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Nissuin and the Wedding Feast

Yitzhaq and Rivkah did not have a formal wedding or a traditional wedding feast, so we know these things are not required. All that is needed is a meeting of the minds, an exchange of consideration, and consent from the bride. Then the groom can take his bride, which consummates the deal. They are married.

However, we also know it was traditional in the ancient Middle East to have a week-long wedding feast, in that Yaakov had one. There was even a name for this feast, called the bride’s week (verse 27). The bride’s week was similar to today’s honeymoon, except that the couple did not go anywhere. It was a welcoming party held at the groom’s father’s house, to help the bride adjust to her new house and her new family. However, Yaakov and Leah’s feast was held in Laban’s house, because that is where the groom (Yaakov) was staying.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 29:20-29
20 So Yaakov served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
21 Then Yaakov said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.”
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast.
23 Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her.
24 And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.
25 So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
26 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.”
28 Then Yaakov did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also.
29 And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid.

Sometimes modern readers find it hard to understand how Yaakov could have mistaken Leah for Rachel on their wedding night. This is perhaps because they imagine that Yaakov and Rachel went for long walks together, and talked with each other over meals in the manner of a modern romantic courtship. However, in the ancient Middle East, marriage was more about duty and alliances between families than it was about romance between the groom and the bride. A lot of emphasis was placed on the bride being a virgin (i.e., pure), and so the groom and bride were normally kept apart from the time of the betrothal in erusin until the day of the wedding feast in nissuin, to remove any temptations to sin. (This is just as we are separated from Yeshua until the day of the wedding feast, at Armageddon.) Therefore, Yaakov had probably not even seen Rachel for seven years, and if Laban got Yaakov drunk to the point of blacking out, and it was night, it becomes easier to understand how he might not have realized it was Leah until morning.

The festal week normally gave the bride a week to adjust to her new life with her husband and her new family before she began working. We see a similar week-long feast in the marriage of Shimshon (Samson) and Delilah, except once again it was held at the house of the father of the bride (which was not the normal custom).

Shophetim (Judges) 14:17
17 Now she had wept on him the seven days while their feast lasted. And it happened on the seventh day that he told her, because she pressed him so much. Then she explained the riddle to the sons of her people.

And in addition to the week-long feast, the groom would also be exempt from going out to the army for a full year, so that he could take care of her, and make sure she was happy in her new home.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:5
5 “When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.

But how did the couple arrive at to this happy marriage week? That is, how did they get from erusin to nissuin? What was the traditional process?

From Erusin (Betrothed) to Nissuin (Lifted Up)

In ancient times, an extremely high value was placed on the bride being a virgin, because it represented her faith, fidelity, and purity. In fact, since a groom and bride were considered married at the time of their betrothal, if her husband did not find her to be a virgin at the time of the consummation (in nissuin) she could be stoned to death, because of her breach of faith.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 20:10
10 “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”

Because it was so important for the bride to be a virgin, the groom and bride were normally kept apart from the time of the betrothal until the day of the consummation, thus eliminating opportunities to sin.

Because couples were kept separated, they normally communicated through the groom’s best friend, who would tell the bride about her husband and what he liked, so she could learn to please him.

The bride would also name up to ten other virgins to be witnesses at her wedding. Since the groom normally came in the night, both she and her ten virgin witnesses would have their lamps ready, with plenty of oil, for the night when the groom would finally come.

For his part, the groom would add on a room to his father’s house, where both he and his bride would live. Then when his father was satisfied that everything was ready, he would give his approval, and his son would go lift up his bride. This was often after the harvest (when food was plentiful, and the general feeling was good), but no one but the father knew exactly when it would be.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 25:13
13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

Traditionally, the day of Yeshua’s return is thought to be on Yom Teruah (the Day of Trumpets). This is also thought to be a day and an hour which no man knows in advance (since it depends on the physical sighting of the first crescent sliver of the new moon).

The groom would send a messenger about a half hour ahead, to warn the bride and her virgins with the message, “The Bridegroom is Coming!”, so that they could trim their lamps, and be ready.

Yochanan (John) 3:28
28 “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’”

As the groom’s party approached, they would sound the shofar (which is again a hint of Yom Teruah). The bride would hear the shofars and see the lights of the groom’s party approaching in the night, light her oil lamp, and go out to meet the groom as he came for her. She would also be joined by up to ten virgins, who would go with her back to the groom’s house, to be witnesses to the consummation. Yeshua refers to them in the parable of the ten virgins.

Mattityahu (Matthew) 25:1-13
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’
7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’
10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Adon! Adon, open to us!’
12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

As we saw in the last chapter, the Hebrew word for marriage is nissuin (נישואין). This is based on the root word nasa’ (nah-saw), which is Strong’s Concordance OT:5375, meaning to lift up.

