Section 1: The Irish Jewish Communities and the Jewish Home
Jewish Ireland: Information on the history, development, beliefs and practices of the
Jewish community in Ireland with links to the Jewish communities in Ireland
Website of the Jewish Community, Belfast
Website of the Jewish Community, Cork
Website of Liberal Judaism in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland
Jewish Communities and Records of Jews in Ireland (has not been updated since
2006/2007 but gives some contacts and details of synagogues either extant or non-
functioning in Ireland.
Jewish Links Page which gives information on contemporary events, online
magazines, and newspapers of some Jewish communities internationally. This could
be a useful resource for the first section of the syllabus.
Ireland’s Other Diaspora: Jewish-Irish Within/Irish-Jewish Without from the
European Jewish Magazine Golem
The author, Ronit Lentin, is the Head of the Sociology Department and course
coordinator of the M Phil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict in Trinity College, Dublin.
She was coordinator of the Global Networks project in the Institute for International
Integration Studies (IIIS), and member of the Trinity Immigration Initiative research
programme, where she focused on migrant-led activism. She was born in Haifa,
Palestine, and grew up in Israel, moved to Ireland in 1969.
Stuart Rosenblatt’s work on Jews in Irish history
Online Documentary on the Jewish Community in Ireland
A one-hour documentary is available online which gives some insights into the
Jewish community in Ireland and how they contributed to the development of Ireland
and Israel: http://www.shalomireland.com/
Jewish Community, Limerick
Different documents about the Jewish community during their time in Limerick, held
by the Library at the following address:
Jewish Community, Limerick
If you are seeking further information on this topic, look at this website from
Limerick City Council:
A Stroll Through Jewish Dublin
Online documentary on Jewish Dublin available at the following web address:
Jewish Community, Belfast
BBC Documentary (1983) in four parts about the Jewish community in Belfast: Odd
Men In: A Personal Portrait by Harry Towb, and a YouTube tour of the Jewish
cemetery in Belfast
Interview with Adrian Levy, member of the Jewish Community in Belfast:
The Jews of Ireland, Robert Tracy
Ireland’s Jews: A Fading Tribe on the Emerald Isle
Louis Lentin (Film Producer and Member of Aosdana)
http://aosdana.artscouncil.ie/Members/Literature/Lentin.aspx?Cnuas=1 [accessed 23
Grandpa… speak to me in Russian, Louis Lentin
Lentin’s works as director, producer and writer
Alan Shatter (Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, and member of Fine Gael)
Some important issues which the Minister has to deal with on any day
David Marcus (Author, broadcaster, life-long supporter of Irish language fiction)
David Marcus dies, RTE news
Obituary from The Guardian newspaper
Information from the Munster Literature Centre
Women and the Jewish Home
A reader asked: What are the most significant Jewish rituals for women? Here,
Rebbetzin Feige Twersi explores three: baking bread and separating the dough;
lighting Shabbat candles; and ritual immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath).
The role of women in Judaism
Women’s Mitzvot (commandments), women’s holiday, women in the synagogue,
Lillith (character in Talmud and rabbinical folklore)
A section on keeping the laws of Kashrut from the New South Wales Board of Jewish
Education in Australia. Simple classifications of foods with links to other websites
Stuart Rosenblatt: Keeper of the Faith produced by Clare Cronin and funded by the
Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's Sound and Vision funding Scheme.
First broadcast Saturday 9th October 2010. It is an Irish radio documentary from
RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One. This recounts Stuart Rosenblatt’s
genealogical research into Jewish communities in Ireland which is contained in 16
volumes, tracing 44,000 people under 95 headings. Fascinating account into the
origins of Jewish communities in Ireland and their present challenges.
Benson, Asher, Portraits of Life by the Liffey (Dublin: A&A Farmar Ltd., 2007)
Eliash, Shulamit, The Harp and the Shield of David: Ireland, Zionism and the State
of Israel (Abington and New York: Routledge, 2007)
Hyman, Louis, The Jews of Ireland: From Earliest Years until 1910 (Irish University
Keogh, Dermot, Jews in Twentieth Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the
Holocaust (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998)
Miller, Frederic P. , Vandome, Agnes F., McBrewster, John, History of the Jews in
Ireland (Germany: VDM Publishing House, 2010)
Ó Gráda, Cormac, Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Socioeconomic History
(Oxfordshire and New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006)
Rivlin, Ray, Jewish Ireland: A Social History (Dublin: The History Press Ireland,
2011; updated version of Shalom Ireland published in 2003)
Excellent historical resource tracing the arrival of immigrants from Tsarist Russia in
the 1880s, their early years in Ireland; the educational, social, political, cultural,
artistic, sporting and professional contributions of Jews to Irish life, right up to the
Taylor, Marilyn, 17 Martin Street (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2011)
Novel about a Jewish family in Dublin at the time of the Emergency. There are
accompanying teaching Guides and opportunities for engagement are on the O’Brien
Press website at http://www.obrien.ie/author.cfm?authorid=58
Taylor, Marilyn, Faraway Home (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 1999)
Fact-based novel based on the lives of two Jewish children sent on a kindertransport
from Austria to Millisle refugee Farm on the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down)
Katrina Goldstone and Louis Lentin, No more Blooms: Ireland's Attitude to the
Jewish Refugee Problem 1933-46, a Crescendo Concepts documentary for RTE,
broadcast 10 December 1997.
