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Bálint Csoma wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a twenty year old man and I would like to know what the Jewish tradition of engaged couples was during Jesus' times.

  • What was allowed by an engaged couple who was not married?
  • Was engaging a probation?
  • Did they live together?
  • Did they have sexual relationship?
  • Could they divorce without any problem?

I am also interested in why Jesus prohibited remarrying, even if someone had confessed [his/her] sins.

  • Why does the Church allow a couple to divorce if they have not had sexual intercourse until the divorce?

I am really looking forward to hearing from your answers.

May the Lord bless you.


  { What was the Jewish tradition of engaged couples was during Jesus' times? }

Eric replied:

Dear Bálint —

There were two stages to a Jewish marriage. The first step was called betrothal; this is when vows (troths) were exchanged. This is the stage that Mary and Joseph were in. After betrothal, the man would go and build a home for the two to live in and establish himself. Some time later, the marriage proper occurred. He would then take her into his house and consummate the marriage.

Joseph and Mary were not engaged in our sense of the word. They were betrothed, which meant that they had legal obligations to one another but did not have conjugal rights. A divorce was required to get out of a betrothal. We still have betrothals, but they occur in the context of the wedding liturgy. (it's the exchange of vows.)

Jewish divorce, whether married or betrothed, was a pretty simple affair.

Jesus prohibited remarrying even if someone had confessed his sins because confessing sins doesn't invalidate or dissolve the original marriage, it only addresses the sins. Look at it this way: If you marry someone, commit adultery, then obtain a civil divorce and marry the person you committed adultery with, you are not really repentant of your adultery if you continue to commit it, that is, have relations with the second woman. Nothing changes the state of your marriage with the first woman, which lasts until death.

I'm not sure I understand your last question.

  • Are you asking why the Church allows the original couple to divorce if the remarrying spouse and his new spouse have not had sexual intercourse before the divorce?

I think the answer here is that divorce is a civil action. The Church does not really approve or have control over it, except she tolerates it as a way of securing crucial civil rights, such as protection from abuse, visitation rights or so forth. Morally, she simply does not recognize it.

She treats marriages as valid until the death of either spouse or such point as they
[the marriages] are demonstrated in a Church tribunal to have been, for some defect occurring at the point of the marriage, invalid from the beginning. (This is called a declaration of nullity.)


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