OT:5375 nasa’ (naw-saw’); or nacah (Psalms 4:6 [OT:7]) (naw-saw’); a primitive root; to lift, in a great variety of applications, literal and figurative, absolute and relative…

This gives us the idea of lifting the bride up, or carrying the bride away, reminiscent of how Rivkah was borne aloft on camels to go to her new home and her new life with Yitzhaq.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 24:61
61 Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.

The groom’s friends might also carry the bride back to the groom’s house in a special bridal chair called an aperion, thus literally lifting the bride up, and carrying her aloft back to the groom’s house. We were unable to find a non-copyrighted image of a Hebrew aperion, but this is an image of a Turkish version. The Hebrew version usually used four men, and the poles were carried on the shoulders, so as to lift the bride up higher.


Final Consummation: Yichud (Together)

After they arrived back at the groom’s house, the groom and his bride would finalize their vow by drinking a cup of wine, symbolizing their union and their new life together. Then historically, the physical consummation would briefly take place in their new room, while the witnesses waited outside. This was called yichud. This word comes from the Hebrew word yachad, meaning together. In devout circles it would be the first time the couple touched.

The time of yichud was short. (Orthodox Judaism rules that it must last at least eight minutes, usually no more than ten.) The purpose was not for the couple to spend the evening together, but rather to physically join the couple as one, and prove that the bride was still a virgin. To do this, either the bride or her mother would have sewn the names of the groom and bride on a cloth. This could be the same cloth used for the canopy of the chuppah during erusin, or it could be a different cloth (such as a bedsheet.) The cloth would be spread onto the couple’s bed, the bride would (at least hypothetically) bleed onto this cloth when her hymen broke. The groom would call out to his best friend indicating that his bride was a virgin, and the marriage was now consummated, and that all was well. Upon hearing this news, the groom’s best friend would rejoice.

Yochanan (John) 3:29
29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.”

The ten virgins would also act as witnesses. And as an additional proof, the special cloth with the virginal blood would be given to the bride’s parents for safekeeping. This cloth was called the bride’s proof of virginity, or her evidences of virginity. The purpose was first to prevent adultery in Israel, and second to protect a righteous bride from being discarded by an unloving husband.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:13-21
13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her,
14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’
15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her.
17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him;
19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.
20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman,
21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.”

Historically this commandment is problematic, because studies indicate that perhaps only half of women bleed when they lose their virginity. At least in theory, this means that an uncaring husband could accuse a bride who had kept herself pure of adultery, and have her stoned to death.

While we do not consider the Talmud to be inspired, it does record that in the Second Temple era there were families whose daughters did not bleed with “blood of virginity.” However, Rabbi Gamaliel the elder is recorded as telling one groom to be happy with his marriage, even though his wife had not bled.

Someone came before Rabban Gamaliel the elder [and] said to him, My master, I have had intercourse [with my newly-wedded wife] and I have not found any blood. She [the wife] said to him, My master, I am of the family of Dorkati, [the women of] which have neither blood of menstruation nor blood of virginity. Rabban Gamaliel investigated among her women relatives and he found [the facts to be] in accordance with her words. He [then] said to him: Go, be happy with thy bargain. Happy art thou that thou hast been privileged [to marry a woman] of the family of Dorkati.
[Babylonian Talmud Tractate Ketubot 10b]

The Talmud aside, the point of the commandment in Deuteronomy was not only to stop adultery, but also to safeguard a righteous bride from abandonment by an uncaring and unscrupulous husband. Yahweh’s point seems to be that if a bride has kept herself pure, then she deserves to be treated accordingly.

Fifty Shekels and One Hundred Shekels

As we saw earlier, the normal minimum bride price was 50 shekels of silver. (And again, in this passage the context is not violent rape, but seduction, because the couple’s relationship is “found out.”)

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:28-29
28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out,
29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”

Depending on the timeframe, a shekel was four denarii (or four zuz). A denarius represented the amount of silver that was thought to be a fair day’s wage for an unskilled laborer. Thus, 50 shekels represented 200 days’ wages, and the 100 shekel fine represented 400 days’ wages. This fine was in addition to the minimum 50 shekel bride price. The point is that Yahweh expects the men to behave honorably.

The Bride’s Week

The time in yichud was short. Once the marriage had been successfully consummated and the evidence of virginity was delivered to the bride’s parents, then the festivities, drinking, and dancing would begin, and it would usually last for seven days. Not only did this week help the new bride adjust to her new life with her new family, but it also served as a witness to all the guests that the couple was lawfully married.

In future chapters, we will see how all of these things apply between Elohim and Israel, so that we can know how our earthly rehearsal-marriages mimic the coming prophetic fulfillment. For more on this topic, please continue reading our other studies on Torah Calendar, Feasts of the First Month, and Feasts of the Seventh Month.

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