Shortly after I got married and moved to the US, I went back to Israel to visit my family. On the day of my flight back, I went with my mother to say goodbye to all my aunts who live in our hometown (there were five of them). When we reached aunt Rania’s home, right after I was seated, she gave me a thorough look and asked in a horrified tone, “Doesn’t your husband buy you jewelry?” I laughed at the unexpected question. I told her that I packed away all my jewelry so I would be comfortable during the long flight ahead for me.
Her question made me reflect back on the role jewelry plays in our society. Men propose with a diamond ring, and gift women with jewelry at various occasions, such as birthdays, having a baby, or anniversaries. How and why has this custom developed in our society? Why has the gift of jewelry become an expression of love in so many cultures?
When I shared with my father the comment my aunt made, he showed me an interesting way to look at this custom. In the old days, he said, when women were not able to support themselves economically, they were completely dependent on the income of their husband. If the husband got sick or if he died, many women were doomed to face poverty. Even their land could be taken away from her by the brothers of the husband. Gifting a woman with expensive jewelry was the husband’s way to ensure that his wife would have something of value in case something happened to him. And the more he loved her, the more he cared about her, and the more he gave her according to his economical ability.
Today circumstances are different; women can support themselves economically, we have life insurance, and there are different social benefits to take care of people in need. Yet, the custom of gifting women with expensive jewelry stayed in our culture, not as an economical necessity or care, but as a symbol of love and appreciation.