“Sivlonot is an Istanbul custom. Soon after, with God’s help, I will give the bride the wedding ring with my own hands.”
What is this Sivlonot custom? What does it even mean?
In the Jewish tradition, a marriage occurs when the groom gives the bride a valuable object. And with that he ‘acquires’ her as his lawful wife.
Halakhic authorities were concerned about gift exchanges before marriage: do gifts render the couple married even before the officially date!
Who cares?! – well, if death occurs, God forbid, there are issues of inheritance. Or if they don’t marry after the engagement and the bride received gifts – do they need to get divorced?
After years of debate, the law was settled:
“Nowadays, they have the custom in all the kingdoms of Israel and in Egypt and Turkey not to suspect that the exchange of gifts [between bride and groom after engagement causes them to be married], other than Constantinople that does.”
Code of Jewish Law, Even Ezer 45:2 is clear: Gifts during engagement and courting are not marriage – besides in Istanbul!
Istanbul (Constantinople) Halakhic authorities were concerned that betrothal gifts may be mistaken as actual marriage – couple is married before a ceremony!
The debate was between Rabbis of the Istanbul Romaniote Jews – called ‘Gregosh’ (Greek speakers) – who were worried about the possibility of marriage and the Ashkenazi Rabbis from Hungary (who arrived in 1350) and the Sephardi Rabbis (arrived after 1492) who were not concerned…
Apparently with time the Romaniote Rabbis of Istanbul were successful in implementing the more stricter application – and have ruled that “one should worry that gifts cause marriage.”
So gifts from the groom to the bride, such as am engagement ring, would only be sent just before marriage!
Fast forward 400 years…
Today, it is quite clear that gifts are just gifts, and marriage occurs at the synagogue under a Huppa or Tallit (I’ll one day write a thread about the development of Huppas in Istanbul).
But the custom of giving Sivlonot, a gift to the bride – which is not a marriage ring! – just before the actual marriage ceremony, still exists as part of a unique tradition of Istanbul Jews!
If you want to see a full length Istanbul Jewish Marriage ceremony, it is here.
The Sivlonot ceremony is around the 6th minute. The Rabbi at this marriage is Rabbi Isak Alaluf. Chief Rabbi Haleva is also present.
While at it, a sample of an Ashkenazi wedding of Istanbul, that was held in the same place, can be seen here: