Is proposing with a ring chukat ha-goyim?


Proposing with a ring when it’s not part of kiddushin seems to be superfluous (like getting down on one knee). Why do so many frum Jews do it? Is it permissible?

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Asked on May 15, 2024 11:47 am
Private answer

Thank you for your thoughtful question.

Halachic rulings on the Torah prohibition of "u-vchukoteihem lo teleichu," not following idolatrous ordinances, typically follow guidelines delineated by Ran and Maharik (Ran on the Rif, Avoda Zara 2b; Shut Maharik 88, cited in Rema YD 178:1). Ran maintained that for a matter to be considered chukat ha-akum, it needs to lack a clear rationale. This aligns with our usual understanding of the term "chok" to refer to a law without a clear rationale. Maharik added that for a matter to be considered chukat ha-akum, it should also violate Jewish norms of modest behavior (tzeniut).

Additionally, the Talmud mentions a few exceptions to the prohibition. One of them is a case of "lav minayhu ka gamrinan," our not having learned the practice from others (Sanhedrin 52b).

Regarding engagement rings, there is a clear rationale: to gift an item of value whose reception signals commitment to the relationship. As long as the ring isn't excessively extravagant, giving one falls within the bounds of tzeniut. Moreover, the practice has roots in Jewish tradition. It both echoes a long tradition of sivlonot, gifts—often including jewelry—given by a chatan to his fiancée, and the giving of a ring in kiddushin. (In fact, since it so closely resembles the latter, it is best to avoid having two kosher male witnesses observe an engagement ring's acceptance, to eliminate any concern of the engagement ring effecting kiddushin.)

Bending at the knee is more complex. It could be seen as a gesture of humility and respect, thus having a rationale. However, it seems to echo rites of courtly love or church practice, so there might be more hesitation in permitting it.

Therefore, a wedding proposal with a ring is permissible. Getting down on one knee can be defended, but might be more difficult to justify.

Presumably, many observant Jews propose with a ring because it is a widespread cultural practice, including within the Orthodox community, and because they find it meaningful. However, there's certainly no obligation or preference for proposing in this manner. Anyone proposing marriage should be guided by what is likely to be most meaningful to them and to their prospective spouse, while also being mindful of religious sensitivities.

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Answered on May 15, 2024 11:50 am