Origins of the Irish Jewish Communities
Sources: Stuart Rosenblatt interview on RTE, Radio One, 2010, and the following
website, Akmian, from the Encylopaedia of Jewish Communities of Lithuania, written
by Dov Levin and it was published in Yad Vashem 1996.
Stuart Rosenblatt took the country and assembled the information beginning with the
family tree in Lithuania. If Jewish and Irish, your ancestors could have come from
Ackmene in Lithuania. Ackmene is located in the north-west of Lithuania.
Ackmene (pronounced Akmian)
The town was established in the 16th
century. It was burnt in 1705 in a war with the
Swedes. In 1792, Ackmene received the Magdeburg Rights which were granted by
the nobility to Jews and a few other minorities for commerce, trade and money-
lending. Jewish settlement in Ackmene began in the beginning of the 18th
the first half of the 19th
century, Jews numbered approximately two-thirds of the
population. The mass immigrations of Jews began after the so-called May Laws were
instigated in Tsarist Russia in 1881. These laws were meant to be temporary
measures but lasted over thirty years. The types of laws are as follows:
‘As a temporary measure, and until a general revision is made of their legal
status, it is decreed that the Jews be forbidden to settle anew outside of towns
and boroughs, exceptions being admitted only in the case of existing Jewish
‘Temporarily forbidden are the issuing of mortgages and other deeds to Jews,
as well as the registration of Jews as lessees of real property situated outside
of towns and boroughs; and also the issuing to Jews of powers of attorney to
manage and dispose of such real property.’
‘Jews are forbidden to transact business on Sundays and on the principal
Christian holy days; the existing regulations concerning the closing of places
of business belonging to Christians on such days to apply to Jews also.’
Stuart Rosenblatt FGSI (Fellow of the
Genealogical Society of Ireland)
He has spent years and endless hours
of his time recording the origins of
Jews in Ireland. His corpus of works
thus far comprises 16 volumes!
‘The measures laid down in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 shall apply only to the
governments within the Pale of Jewish Settlement’ (the term given to Jews’ areas of
residency within Imperial Russia).
In 1893, a fire broke out in Akmenė which caused great damage to the property of the
Jews. According to the notice which was published in amelitz the local Rabbi, Rav
Aharon Eliyahu Kahane wrote, ‘A fire broke out in the middle of the town and its
environs and more than forty houses, many buildings and stores were destroyed and
sixty Jewish families were left destitute’. People abroad who were from the town
were asked to send donations to help rehabilitate the families who suffered from the
fire. At the same time the Jews were approximately one-third of the general
population. Many of them emigrated and this continued until World War One. Many
of the Jews from Akmenė who were expelled in 1915 to central Russia never
returned. With the declaration on giving the Jews autonomy in independent
Lithuania, a community council consisting of five people was elected in Akmenė. For
a number of years the council took care of most of the activities of the Jews of the
The emigration of the Jews from the town continued in the period of Lithuanian
independence, mainly because of the difficult economic conditions. According to a
survey taken by the Lithuanian government in 1931 there were 14 stores in Akmenė
of which 11 were owned by Jews (79%): 4 textile stores, 3 butchers, a grocery store, a
grains store, a shoe store and a store for repairing sewing machines. In Akmenė there
was also a flour mill owned by Jews. In 1937 in Akmenė there were 7 Jewish
craftsmen, a baker, a carpenter, a tinsmith, a butcher, a watchmaker and 2 others. In
1925 in the town there was a Jewish woman doctor (Rebecca Gurvitz).
Many were helped by loans they received from the Jewish folk bank (Folksbank)
which had a branch in Akmenė. In 1927 the branch had 94 clients and in 1929 there
were 108 and it was considered one of the smaller branches .in Lithuania. Client loans
that year added up to 45,000 Lit (approximately $4,500). In 1939, there were 36
telephone subscribers, 6 of them were Jews.
Despite the constant decrease in the number of members of the Jewish community the
activities of the major organizations and institutions continued, such as the
synagogue, the “Yavne” School network and others. The local rabbi was Rabbi
Nachum-Mordechai, son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Werebovski, who from 1907 served
as the Rabbi of Akmenė. He was also the last rabbi of the Jewish community and was
murdered by the Lithuanians. Many of the Jews of Akmenė were members of the
Zionist camp. Witness to this is the participation of Jewish voters in Akmenė in the
elections to the first Seim in 1922. The Zionist list received 66 votes, the religious list
“Achdut” 31 and the Democratic list 1 vote. The Zionist youth movements in active in
Akmenė were Hashomer Hatzair and Betar. In this period relations between Jews and
their Lithuanian neighbors were generally proper. But in the second half of the 1930s
thing began to change for the worst. In March 1939 Lithuanians attacked a group of
Jews. The Jews demonstrated opposition and drove off the attackers.
