In biblical days, a Hebrew husband was allowed to have more than one wife. For each, he had to give his father-in-law a sum of money, the mohar of fifty silver shekels (Deut. 22:28-29) and then he had to provide for her upkeep. This probably meant that only the affluent could afford more than one. In addition, the groom or his family was expected to give gifts to the bride and her family. Once the mohar had been paid and the gifts accepted, the marriage was legally binding and the bride effectively belonged to her husband, even if they did not yet live together.
A bride's father would generally give her a chiluhim, or dowry. The dowry consisted of material goods to be used in the future household, including servants and livestock, and even land, as well as a portion of the mohar that reverted to the girl "as payment for the price of her virginity,,4 The specific sum of the dowry would be written down in the marriage contract, or ketubah, as well as the sum of money that would revert to the wife in the event of divorce or widowhood. Jewish marriage contracts going back to the eighth century B.C.E. Usually contained a ritual formula pronounced by the groom to the bride in the presence of witnesses: "She is my wife and I am her husband from this day forth and forever."
The last stage of the marriage was the banquet that preceded the wedding night. These festivities could go on for as long as a week, though the marriage was consummated the first night. If, however, the husband found that his bride was no longer a virgin, he could have her killed according to the words of the Torah: "then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of the city shall stone her with stones that she die" (Deut. 22:2 1).
Excerpted from The History of The Wife by Marilyn Yalom. Copyright © 2001 by Marilyn Yalom. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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