Muslims, Jews tie similar knots Tradition: Two recent marriages in Israel show how Jewish-Muslim cultural lines blur when it comes to marriage.

Sun Journal

August 28, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BETHLEHEM -- Abeer Joulani performed a traditional dance for her new husband, Hazm Qeisi, and then hopped on a table to repeat the sultry moves for the all-female crowd. On the far side of a partition, the male guests at this Palestinian wedding were drinking juice, smoking cigarettes and envisioning the merriment beyond the divide.

The night before, a bride and groom in Tel Aviv entered a room where, just as in the wedding hall in Bethlehem, the men and women were kept apart, for modesty's sake. Men in black hats and suits, the traditional dress of ultra-Orthodox Jews, hoisted Shlomo Schiller in the air for a celebratory dance. Beyond a trellis the bride, beaming 19-year-old Rivkah, danced in a circle with her guests.

Abeer and Hazm, Shlomo and Rivkah don't know each other. But on the happy occasion of a wedding, the traditions of courtship and marriage common to Muslim and Jew blur the lines that divide peoples.

Shlomo is the fifth of Rabbi Note Schiller's eight children to marry. "He is no longer a child, no longer the little boy riding a bike around the block," says the father. "You feel it's kind of an achievement. You brought them to the point that they can assume this responsibility."

The wedding of a daughter, "of course, it is joy and happiness," says Ayyoub Joulani, the father of seven children. "I feel very proud that another home is going to branch from my house."

As his white-veiled bride approached the wedding canopy, Shlomo Schiller prayed that his single friends would find their true life partners, just as he had. Like many young ultra-Orthodox Jewish couples, Schiller and Rivkah Ehrenfreund had help from a matchmaker.

An in-law of Schiller's sister Yedida introduced the couple. Neither Shlomo nor Rivkah saw the need to look any further.

They courted briefly -- all the while refraining from physical contact, as required by Jewish law. With their parents' approval, they agreed to marry.

With the bride and groom under the wedding canopy, the ceremony began and had all the traditional ingredients -- a shared cup of wine, a gold ring, seven blessings, a prayer for Jerusalem, the breaking of a glass. Then a congratulatory chorus of "mazel tovs." Dancing guests escorted the couple to a private room. There, the two broke a daylong fast and shared their first intimate moments together.

The groom's father called for men to join him in evening prayers. And women lined up for a ritual washing of the hands before the meal.

Some guests arrived only for the ceremony. Others stayed for dinner and dancing. A third group, many students from Rabbi Schiller's yeshiva, traveled from Jerusalem to pay their respects and dance.

Music at ultra-Orthodox weddings in Jerusalem is often restricted to one or two instruments, a gesture of sadness over the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70. But in Tel Aviv the Hasidic pop band knew it could play long and loud. And it had the brass to prove it.

For many of the young women, the evening offered a chance to be seen by an eligible young man's mother, aunt or sister. A woman in yellow noticed Batsheva Schiller, a sister of the groom. The attention made the willowy young girl blush. "She has to make a good impression," explained her aunt Peshe. "She's next in line."

Hazm Qeisi's mother spotted her future daughter-in-law dancing a wedding. But a year passed before mother and son visited the stone house of Ayyoub Joulani to discuss a possible courtship. Many suitors had already visited. Each time the graceful, almond-eyed Abeer firmly told her father she wasn't interested.

And then came Hazm, a young man with music in his heart. This time, Abeer said: "Whatever you want, Father." And a match was made.

Ayyoub was telling that story on the evening of his daughter's wedding. He sat in the courtyard of his home smoking a water pipe filled with apple-scented tobacco. Ayyoub waited for the groom's father to arrive. When the two men shared a cup of cardamom-spiced coffee, the marital agreement would be finalized.

"When a young man is ready to get married," explains Adnan Joulani, one of the bride's brothers, "the man's mother starts searching for a prospective bride."

A son's preferences, the girl's morals and her family's social standing are all part of the mix. The mother will approach the girl's family and ask if she can bring her son to their home. "If they are attracted to each other, they visit the girl's house a couple more times," says Adnan.

"You hear a lot about pre-arranged marriage. Islam urges Muslims to ask the girl if she likes the man. If she doesn't respond, this means 'yes.' "

An agreement on the dowry follows: a quantity of gold, furniture for the couple's home and also a promise of money the wife will receive in case of divorce. "If she is beautiful, it will cost 500 grams of gold," a family friend calls out as the circle of men laughs. "If she is ugly, 10 grams of gold."

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