During World War II and Afterwards
Great changes occurred in the condition of the Jews during the Soviet regime in 1940-
1941, and especially on the economic and social political levels. Among others,
Zionist activities of any type were forbidden. In the end of June 1941, a short time
after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, nationalistic Lithuanians organized in
Akmenė and arrested all Jewish men. In cooperation with the few Germans that came
to Akmenė, the Lithuanians shot and killed a Jew named Shmit who, in the past,
owned a fabric store, and Yosef and Feibush Yoselevitz. On August 4, 1941 all the
remaining prisoners were transferred to three silos on the bank of the river Venta, near
Mazhaik. The men were taken immediately to dig pits and the women were attached
to the Jewish women who had been imprisoned in Mazhaik prior to all of this. All of
them were murdered together with the Jews of Mazhaik and the surroundings on
August 9, 1941 (Shabbat, Av 16, 5701).
A few years after the war the place where they were murdered was fenced in and a
black marble monument was set up. After the war some Jews settled in the village. In
1979 there were 3 Jews there. By 1989 not a single Jew remained.
The Ackmene Jews arrive in Ireland
Stuart Rosenblatt’s father came to Ireland in the 1940s from Poland. His mother was
a Dubliner, born and bred, and when he married her he married into the heart of
Jewish Ireland. His mother, whose surname was Jackson, had family roots in
Ackmene. Rosenblatt conducted extensive research compiling information on the
history of Irish Jews: 44,000 people under 95 headings, all pulled together and cross-
references. He found that many of the Irish Jews originally came from Ackmene in
Lithuania. Children as young as 12 were conscripted into the army for 25 years.
Such legislation made it very difficult for the Jewish communities who were anxious
to preserve their traditions. After the May laws were enforced in the 1880s many of
the Jews living in Ackmene were facing increased Tsarist persecution and fled to
Ireland, to Cork and Dublin. According to Rosenblatt, the first wave of immigrants
might not have been able to afford the long trip to the United States and were forced
to disembark at Cork; others took the first vessel to anywhere and arrived in Ireland;
some were too sea-sick to continue their onward journeys; some ran out of kosher
food; some just disembarked at the first stop which was Cork thinking that they had
arrived in America. They wanted freedom to practice their religion. As they began to
arrive in Ireland, they sometimes found new neighbours but who were from their
hometown of Ackmene. Now, 2011, there is nothing of the Jewish communities left
in Ackmene. There is a burial ground with no mark in an area adjoining the town.
Many of the Irish Jewish ancestors who left Russia just wanted to divest themselves
of the antisemitism they experienced, educated their children, and never spoke about
their homeland. Jews, who came to Ireland and settled here, saw Ireland as place of
relative peace and tranquility even in spite of antisemitism and pro Nazism.
Irish Government Immigration Policies between 1933-1945
Leo McAuley of the Irish legation in Berlin reported that from 1933 there was a
marked increase in inquiries and applications from Jews of Polish or Eastern
European nationality and discouraged such people from going to Ireland as ‘they are
really only refugees’.
1933-1939 Charles Bewley, Ireland’s representative in Berlin was aware of what was
happening to the Jews of Europe at the time and chose to do nothing. He described
the Nuremburg Laws as ‘certain inconveniences’. His attitudes to Jews were very
clear: they were the ‘chief supporters of communism’; they created ‘grave moral
scandals’ and were a ‘form of corruption; they practised ‘fraud’ and ‘usury’. In his
estimation, it was ‘beyond any degree of reason that they could be treated like
After the Anschluss, the Nazi annexing of Austria in 1938, the Irish government made
entry into Ireland for holders of German or Austrian passports dependent on a valid
visa which was available only to applicants ‘not of Jewish or partly Jewish origin’ and
‘without non-Aryan affiliations.’
Eamon de Valera, leader of the Irish Government from 1932-1948, was privately and
personally warm towards Jews. However, in practice his attitude was different. It
took a personal visit from Rabbi Herzog, then Chief Rabbi of Palestine, to persuade
Gerry Boland to let the Clonyn Castle children enter Ireland and even then their stay
was limited to a year. As Taoiseach and Minister for External Affairs, De Valera
sanctioned Charles Bewley’s post during the critical pre-Nazi years.
Delegates from 32 countries and representatives from relief organizations meet in
Evian-les-Bains, a spa town in France, to discuss the German-Jewish refugees. The
Evian Conference which took place from 6-15 July 1938 sought solutions to the
Jewish refugee problem. Ireland’s overcrowded professions and the need for Irish
citizens to emigrate for employment were cited as reasons for refusing asylum. The
fact remains that there were many Jewish refugees who had the commercial and
manufacturing skills required in Ireland at that time. In 2003, at the first official
Holocaust commemoration, Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, apologized
for the Republic’s exclusion policy which was inspired by ‘a culture of muted
antisemitism in Ireland’ and that ‘at an official level the Irish state was at best coldly
polite and behind closed doors antipathetic, hostile and unfeeling toward the Jews’.
In October 1938, Chief Rabbi Herzog asked de Valera for permission to admit six or
seven refugee doctors and dentists to Ireland but permission was not granted. No
refugees were allowed into Cork. Robert Briscoe was refused a temporary visa for his
own aunt resulting in her death in an extermination camp.
