Updated: Sep 18
When I meet Jewish wedding couples who come to me to discuss their upcoming marriage they ask me about wedding rings and wedding bands as part of the ceremony. I explain to them that traditionally the wedding bands that they present to each other cannot have any diamonds and they need to be smooth and circular without any breaks in the band. Myjewishlearning.com also explains that the wedding band, exchanged under the chuppah (marriage canopy) and worn daily ever after, is an iconic part of a Jewish wedding. But Jews did not historically marry with rings. And that Jewish wedding rings might look different from other wedding rings. A bit of History- Exchanging rings was not originally an essential part of Jewish marriage. There is, for example, no mention of a wedding ring in the Bible. Rather, the exchange of wedding rings is a custom Jews have absorbed from the wider cultures in which they have lived. Even so, it has now become an integral and iconic part of a Jewish wedding ceremony.
According to the Mishnah (Kiddushin 1:1), which also never mentions wedding rings (and neither does the Talmud), a man contracts a woman for marriage in one of three ways:
1. Giving her money (a bride price).
2. Signing a marriage contract (ketubah or shtar tena’im).
3. Consummating the relationship.
Any one of these is sufficient, though generally all three take place. The wedding ring, which came into use in Jewish circles probably in the medieval period, carries a certain minimal monetary value which means it can be used for the bride price. By giving his beloved a ring, the husband effectively gives her the monetary sum required to make her his bride. Historically, a husband could equally have given her anything else of monetary value, from a book to a property deed to a coin.
The amount required is quite small, making marriage available to people from all economic backgrounds. According to the Mishnah, a single perutah, the smallest denomination of ancient coinage, is sufficient. Jewish wedding rings need not be expensive.
When the groom gives the bride money or a ring, he is not buying her (a common misconception). The bride does not belong to him, nor is she his slave. Rather, what the groom is “buying” is exclusive intimacy with her. In other words, by accepting the ring (or money, or other item of value), the bride agrees that, from that point forward, she will not have intimate relations with anyone other than her groom ( and of course vice versa).
Why do Jews usually choose rings with no adornment? One reason given is that the value of the ring should be apparent — so there is no deception or misunderstanding at the outset of the marriage. Others have argued that the simple ring represents hope for a similar honesty and purity in the relationship between the married partners. Some see the circle as a symbol of the equality of all people, including these two marriage partners. Still others argue that, as the ancient Greeks had it, the circle is the most perfect of all shapes, even as it hides within it an irrational ratio (pi). In this way, the circle of the ring represents a hope for a beautiful, even perfect marriage even though it is contracted by two people who are only human and sometimes, like all of us, a bit irrational. What is your interpretation of why wedding bands are simple without diamonds or stones?