"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine."
This beautiful expression of commitment from Song of Songs, is for many Jewish couples the perfect way to say "I love you" every day -- without uttering a word.
Called the "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li" in Hebrew, it adorns many a wedding band. For other couples, only an exquisite diamond ring will do. And for the majority, the solid gold wedding band remains, as it has through the ages, the ring of choice. Though choosing a wedding band is a matter of personal taste and preference, it is also a matter that Jewish tradition weighs in on. Most importantly, the ring must be one solid piece, with no stones of any kind, gaps or perforations. It should be purchased by the groom, or be a family heirloom from his side. As for Hebrew lettering, engraving or embossing -- that's a little open to interpretation.
For couples seeking advice, the guidelines concerning wedding bands are "an easy topic to broach," said Rabbi Judah Dardik. There are two aspects, explains the Orthodox rabbi.
The "unbroken circle is a beautiful concept," he said. Under the Talmud, "our custom is not to use rings with any stones in them. The woman has to know exactly what she is getting, with no false pretense." A stone that to the untrained eye may sparkle like a diamond might indeed be glass. And a suitor who would be so disingenuous as to try and fool his bride-to-be is nothing more than an impostor.
Whether etchings are permitted under Jewish law, "that's more of a question," Dardik said. An etching "takes out some of the metal. Does that make it difficult to evaluate the value [of the ring]?"
Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Traub said inscriptions and Hebrew letters are "OK," and the ring "can be ornate, to a certain degree."
Traub does share Dardik's concern: "The main thing is no stones, because it's important that the bride know exactly what it is she is getting." In his years counseling engaged couples and officiating weddings, Traub has found that for the "overwhelming majority" of couples, "the plain band I think is still your band of choice."
Rabbi Daniel Kohn said the ring is a "minor issue [that] is only for the wedding ceremony itself."
Owners of jewlery shops with a significant Jewish clientele say their selection of bands runs the gamut.
"Given the fact that we certainly live in an assimilated culture, Jews buy the full range of gold rings," said Bill Caplan of Topper. His store carries a large range of finely made modern wedding bands, including ones with Hebrew lettering, though "religious Jews," he said, "mainly use simple metal bands for the ceremony."
In his family jewelry business since the 1960s, Caplan said styles have changed somewhat. "In the '70s, there were a lot of very heavy, big pieces. Today, they're more delicate, smoother."
Ellen Bob of bob and bob in Palo Alto, said even married couples purchase bands with the "Ani l'dodi," for a "special anniversary" as an affirmation of longstanding love.
"It's sort of like a little intimate secret. It's not obvious that it's words, but it is something that you and your partner share in a special way." Jewish couples who come to her store also favor another selection from Song of Songs, she added: "This is my beloved, this is my friend."
Afikomen's wedding shop carries a selection of bands with Hebrew on them, but "these are not the most popular," noted owner Jerry Derblich. "People seem to want a more traditional ring." His bestseller, in fact, is the narrow gold band.
"The 'Ani l'dodi' are fairly wide," he explained. There is, however, great variation among the seven to eight vendors he uses.
The owners of Edelweiss Jewelers in Berkeley don't go far for their Hebrew bands: husband and wife Robert and Anne Flexer both make them.
Nearly 14 years ago, Robert Flexer said, "one customer came in and asked me to enlarge such a band. I started asking a lot of questions." He said one thing led to another, and "I made one just to see.... Now I have a whole collection."
Anne Flexer began crafting them about four years ago. "People ask for different quotes from the Bible. Their names -- his and hers," she said of the commissions that come her way. "They prefer Hebrew lettering; they don't want something in English. It's meaningless to them."
Flexer said she provides a needed service to the Jewish community.
"Outside of Hebrew letters, very few things, motifs, that you can use are typically Jewish. How many different kinds of rings can you make with the Star of David?"
Hebrew letters, on the other hand, "are so unique. Given that we don't write the vowels, you can really pack in a lot of text."
As for her favorite expression of love, the "Ani l'dodi" is "one of the best that I know of," she said. Â