Robert Tracy in an article about the Jews of Ireland cited that ‘In 1942 Rabbi Herzog
warned de Valera that Jews were being systematically exterminated in German prison
camps. The Taoiseach and his government made efforts to rescue various groups,
especially groups including children, and bring them to Ireland. These included a
large group of German Jews held at Vittel in Vichy France, who already possessed
visas for various South American countries. De Valera, together with the Irish
ministers in Berlin, Vichy, and at the Vatican worked to rescue the Vittel Jews, and
later groups of Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Slovakian Jews, but without success. In
no case were the Nazis willing to let such groups depart for Ireland or leave Europe
under Irish auspices. There was also a mistaken belief that Jews with Irish visas might
be imprisoned, but would not be sent to the death camps, a belief the Vittel episode
De Valera expressed condolences on behalf of the Irish government after Hitler had
taken his own life. His rationale for this gesture, ostensibly, was based on his
understanding of the protocols of diplomacy.
Political antisemitism culminated in genocide, and it is worth remembering that
neutral Ireland allowed in only some 65 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1946 as
Europe burned (Ronit Lentin).
The situation in Northern Ireland was different. They had a Christian multi-
denominational Belfast Committee of German Refugees and the Jewish Refugee Aid
Committee. The latter established a home in Clifton Park Avenue, Belfast, which
provided care for some of the 10,000 children of the Kindertransport from Germany
and Austria in 1939. Adult refugees who did not have work permits to practice their
own professions were given employment as maids, cooks and chauffeurs. From
1939-1946, more than 100 refugee children and adults were accommodated on the
Millisle farm in Co. Down.
The main cost of war to Irish Jews was the loss of extended and immediate family
through persecution and the death camps. Joe Briscoe lost 156 relatives. By 1946 the
Jewish population had peaked at more than 5,000.
Newspaper Article from The Irish Times
Saturday, 31 December 2011
De Valera's expression of sympathy to diplomat condemned
DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political Correspondent
HITLER'S DEATH: ÉAMON DE Valera was told that by expressing condolences
to the German ambassador on the death of Adolf Hitler, he had “shown allegiance to a
devil”, newly declassified papers reveal.
The files also disclose that it was decided not to fly the Irish flag at half-mast at Áras
an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park, even though a similar gesture had been made on
the death of US president Roosevelt three weeks previously.
The Nazi leader shot himself at his bunker in Berlin on April 30th, 1945. Two days
later de Valera, who was taoiseach and minister for external affairs, called on
ambassador Eduard Hempel to express his condolences.
The gesture aroused immediate controversy. The file in the National Archives
contains a number of strident letters sent in the immediate aftermath. Angela D
Walsh, with an address at East 44th Street, New York, writes to de Valera the day
after: “I am horrified, ashamed, humiliated . . . You, who are the head of a Catholic
country, have now shown allegiance to a devil.”
The writer concludes by saying a copy of the letter was being sent to President
Douglas Hyde. On the day the letter was written, Michael McDunphy, secretary to the
president, also visited the ambassador to express condolences.
A note by McDunphy states: “After consultation with the government and acting on
the authority of the president, I called today on the German minister, Herr Eduard
Hempel, at the Legation in Northumberland Road, and on behalf of the president
expressed condolence on the death of the Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German
In another note, dated May 7th, 1945, McDunphy writes that he raised with the
government the issue of whether the Irish flag should be flown at half-mast over the
Áras after Hitler’s death.
The question arose, “in view of the fact that on the death of President Roosevelt of the
USA, the flag was half-masted from the date of his death until after the funeral on the
The note continues: “The official view was that the special ties of historic friendship
which linked Ireland with the USA did not apply to the same extent to Germany, and
it appeared therefore that the half-masting of the flag immediately on the
announcement of the death was not necessary.
“A decision could be taken later as to whether the flag should be half-masted on the
day of Herr Hitler’s funeral. At the moment it did not seem there would be any
The episode resurfaced in a letter dated January 22nd, 1970, when de Valera was
president. Fr Kevin Keegan, writing from an address in France, said he had been
watching a television documentary in which the famous Nazi hunter Simon
Wiesenthal “said that you went to the German ambassador to express your sympathy
when you heard that Hitler had committed suicide”.
The letter continues: “Needless to say I was astounded to hear such a statement. I
would be very grateful to you if you inform me whether it is true or not. In the case of
it being untrue, I will inform the French Television immediately asking them to make
a public rectification.”
Responding, Máirtín Ó Flathartaigh, secretary general to the president wrote that de
Valera was “convalescing from a recent illness” and was “not at present dealing with
The letter confirmed, however, that in his capacity as minister for external affairs at
the time, de Valera had called on ambassador Hempel on May 2nd, 1945, “following
the announcement of the death of the German head of state” and the visit was made
“in accordance with established diplomatic practice”.
He continues: “The reference to suicide in your letter is, however, incorrect; no
announcement had then been made (or for long afterwards with any degree of
certitude) about the circumstances of Hitler’s death. Had there been, both charity and
protocol would, no doubt, still have had to be considered.”
The presidential papers also include a report of a letter to the Times of London two
weeks after the incident by playwright George Bernard Shaw, who defends de Valera
as “a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire”.
The Role of Women in the Jewish Community
Abridged and adapted from Judaism 101, ‘The Role of Women’
(http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm; Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Judaism: History, Belief and Practice;
Jacob Neusner, Judaism: An Introduction) The emphasis here is more from a traditional Jewish
The role of women in traditional Judaism has been grossly misrepresented and
misunderstood. Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century (Gloria
Steinem (American author, political activist), for example, and Betty Friedan (writer
and activist) are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is
no coincidence: the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their
In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal.
