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Shabbat Parashat Naso| 5764

Ask the Rabbi

Question: Usually a man gives his fiancée a nice, expensive engagement ring well before their wedding. I understand that it has no religious significance. The wedding band is religiously required to be standardized (gold, no stones, etc.). Religiously, is there any problem with giving the eventual wedding band as an engagement ring and using it as a wedding band in the ceremony and waiting until after the wedding to buy the nicer, more expensive ring with stones?
Answer: First of all, mazal tov. Allow us to give some halachic advice, not a halachic ruling. (Of course, there is also the important issue of how your fiancée will feel about not getting the nicer ring right away, but since we do not know you and that is not our field, we’ll leave that out.) Let us deal with two surmountable halachic issues that your suggestions would cause.
 To effect the marriage, the groom has to present the bride with something of value, which he owns (Even Haezer 28). So at first glance, if you will have already given the wedding band as a present, it’s your fiancée’s, not yours. On the other hand, she could transfer ownership back to you before the wedding. The question is raised elsewhere (Gittin 20b) if when one gives an object to another with the understanding that he will soon be getting it back, whether he has intent for a full kinyan (transfer of ownership). In the final analysis, almost all agree that the transfer works (see Pitchei Teshuva 28:28; Otzar Haposkim, ad loc.). It is even better if your fiancée would state explicitly that she is aware of the issue and has full intent to give the band as a full present or if she would sell it to you. But as this needs to be done with halachic care, it is a little bit “asking for trouble” and is frowned upon by some poskim (see Hanisuim K’hilchatam 7:18).
 One could also raise questions about how it looks that a single woman is walking around with a classic wedding band, which is usually a sign of marriage, not engagement. This situation touches on a halachic topic known as sivlonot. The details are both complicated and fluid, depending on local practice (see Kiddushin 50b and Even Haezer 45), but this is the basic idea. In some of the situations that a fiancé gives his fiancée gifts, we need to be concerned that she is already married to him. This can be for one or both of the following reasons. The giving of the gifts can serve as kiddushin (initial stage of the marriage process) which does not have to be with a ring or under a chupa to take effect. It can, alternatively, be a sign that at some time in the past, he must have done kiddushin (or else he wouldn’t have given her those presents). Based on a variety of factors, this fear basically doesn’t apply in modern-day society (as reported already many hundreds of years ago- see Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 45:2). However, one could raise the issue that, in our days and places, a certain type of ring, which we call a wedding band, is indeed a very strong sign of marriage, and one could claim that the almost forgotten laws of sivlonot would apply to such a case. So again, it may be “asking for trouble” for an engaged woman to receive from her fiancé that which is normally a sign of her being married.
 In truth, we feel that both issues are surmountable, and it is the job of a rabbi to solve problems. However, it is also the job of rabbis to have things run smoothly so that problems are kept to a minimum and there are not grounds for aspersions to be cast, even incorrectly. Everyone rightfully prefers that their wedding process be valid without any questions existing. So, unless there is some type of unusually pressing situation that we are not aware of, we strongly suggest that you should not give a wedding band until the wedding. In case of need, you can discuss the matter with your officiating rabbi, who can decide what to do based on the circumstances. (Allow us a practical suggestion. If you don’t want to get an expensive “engagement” ring now, you should be able to give another less expensive piece of jewelry other than a wedding band).
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir  ben Yechezkel Shraga
Brachfeld o.b.m.

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