One of the questions that our Gemara deals with is the language that will work when creating kiddushin – when getting married. As we have learned, if a man gives a woman money and there are appropriate witnesses watching the transaction, we will need the husband to make clear his intention, so that we can be certain that both he and she understand what is taking place.
Some expressions are clearly acceptable, for example, “Harei at ishti – with this you are my wife” or “Harei at arusati – with this you are engaged to me.” Other statements are not so clear. Among the examples offered by the Gemara are words that are used in the Bible, describing the creation of Adam’s wife, Eve: “Harei at ezrati – you are my helpmate” or “Harei at tzalati – you are my rib.”
There is one expression – harei at harufati – that, according to the Gemara’s conclusion – will only work in Yehudah (Judea, the southern part of Israel) since it was common practice there to refer to an engaged woman as a harufah. The expression harufah has a biblical source (see Vayikra 19:20) where the word certainly means a woman who is engaged to be married. Nevertheless, the biblical commentaries have great difficulty in offering a true definition of the word.
Some of the commentaries ask why an expression that is specific to a certain place can be used, since in other areas of Jewish law no such accommodation is made. Several different answers are offered in response to this question;
- Yehudah is a large and significant area and can have its own recognized expressions.
- This particular expression has a source in the Torah.
- We recognize that not every community will speak Hebrew, and foreign languages are also acceptable in situations like these. This expression is no worse than a foreign language.
In fact, the Talmud mentions on more than one occasion that the people of Judea spoke a more pure form of Hebrew than was spoken in other parts of the country.