Women's obligations and responsibilities are different from men's, but no less
important (in fact, in some ways, women's responsibilities are considered more
The equality of men and women begins at the highest possible level: In Judaism G-d
has never been viewed as exclusively male or masculine. Judaism has always
maintained that G-d has both masculine and feminine qualities. As one Hasidic rabbi
explained, G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or
female is patently absurd. Jews refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for
convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender.
Both man and woman were created in the image of G-d. According to most Jewish
scholars, "man" was created in Gen. 1:27 with dual gender, and was later separated
into male and female.
According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of
"binah" (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men. The rabbis inferred this
from the fact that woman was "built" (Gen. 2:22) rather than "formed" (Gen. 2:7), and
the Hebrew root of "build" has the same consonants as the word "binah." It has been
said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) were superior to the
patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in prophecy. Women did not participate in the
idolatry regarding the Golden Calf.
Women have held positions of respect in Judaism since biblical times. Miriam is
considered one of the liberators of the children of Israel along with her brothers
Moses and Aaron. One of the Judges (Deborah) was a woman. Seven of the 55
prophets of the Bible – Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther
- were women.
The Ten Commandments require respect for both mother and father. Note that the
father comes first in Exodus 20:12, but the mother comes first in Leviticus 19:3, and
many traditional sources point out that this reversal is intended to show that both
parents are equally entitled to honor and reverence.
There were many learned women of note. The Talmud and later rabbinical writings
speak of the wisdom of Berurya, the wife of Rabbi Meir (Jewish sage who lived in the
time of the Mishnah, i.e. approximately 139-163 CE). In several instances, her
opinions on halakah (Jewish Law) were accepted over those of her male
contemporaries. In the ketubah (marriage contract) of Rabbi Akiba's son, the wife is
obliged to teach the husband Torah! Many rabbis over the centuries have been known
to consult their wives on matters of Jewish law relating to the woman's role, such as
laws of kashrut and women's cycles. The wife of a rabbi is referred to as a rebbetzin,
practically a title of her own, which should give some idea of her significance in
There can be no doubt, however, that the Talmud also has many negative things to say
about women. Various rabbis at various times describe women as lazy, jealous, vain
and gluttonous, prone to gossip and particularly prone to the occult and witchcraft.
Men are repeatedly advised against associating with women, although this is usually
because of man's lust rather than because of any shortcoming in women. It is worth
noting that the Talmud also has negative things to say about men, frequently
describing men as particularly prone to lust and forbidden sexual desires.
Women are discouraged from pursuing higher education or religious pursuits, but this
seems to be primarily because women who engage in such pursuits might neglect
their primary duties as wives and mothers. The rabbis are not concerned that women
are not spiritual enough; rather, they are concerned that women might become too
The rights of women in traditional Judaism are much greater than they were in the rest
of Western civilization until the 20th century. Women had the right to buy, sell, and
own property, and make their own contracts, rights which women in Western
countries did not have until about 100 years ago. In fact, Proverbs 31:10-31, which is
traditionally read at Jewish weddings, speaks repeatedly of business acumen as a trait
to be prized in women (v. 11, 13, 16, and 18 especially).
Women and Marriage
Marriage is more than a legal contract; it is rather an institution with cosmic
significance, legitimized through divine authority. The purpose of marriage is to
build a home, create a family and thereby perpetuate society.
In the Bible, marriages were arranged by fathers: Abraham, for example, sent his
servant to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:10-53), and Judah arranged the marriage
of his first-born son (Genesis 38:6). When the proposal of marriage was accepted by
the girl’s father (or elder brother in his absence), the nature and amount of the mohar
(the bride-price indicative of the value placed on the bride; payment to the groom)
was agreed. By Second Temple times (538 BCE – 70 CE), there was a degree of
choice in the selection of a bride – on 15 of Av (usually August) and the Day of
Atonement, young men could select brides among the girls dancing in the vineyards.
According to tradition, a period of engagement preceded marriage itself. The
ceremony was a seven-day long occasion for celebration during which love songs
were sung in praise of the bride. In the Talmudic period (70-500 CE) a major
development occurred concerning the mohar – since it could be used by the father of
the bride, a wife could become penniless if her husband divorced or predeceased her.
As a result the mohar evolved into the formulation of a marriage document (ketubah)
which gave protection to the bride. In addition, the act of marriage changed from
being a personal civil procedure to a public religious ceremony which required the
presence of a minyan (quorum) and the recitation of prayers.
Women have the right to be consulted with regard to their marriage. Marital sex is
regarded as the woman's right, and not the man's. Men do not have the right to beat or
mistreat their wives, a right that was recognized by law in many Western countries
until a few hundred years ago. In cases of rape, a woman is generally presumed not to
have consented to the intercourse, even if she enjoyed it, even if she consented after
the sexual act began and declined a rescue. Traditional Judaism recognizes that
forced sexual relations within the context of marriage are rape and are not permitted.
In many places throughout the world today, rape within marriage is still not a crime.
In Biblical and Talmudic times marriage occurred in two stages: Betrothal and
1. Betrothal had two stages:
(a) The commitment of a couple to marry as well as the terms of financial
obligation (shiddukhin). An early instance of shiddukhin is found in Genesis
34 where the term mohar is used for a sum of money the father of the groom is
to pay the father of the bride. During the Talmudic period, this term was not
used; instead the Talmud stipulates that negotiations should take place
between the respective parents concerning financial obligations. The term for
such negotiations is shiddukhin (an Aramaic word meaning ‘tranquillity’).
