Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef recently sent a letter to the rabbis of Israel’s cities in which he made clear his vehement opposition to marriage proposals in which the male suitor bends on one knee, hands his beloved a ring and asks, “Will you marry me?”
This is because Rabbi Yosef feels that the question, coupled with the ring, could constitute a halachically legal wedding ceremony (kiddushin). It should be noted that, unlike the familiar Hollywood ceremony in which the clergy turns to the bride and groom to ask for their mutual consent, in a Jewish chupah the groom declares the bride his own and hands her the ring as part of a symbolic acquisition.
At the beginning of his letter, the content of which was published in Kikar HaShabbat Tuesday, the chief rabbi noted that he receives many questions from rabbis “about the phenomenon in which men who had been engaged to be married, and after they become acquainted with their chosen and wish to marry her, offer her marriage by giving a ring as a gift, and seek her hand using language reminiscent of kiddushin, including marriage, be sanctified to me, marry me, or any similar language, all of it in front of their friends or people who are in their vicinity.”
In his considerably detailed letter, Rabbi Yosef discussed the question of whether the above constitutes a formal kiddushin ceremony. Among other things, he wrote that “action imitating kiddushin cannot be described as mere silliness (lishtut nitkaven).”
Much of the letter dealt with the question of whether kiddushin made as a prank is real kiddushin for all intents and purposes. The bottom line: Rabbi Yosef holds that even if it were a kiddushin made for a laugh, these actions should be reprimanded.
The chief rabbi warned about the risk of such declarations leading to the desecration of married women – should the proposed marriage not come true and the woman marry another, while, in effect, being connected to the original suitor. He also warned about the lack of modesty in such a ritual, which is not part of the spirit of Judaism.