After studying this historical engagement ring I think that ‘the most beautiful ring is a Jewish betrothal ring. I love to get such a ring for my engagement, although it is huge. And not practical at all. There is a story around these rings. Read this blog post to know all about it.
The history of the Jewish betrothal ring
You find the first documentation about these rings in the 10th century AD. From the 14th century on, people really find these beautiful rings.
In the 14th century, Europe suffers from a kind of Covid-19 virus, called the Black Death. About 200 million people die from it and the Europeans blame the Jews to cause this illness. They are chased and massacred. A terrible situation for the Jewish people.
The Jews bury their belongings and valuables and want to recover them when the Black Death finishes. Sad enough the day to dig the valuables never comes and centuries later (in Erfurt and Colmar/Germany) people find the Jewish treasures, especially the Jewish betrothal rings by accident.
On the 16th until the 19th century, the rings are made with filigree work and enamel. The enamel adds some color to the rings.
How looks a betrothal ring?
Betrothal rings are engagement rings and they belong to a family. They use the same engagement ring many times and it goes from father to son. Sometimes a whole community owns a betrothal ring and the ring goes from engagement to engagement. The jewel is too expensive to keep it for yourself.
The ring is made of pure gold, no gemstones and often decorated with Hebrew inscriptions. On top of a simple golden ring, you see houses, temples, palaces or castles in miniature. It is a very delicate and high standard work. Sometimes you see a lid with a clasp on top and inside there is a miniature Thora and the words ‘Mazal Tov’ or ‘Good luck’ in the Hebrew language.
The rings with a house on top are mostly the marital home of the bride or groom. And a temple represents mostly the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
What about a wedding ring?
The symbol of love – a wedding ring- is not a part of Jewish marriage in Biblical Times. Jewish couples pick up the tradition of using wedding rings during times. But in those days you can marry without rings. Three things are essential for a wedding. First, you give the bride money as a bride price. You sign a marriage contract and third, you consume the relationship.
In the Middle Ages, the wedding ring becomes popular in Jewish circles. It is (mostly) a ring of gold, round and plain without inscriptions. And you wear it on the index finger. The value is higher than one ‘perutah’, the smallest coin in those days and represents the bride price.
Accepting that the ring is of low value shows that your bride is not bought and that it is her own free will to marry you. And she is no slave either. Accepting the ring and the marriage states that she is only intimate with her husband.
A Jewish wedding ring with the inscription, Wikipedia
Engagement or wedding ring?
There is some discussion about when to use a betrothal ring. On an engagement or on a wedding day? When you look at some famous paintings from Rembrandt (the Jewish bride) and Jozef Israel (the Jewish Wedding) you can not exactly see what kind of rings they exchange..
The fact that the ring stays in the family or in the community is for me the proof that you exchange these beautiful rings at engagement parties and the plain gold wedding rings to keep as a daily jewel.
Jozef Israel a Jewish Wedding 1903
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PS. There is a very interesting Pinterest board with lots of pictures of Jewish betrothal rings. Click on this link to get there.