11 April 2011

Return the marriage contract to gift exchange

The biblical story of Dinah bat Yaaqov is the story of the various sorts of gift giving that goes on between clans who would intermarry with each other. 
Shechem begins by violating the requisite offering of respect to Yaaqov and his sons by taking Dinah against her will. He thus takes as plunder what can only be received as a gift, a gift that must be offered, and cannot be taken. 
Shimon and Levi offer Shechem the Old One’s Abrahamic treaty and then through the subterfuge of using His sign of covenant they betray the trust the two clans would have had for each other. In so doing, they punish Shechem for violating the gift relationship in the first place. 
Dinah and Tamar are both stories where the specter of prostitution (of market exchange in matters that ought exclusively to be mediated through the exchange of gifts) hangs over the tale. 
The Talmud treats marriage as a market transaction rather than a gift exchange. It would likely do the Jewish world a considerable kindness were it to return the marriage contract to the domain of gift exchange and let go a bit of the fiction that a woman is bought and taken possession of in the act of marriage. Marriage is a durable bond that is mutual and permanent, subject to vows offered and taken by both sides of the union. 

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