The terms agreed upon were written in a document called the shetar pesikta;
the amount given to the son was called the nedunyah (dowry). From the
medieval period to the present the prenuptial agreement was itself divided into
two stages: a verbal understanding (vort) was made, followed by a ceremony
(kinyan) symbolizing the acceptance of the obligation to marry. This normally
occurred at a meal; the act of accepting was accomplished by taking an object
(usually the corner of a handkerchief). The second stage involved the writing
in a document (tenaim) of the terms undertaken. In addition, the tenaim
designated the date and the place of the nuptial ceremony. The ceremony of
the tenaim concludes with the mothers of the bride and the groom breaking a
pottery dish. The ceremony is frequently celebrated with a dinner, and during
the following period the bride and groom exchange gifts.
(b) A ceremony establishing a nuptial relationship independent of the wedding
ceremony (kiddushin or erusin). In the rabbinic period the sages who outlined
this procedure called it the kiddushin to indicate that the bride is forbidden to
all men except her husband. According to the Mishnah, the bride could be
acquired in marriage in three ways: by money, deed or intercourse.
Traditionally the method involved placing a ring on the bride’s finger. At this
stage the groom declared: ‘Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring
according to the law of Moses and of Israel.’ Then the blessing over the wine
was recited. After this ceremony the bride continued to remain in her father’s
house until the stage of nissuin.
During the second stage of the procedure for marriage the seven blessings were
recited. In ancient times, there was an interval of as much as a full year between these
two stages, but in contemporary weddings, the rite encompasses both.
In contemporary celebrations of marriage the rite occurs in stages beginning before
the couple reaches the marriage canopy. First is the Ketubah:
The Ketubah or marriage contract is validated by the signatures of the witnesses. This
guarantees support for the wife in the event of a divorce or the death of her husband.
The bride is not only Eve, she is also a woman who has obligations to her husband,
and the groom, Adam, is reciprocally responsible. So the marriage rite represents not
only an occasion of Israel’s story but a legal transaction by which the rights and
obligations of each party have to be expressed and guaranteed by a contract. The
ketubah is appropriately signed and delivered from the groom to the bride’s
The Ketubah Text from My Jewish Learning,
The traditional Aramaic text of the ketubah (marriage contract) reflects the
history of Jewish marriage.
By Rabbi Maurice Lamm
This article explains the first half of the traditional ketubah, including the proposal
and funds committed to the marriage from the bride's family and the groom.
"Explaining the Ketubah Text (Part 2)" describes the additional gift from the groom,
contractual protections for his wife, and how the ketubah is sealed.
In liberal communities the bride and groom often write more egalitarian ketubot that
reflect their goals for the marriage--either in place of or in addition to the traditional
ketubah. Both liberal and some traditional Jews may include a prenuptial agreement
in their ketubah that would require the groom to give the bride a get, or Jewish bill of
divorce, should the marriage end. Reprinted on the webset from The Jewish Way in
Love and Marriage by permission of Jonathan David Publishers.
The Date and Place of the Wedding
"On the _______ day of the week, the _______ day of the month _______ in the year
_______ since the creation of the world according to the reckoning which we are
accustomed to use here in the city of _______ in _______ "
The Date. The law prescribes that the date appears at the beginning in private
agreements, but at the end in court agreements. Though the ketubah has the status of
a court decree, it is in the nature of a private agreement and so the date is placed
The Place. The same rationale is used for the place. A divorce document contains
more geographical information (e.g., mention of a neighboring river). The Sephardim
[Jews of Spain who, after the Expulsion, emigrated to North Africa and the Middle
East] retained this custom, and Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles of Cracow), in the 16th
century, urged that the technicalities of the ketubah follow those of the divorce. But
the Talmud simplified the ketubah and the Jews of Europe have followed that
The Groom, the Bride, & the Proposal
"… _______ son of _______ of the family _______ said to this maiden _______
daughter of _______ of the family _______ "Be thou my wife according to the law of
Moses and Israel."
The Names. Their Hebrew names, their fathers' names, and usually, though not
always, their family names. The mother's name is given when praying for recovery
from illness, as a symbol of mother's compassion. A father's name is used in legal
matters, just as a father's family name has always been used in legal affairs. [Today,
though, many liberal Jews include the mother's name on a ketubah as well.] Added to
their names is also the appellation for a rabbinic scholar, Rav, or priestly or Levitic
descent, kohen or Levi.
The Proposal. "Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel" is the
marriage proposal. The ketubah, following in time as it does the betrothal and its oral
proposal formula, "You are hereby betrothed unto me according to the law of Moses
and Israel," is written by witnesses testifying that the groom in fact proposed to the
bride. The formula has remained intact for some 2,000 years. The Talmud considered
variants, but this language of proposal endured.
The Groom Promised the Basic Support
"... and I will work for thee, honor, provide for, and support thee, in accordance with
the practice of Jewish husbands, who work for their wives, honor, provide for and
support them in truth."
Support. This is referred to as the alimentation clause. Providing support is elemental
in marriage, and is considered so obvious that the Talmud makes no reference to it.
