At our wedding we didn’t have just two rings. We had four. You could say that we had one for each of our ring fingers. Were we starting a new trend in wedding accoutrements? No. In fact, we were following an old Jewish tradition, hailing back to the 14th century (or so) when grooms in Europe placed an ornamental ring shaped like a house on the index finger of their brides. The ring signified the sharing of a home and offered an opportunity for the couple’s new domestic relationship to be blessed. It was placed on the first finger because it was thought that there was an artery running directly from that finger to the heart.
The vast majority of Jewish weddings these days do not include house rings. In fact, most Jews, including many rabbis, have never seen such a ring in the flesh, so to speak. (Or, should I say “on the flesh?”) If they have seen one, it’s in a museum or picture book of Jewish antiquities. But, my Jewish family is a bit different from others. My grandfather was an avid collector of Jewish manuscripts, artwork and antiquities, and he would have known about house rings. It’s likely that he would have bought one for his collection. If not, someone else acquired one, and it became a family heirloom.
My Uncle Ted was the keeper of the ring. He stored it in a small leather box and made it available to family members whenever there was a need – that is, whenever there was a wedding. The groom would present it to the bride in addition to exchanging simple wedding bands. After the ceremony, the ring would go back into the box, to be stored until the next wedding. Ted was a meticulous record keeper, and he kept a small card with the ring, listing each couple who used it and the date. By the time I got around to getting married, there were 13 other couples on the list.
But that’s not the end of the story, because this time the custom of marrying with the house ring had some intrigue to it. After Ted died, his eldest daughter Miriam took over the role of the keeper of the ring. After she died three and a half years ago, her sister Eva offered to take on this responsibility, and asked Miriam’s widower if she could keep the ring at her house. He had no problem with this, but when he went to look for it, it could not be found. Some time later, it turned up in the corner of a cabinet. The strange thing, though, was that there was not just one house ring there, but two. No one remembered a second ring, which was nearly identical, nor knew of its provenance.
While I’m not much of a believer in the supernatural, the mysterious appearance of a second ring seems wondrous – a mini-miracle, of sorts. I take it as a sign of acceptance of our same-sex marriage – a signal from parents, uncles and grandparents no longer alive, who left us this tradition. For in the past, we never needed two house rings since there was always only one bride. Now, however, there were two brides, necessitating two ceremonial rings. Magically, the second one appeared, just in time for this debut occasion. I can’t ask for a better blessing from my ancestors, still with us in spirit.