From: Dan Blum
Hi. I was hoping you could help me with a wedding question that I have. I noticed on your website that in a Jewish wedding a ring is given to the bride by the groom. I was wondering if this has always been the case. Does this tradition go back, say, as far as Abraham? If this is a more recent tradition, was there another way in the past that the bride displayed that she was married? Thank you in advance for your help.
Why is the wedding ring placed on the forefinger of the right hand?
Dear Dan and Rakhel,
In Biblical times, women were not necessarily betrothed with rings. For example, when Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, the betrothal was done with jewelry, but not necessarily a finger-ring. Presumably the custom of betrothing with gifts has been in practice ever since. The first mentionof placing the ring on the right forefinger as a wide-spread custom dates back at least about a thousand years asmentioned by Rabbi Elazar of Worms (1165-1238).
Teshuvot Maharam Mintz (No. 109) explains that in those days women would wear their rings on the right forefinger and therefore this custom has remained. Another reason is suggested in Nachalat Shiva (12:2) based on the idea that the right forefinger is the most prominent of all the fingers. There was a custom amongst some Sephardim to place the ring on the left middle finger. The reason is that just as one winds the tefillin strap around this finger as an expression of being bound to G-d, so the ring on this finger represents the bond between bride and groom. Aruch HaShulchan (27:4) states that all customs are valid, and it makes no difference how the ring is given.
Nevertheless, there are Kabbalistic explanations for placing the ring on the right forefinger. The Zohar explains that the reason the ring is placed on the right hand is because the right hand represents giving and loving-kindness. Maharich (Likkutim 3:133a) offers a beautiful idea as to why the forefinger. The chatan gives the ring with his right hand, which is opposite the left hand of the kallah. The giving is accompanied by seven blessings. The seventh finger from the kallahs left hand is her right forefinger. Therefore it is symbolic that the "seventh" finger should be the one that ring is placed on, as the giving of the ring is the moment that the kiddushin is sealed.
- Rokeach 351
- Darkei Moshe, Even HaEzer 27, note 3
- Rema, ibid 27:1
- Gra, ibid, note 5
- Be'er Heitev, ibid, note 1(from Maharil 64b, Maharam Mintz 109)
- Tikunei Zohar 5,10,21 (p. 55b)