But the phrase is so beautiful and appropriate that it appears in the ketubah not only
once but twice, "honor, provide for, and support... honor, provide for, and support....
" Indeed, one authority described it as le'shufra di'she'tara (for the beauty of the
Funds for the Wife, If and When the Marriage Terminates
"… and I will set aside for thee 200 silver zuz (a coin made during the Bar Kochba
Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE) mohar due thee for thy maidenhood,
which belong to thee according to the law of the Torah, and thy food, clothing, and
other necessary benefits which a husband is obligated to provide; and I will live with
thee in accordance with the requirements prescribed for each husband."
The Mohar. The funds, called mohar, are so important that this clause is called ikkar
ketubah--the basic part of the ketubah, or simply the ketubah. Mohar is the cash gift
the groom gives the bride, as Eliezer, Abraham's servant, gave "precious things" to
Laban, Rebekah's father, and as Jacob gave seven years of service for the hand of
Rachel. The great sage and the ketubah's most important author, Rabbi Simeon ben
Shetach, decreed that this serve as protection for the bride rather than only a gift, and
ordained that the funds were not given but set aside for the bride. During marriage,
therefore, it was considered a debt which was paid only in case of death or divorce,
and the mohar thus became a divorce or life insurance settlement rather than a mere
marriage gift. This arrangement also enabled poor grooms to marry without any
immediate monetary expenditure. The Talmud provides another reason, mishum
china, to give the woman a secure financial position at the time of divorce so that she
may remarry, and make the trials of marriage less poignant.
The Law of the Torah. There is a running dispute between the Jerusalem Talmud and
the Babylonian Talmud as to whether this settlement, which all agree is historically of
biblical times, is biblically or rabbinically mandated. Today we generally take mohar
to be rabbinically commanded, yet because of the gravity of the marriage bond we
persist in using, "which belong to thee according to the law of the Torah." We also
include "200 silver zuz," the Tyrean coin used in biblical assessments, rather than the
"current" coin used in rabbinically ordained payments.
Mohar for brides previously married is one-half the total and is recorded as
Food, Clothing, and Conjugal Relations. The obligations are basic to marriage and
are obligatory even without specific contractual condition. They are the rights
(including conjugal relations) of the wife, and are accounted duties of the husband.
The Bride Accepted the Proposal
"… and this _______ maiden, consented and became his wife."
Willing Acceptance. The proposal having been made in the traditional formula, the
witnesses now assert that the bride accepted with willing consent, and therefore "she
became his wife." Ve'havat lih le'into is an Aramaic translation of Ruth 4:13, va-tehi
lo le'ishah (when Boaz took Ruth as his wife).
And She Brings a Dowry
"The dowry (nedunya) that she brought from her _______ house, in silver, gold,
valuables, clothing, and household furnishings, all this _______ the said groom
accepted in the sum of 100 silver pieces."
The Dowry. Nedunya (dowry), popularly referred to as naddan, is given the bride by
her father for her use in the home she is about to build. This dowry includes the items
listed plus any other valuables she may bring with her. In the Bible, Rachel and Leah
are given servants Bilhah and Zilpah as dowry. It is the daughter's share of her
parents' inheritance. The sons succeed their father, but the daughters leave him and
therefore receive an equivalent in the form of dowry. The sages make it compulsory
for a father to give his daughter, as a start in married life, sufficient funds to buy a
woman's wardrobe for one year.
The dowry is distinct from property or possessions that the bride owns and continues
to own privately throughout marriage. Thus it serves as an inducement for suitors.
The dowry is included in the ketubah, and is the property of the bride, technically
"leased" to the groom for the duration of marriage. The bride's private property,
called nikhsei melog, is given outright to the bride, the husband enjoying only the
"fruit" (usufruct) during marriage. It is not part of the dowry and is not included in
The Groom Accepted. The ketubah originally listed all items in the dowry and
tabulated the cost. In time, this was standardized under the general categories listed
and estimated at a standard sum of 100 silver pieces, one half of the mohar that the
groom provided the bride for use of the dowry, but which, in reality, comes today to
very much more than the half mohar.
The language of the ketubah specifies the legal standing of the husband’s obligation
to the wife. In order to pay what is owing to her, should he divorce her, or in order to
provide for her if he dies before she does, the husband pledges even the shirt off his
Next comes the touching moment when the groom places the veil over the bride’s
face, before they take their places under the marriage canopy, and makes the
following statement to her:
May you, our sister, be fruitful and prosper. May God make you as Sarah, Rebecca,
Rachel and Leah. May the Lord bless and keep you. May the Lord show you favour
and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you kindness and grant you peace.
The next stage in the contemporary celebration is the stages of betrothal outlined
above: Erusin, the woman is sanctified, or designated as holy, to a particular man.
This part is carried out under the marriage canopy (chuppah) by drinking a cup of
wine with a blessing. Then there is a gift of a ring to the bride which concludes the
betrothal. Then come the Seven Blessings that mark the stage of nissuin, the fully
realized union. The blessings are recited over a second cup of wine and they
complete the rite under the chuppah. The ceremony concludes with the groom
stepping on a glass and breaking it. After the ceremony the bride and groom are led
to a private room for yihud (seclusion). At the end of the wedding meal, the Grace
after Meals is recited, and is followed by another reading of the Seven Blessings.
