Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, From Text to Tradition, Ktav Publishing House, Hoboken, NJ, 1991.

The Book of Genesis taught the rabbis the ideals of family life. It began by introducing
monogamy as the ideal of the Garden of Eden and then accepted polygamy as a
compromise, illustrating the difficulties entailed with examples from the lives of the
patriarchs. The legal codes of the Torah provided for marriage and divorce and required
the marriage bond as a prerequisite for sexual relations. The ancient customs of dowry
and bride-price, as well as the procedures for entering into the marital union, were
already changing in the fifth century B.C.E., as is known from the documents of the
Jewish military colony at Elephantine. By the time of the tannaim, they had been turned
into a set of provisions, contractual and financial, for securing the welfare of the wife and
children in the event of the death of the husband or a divorce. These developments went
hand in hand with other evidence of the rising status of women, an amelioration that
clearly resulted from the influence of the biblical tradition, as can be seen when biblical
laws regarding women and marriage are compared to their ancient Near Eastern

By tannaitic times, marriage was entered into by a procedure which had to be formally
witnessed. Women had to be provided with marriage contracts for their protection, and
some tannaim regarded the provisions of such contracts as binding even when the
document could not be produced or had not been executed. Marriage could be entered
into either by the giving of a sum ofmoney (usually in the form of a ring), the giving of a
written declaration (distinct from the marriage contract), or consummating the marriage
for the purpose of entering into a permanent bond.

Marriage was dissolved either by the death of one spouse or by divorce. Although the
Torah specified that a divorce was to be initiated by the husband, the amoraim developed
methods for bringing about a divorce at the wife’s request under certain circumstances.
Moreover, divorce was made easier in several ways in cases where ending the marriage
was in the wife’ interest. At the same time, the rabbis continued to take the view that
women were always better off married than single, which certainly was so in the society
in which they lived. While the amoraim ruled that divorce could take place for any
reason, not only for adultery, they saw the failure of a marriage as a personal and even
cosmic tragedy, for the marital relationship symbolized the covenant between God and

The ultimate purpose of marriage was to carry out the commandment to procreate. The
tannaim disagreed about the limits of this commandment, but the amoraim decided in
favor of the Hillelite view that two children, one boy and one girl, satisfied the
requirement for the man. This commandment, curiously, was not seen as obligatory on
women. Several halakhic and aggadic passages are designed to inculcate an approach to
the raising of children and their training in the commandments. Many of the beautiful
stories preserved in the aggadah may have been intended for children, a role these tales
still play in contemporary Jewish life.

To the amoraim, the concept of marriage was one of completion. Through marriage each
partner was to be fulfilled. Among the rabbis themselves, polygamy was virtually
unknown. Indeed, the economic conditions of the times, including the process of
urbanization, which was marked in this period, led increasingly toward monogamy.

Various talmudic and midrashic passages lead us to believe that the family unit was the
basic context in which the continuity of Judaism was ensured. For example, the father is
obligated to teach his son Torah; he can employ others to do this for him, but the
responsibility remains his nonetheless. The mother was expected to teach her daughter
about the laws of kashrut and the observance of family purity. Children could expect to
grow up in close proximity to grandparents and other members of the extended family,
and to maintain permanent and harmonious relationships with their brothers and sisters.
The family was the center from which all other aspects of community and peoplehood