Sunday, September 06, 2009

Jewish Wedding Custom In The Middle Ages

I came across an excerpt from Israel Abrahams' work Jewish Life In The Middle Ages (published in 1919.)

"In Egypt the bride wore a helmet and, sword in hand, led the procession and the dance. The bridegroom, not to fail in his share of the frolic, donned feminine attire, and the youths wore girls' clothes and put the favourite henna dye on their finger-nails. This was more than medieval Rabbis would allow, and the custom never seems to have become common."

~page 193

As I was going to ask: A) Is that accurate/ did it really happen? B) What? What about lo yihiyeh kli gever al isha?

לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה. {פ} 5 A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God. {P}

~Deuteronomy 22: 5

Menachem Butler and various other medieval people...answers? Essays? Sources? How in the world did that become a practice?


The Talmid said...

I've never heard of this before, but it follows from the Rema, Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 696:8 "... that which men wear women's garments and women men's [on Purim] there is no prohibition since their only intent is for simcha...and some prohibit this but the minhag is like the first opinion." For simcha at a wedding, it is possible that they did the same thing.

For the bride to wear a sword also would be an issur dioraissa, because weapons are considered men's "keilim." But for the simcha at the wedding it would not be prohibited.

Midrash Mishlei on Eishes Chayil praises Yael for killing Sisra with a peg and not with a sword, because a peg is not a weapon. Igros Moshe O"C IV 75 part 3 allowed women in Gush Etzion to carry guns because of certain dangers to their safety there.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

What the Jews in medieval France Germany and England did, just like what the Jews in "Bavel" did was not always representative of halacha. There is some evidence in the Tosafot that some Jews in France were quite lax and not very knowledgeable in regards to the mitzvot (i.e. they knew they weren't French, but they didn't always know everything about being Jewish). Therefore it was the job of the rabbis and "Ba'aeli Tosafot" to not just write Talmudic commentary, but teach the people the ways of G-d. They were, for the most part, pretty successful, and when they were exiled from France to Germany the stringencies of the "Hasidei Ashkenaz" influenced them as well.

The Cousin said...

Was this trend isolated to Egypt?
If so, how much (if any of it) could be related to {local} cultural or societal customs of that area?

Very interesting nonetheless.....

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Oh, I didn't see that "Egypt" thing. But like it said, it didn't find grace in the eyes of the rabbis...

Chana said...

Per the totally amazing R' Ephraim Kanarfogel, whom I respect and admire always:

Although Abraham's work is amazingly not yet obsolete (given its original publication date), neither would I read it as 'absolute truth' without further consideration. First, as Abrahams himself notes, this would not sit so well with 'medieval rabbis' (for the reasons that you indicate if not for others). It is thus quite possible that A. found a document somewhere which reflects this, but it cannot be assumed that this was a
widespread practice. Second, even if this were more widely done (based on other/additional evidence), 'popular Jewish custom' has always cropped up
from time to time that would seem to be fully against talmudic (and even biblical) law. The trick is to find who began/supported this custom, and did it in fact have significant/any rabbinic approbation.

The master on all things Egyptian (=Geniza lands) in terms of social
history is still the late Prof. Shlomo Goitein. Check his A Mediterranean Society (there is an excellent index to this multi-volumed work). In a word, in the absence of further study of Abraham's source(s) and/or
confirmation from other sources and texts, I would proceed quite slowly here in terms of how widespread and accepted this particular practice was (Indeed, to an extent, this is really just basic methodology to be applied and pursued even in terms of evaluating less 'unusual' practices suggested by social historians.)


So now we must go look it up!

The Cousin said...

Just curious--what sort of historical time frame is being defined by the term "middle ages"

Anonymous said...

I believe that Menachem Butler is actually a contemporary person and not a medieval person. That might make it a bit more likely that he will respond to you.

Menachem Mendel said...

I wasn't able to find anything in Goiten about this custom, nor did Abraham's give any clear source for this. That being said, there were many wedding festivities that paralleled those of Purim. See pp. 383-384 in this book.

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