Spiritual Role of Women in Jewish Household
There is no question that in traditional Judaism, the primary role of a woman is as
wife and mother, keeper of the household. However, Judaism has great respect for the
importance of that role and the spiritual influence that the woman has over her family.
The Talmud says that when a pious man marries a wicked woman, the man becomes
wicked, but when a wicked man marries a pious woman, the man becomes pious. The
child of a Jewish woman and a gentile man is Jewish because of the mother's spiritual
influence; the child of a Jewish man and a gentile woman is not. Women are
exempted from all positive mitzvot ("thou shalts" as opposed to "thou shalt nots") that
are time-related (that is, mitzvot that must be performed at a specific time of the day
or year), because the woman's duties as wife and mother are so important that they
cannot be postponed to fulfill a mitzvah. After all, a woman cannot be expected to just
drop a crying baby when the time comes to perform a mitzvah. She cannot leave
dinner unattended on the stove while she davens ma'ariv (recites the evening prayer
It is this exemption from certain mitzvot that has led to the greatest misunderstanding
of the role of women in Judaism. First, many people make the mistake of thinking that
this exemption is a prohibition. On the contrary, although women are not required to
perform time-based positive mitzvot, they are generally permitted to observe such
mitzvot if they choose (though some are frustrated with women who insist on
performing visible, prestigious optional mitzvot while they ignore mundane
mandatory ones). Second, because this exemption diminishes the role of women in
the synagogue, many people perceive that women have no role in Jewish religious
life. This misconception derives from the mistaken assumption that Jewish religious
life revolves around the synagogue. It does not; it revolves around the home, where
the woman's role is every bit as important as the man's.
Women's Mitzvot: Nerot, Challah and Niddah
In Jewish tradition, there are three mitzvot (commandments) that are reserved for
women: nerot (lighting candles), challah (separating a portion of dough), and niddah
(sexual separation during a woman's menstrual period and ritual immersion
afterwards). If a woman is present who can perform these mitzvot, the privilege of
fulfilling the mitzvah is reserved for the woman. Two of these mitzvot can be
performed by a man if no woman is present. The third, for reasons of biology, is
limited to the woman. All of these mitzvot are related to the home and the family,
areas where the woman is primarily responsible.
The first of these women's mitzvot is nerot (literally, "lights") or hadlakat ha-ner
(literally, "lighting the lights"), that is, the privilege of lighting candles to mark the
beginning of the Shabbat or a holiday. The lighting of candles officially marks the
beginning of sacred time for the home; once candles are lit, any restrictions or
observances of the holiday are in effect. The lighting of candles is a rabbinical
mitzvah, rather than a mitzvah from the Torah.
The second woman's mitzvah is challah, that is, the privilege of separating a portion
of dough from bread before baking it. This mitzvah comes from Numbers 15:20,
where we are commanded to set aside a portion of dough for the kohein (priest
descendant of Aaron). This mitzvah is only in full effect in Israel; however, the rabbis
determined that Jews throughout the world should be reminded of this mitzvah by
separating a piece of dough before baking it and burning the dough. You may have
noticed that on boxes of matzah at Pesach (Passover), there is usually a notation that
says "Challah Has Been Taken," which means that this mitzvah has been fulfilled for
the matzah. Note that this mitzvah has little to do with the traditional Shabbat bread,
which is also called "challah."
The third woman's mitzvah is the obligation to separate herself from her husband
during her menstrual period and to immerse herself in a mikvah (ritual bath) after the
end of her menstrual period. The Torah prohibits sexual intercourse during a woman's
menstrual period. This ritual immersion marks the end of that period of separation and
the resumption of the couple's sexual activities.
Some sources point out that the name Chanah is an acronym of the names of these
three mitzvot (Challah, Niddah, and Hadlakat HaNer). In the Bible, Chanah was the
mother of Samuel and a prophetess. She is considered in Jewish tradition to be a role
model for women.
Women's Holiday: Rosh Chodesh
Rosh Chodesh, the first day of each month, is a minor festival. There is a custom that
women do not work on Rosh Chodesh. A midrash teaches that each of the Rosh
Chodeshim was originally intended to represent the one of the twelve tribes of Israel,
just as the three major festivals (Pesach, Sukkot and Shavu'ot) each represent one of
the three patriarchs. However, because of the sin of the Golden Calf, the holiday was
taken away from the men and given to women, as a reward for the women's refusal to
participate in the construction of the Golden Calf.
How do we know that women didn't participate in the Golden Calf incident? The
midrash (interpretation of Jewish texts) notes that Exodus 32 says that "the people"
came to Aaron and asked him to make an idol. Aaron told them to get the golden
rings from their wives and their sons and their daughters. Note that the biblical verse
doesn't say anything about "the people" getting the rings from their husbands, only
from wives and sons and daughters, from which we can infer that "the people" in
question were the men. Then Exodus 32:3 says that "the people" broke off the golden
rings that were in their ears. The bible does not say that they got the gold from their
wives and sons and daughters; rather, it says that "the people" (i.e., the same people)
gave their own gold. The midrash explains that the men went back to their wives and
the wives refused to give their gold to the creation of an idol. As a reward for this, the
women were given the holiday that was intended to represent the tribes.