Q. Some Jewish wedding rings which I recently saw in a magazine article look too unwieldy to wear. Could they have been merely decorative?
A. Possibly. The wedding ring was not introduced in Judaism as a finger ring but as kessef kiddushin, a financial consideration to indicate the creation of the union. The halachic requirement is that it be worth the value of a p’rutah, and the Talmud discusses what kind of object can be used for the purpose. After being handed to the bride, the ring was sometimes worn suspended from a neck-chain. A portrait of the famous Gluckel of Hamelin shows her with a ring of this kind. In other cases, the ring was kept in a treasure chest.
Histories of Jewish art include some wedding rings attached to miniature Jewish symbols like Torah scrolls, m’gillot, kiddush cups and siddurim. There are rings attached to miniature houses or synagogues or even the Temple in Jerusalem. It is characteristic that Jewish wedding rings do not have gemstones, because there could be a dispute as to their value. Rabbis often point out under the chuppah that the use of a simple wedding band denotes that a successful marriage does not depend on material ostentation but on human love and loyalty. Jewish wedding rings do however often have inscriptions, e.g. the words mazal tov or the initials MT.