus as the kallah classes. Texts, such as Badei HaShulchan by Rabbi Feivel Cohen, that detail the halacha surrounding mikva are the basis for these classes in yeshiva circles. Other grooms will be referred directly to the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, or to pertinent sections of the Mishna Berura, a text that renders more modern halachic decisions based on the Shulchan Aruch , authored by the world renowned Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan.

Texts in other language are available and widely used for brides and grooms who are not fluent in Hebrew.

The L’Chaim and Vort – The Engagement Party
Celebrating a marriage-to-be is done through a number of parties. For some, the celebration takes the form of an informal L’chaim. Friends and family gather in the bride’s or groom’s home to wish the couple ”Mazal tov!” and to drink to their happiness with wishes of “L’chaim”. or “To life!”

For other couples, this party is just the beginning. A more formal (and at times costly) Vort party follows, where a wider circle of relatives and friends attend, offering another round of mazal tovs, . The name “vort” in Yiddish, literally means “word,” and refers to the words of Torah thought the groom shares with the well-wishers.

At the vort, some communities customarily have the groom sign the “tenaim” document, literally “conditions,” and testifies to the groom’s acceptance of his obligations to his betrothed.

The signing of the tenaim document is followed with the “breaking the plate” ritual, usually performed by the mothers of the bride and the groom. The ritual of the “broken plate” reminds the celebrants of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which we mourn even at the most joyous moments. This ritual is duplicated at the wedding, with the breaking of glass under the wedding canopy. A secondary goal for this ritual is to emphasize to the couple the importance of the occasion, as just as a smashed plate is forever shattered, so too a broken engagement is difficult if not impossible to repair.

Some couples gather the plate pieces and fashion jewelry from them. Other brides hand out the jagged pieces to their unmarried friends as good luck charms.

Nowadays, the custom of most Jewish communities is to avoid signing the “tenaim” during the engagement party or at the “Vort”. Nullifying the tenaim is considered to be more halachically tricky than dissolving a marriage. Instead it is customary to sign the tenaim on the day of the wedding, just prior to the chuppah ceremony, eliminated the possibility of a broken tenaim agreement.

Genetic Testing
Before committing to marriage it is wise to undergo genetic testing. The legacy of generations of Jew marrying Jew is a proud tradition, but the limited circles in which Jewish men and women found each other, brought about an increase in occurrences of rare but devastating genetic diseases. Genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs, Gouchers, Neimann-Pick, and others ravage children, leaving grieving, heartbroken parents. Though much research is being done to find ways to alleviate the suffering, there are no known cures as of now, and therapies are few. Genetic testing alerts a couple to their potential probabilities of giving birth to a child that may be afflicted by a genetic disease. Couples that test positive as carriers, should seek genetic counseling and may also benefit from discussing the results with a trusted rabbi.

Engagement Ring
Diamonds seldom sparkle as brightly as when they are perched on a bride’s finger. An engagement gift is an ancient tradition known as a “sivlon” or “savlan”. (The root of this term is similar to the word for patience “savlanut”., which may have something to do with the patience required during the waiting period between the time an engagement and wedding ceremony.)

A ring embedded with a gem or precious stone became a traditional sivlon because it is markedly different from the plain wedding band, distinguishing the wed from the betrothed. If finances are an issue, look into cubic zirconia (or CZ), the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2), a mineral that is widely synthesized for use as a diamond replica.

Care should be taken to present the ring without witnesses present. A Jewish marriage is established in several ways, one of which is the presentation of an object worth more than a perutah, the smallest denomination of ancient coinage, before witnesses. Handing off a ring in public would hang the question of the need for a get, a Jewish divorce, should the engagement be broken.

For this reason, in some communities it has become the custom to avoid the give of an engagement ring, and in order to keep a bride from appearing deprived of the socially conventional diamond ring, she is presented with a diamond ring after the ceremony.

Some chassidic communities have evolved a jewelry-giving regimen to minimize the differences between wealthy and poor. For example in one New York community, a bride will receive a watch, a ring, a necklace and earrings. The groom receives cufflinks and a watch. The gifts are given at several points during the engagement: at the proposal, before the engagement party, and after the ceremony.


Dating Jewish
The Dowry (Nedunia)
Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make me a Match!
Forbidden Marriages and the Issue of Mamzerut
Engagement, Vort and Tenaim
Marriage: A Jewish Perspective
Setting a Date for the Celebration of a Jewish Wedding
Double Wedding, Double the Fun?
Wedding Guests: Who and How Many to Invite
Jewish Wedding Invitations
Jewish Wedding Music Beyond Hava Nagila
Jewish Wedding Attire Customs: From Wedding Gown to Kittel
Jewish Wedding A Second Time Around
Jewish Wedding: The Day Before
Mikvah:The Ritual Bath
Aufruf – A Torah Honor for the Groom
Forshpiel/ Shabbat Kallah
Tallit (Tallis): A Prayer Shawl Gift from Bride to Groom
Wedding Day Customs
The Ketubah: The Jewish Marriage Contract
The Orthodox Ketubah Aramaic Text and Translation

Ketubah Highlights: Content and Meaning
Ketubah Designs
Prenuptial Agreement: An Halachic View
Summary of the Orthodox Wedding Ceremony
Summary of Honors at Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The Bride's Reception and the Bedeken Ceremony

The Chuppah - the Wedding Canopy
Chuppah: The Inner Meaning

The Processional and the Chuppah Ceremony
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part I: The "Erusin" - the Engagement
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part II: The Ring and Its Significance
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part III: The Ketubah Reading
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part IV: Nesuin, the Marriage Ceremony
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part V: Breaking the Glass
The Recessional at end of Wedding Ceremony
Yichud: Bride and Groom Retreat from Crowd for Alone-Time
Jewish Wedding Reception Customs and Traditions
Jewish Wedding: The Week After

Shana Rishona: The First Year of Marriage
Practical Tips: List of things to bring to your wedding
Jewish Wedding: Proper Etiquette and Gift Ideas


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