Did old Jewish custom know betrothal and marriage?
Betrothal (אירוסין ‘`êrû’sîn) or engagement was a sanctification period, so that bride and groom were sanctified when they stepped into marriage. Sexual activities in this period were forbidden. The key point of this period was sanctification.1 Sex in the betrothal period was against the principle of sanctification. It was in this sanctification period, Gabriel came to Mary and, about 3 months later, Joseph. Thus, Gabriel visited them when they were holy.
Marriage (נישואין ‘nishû`în’) was a period after betrothal period. Marriage began after marriage contract reading and marriage blessing. Sexual activities were considered as holy after it.
1 Talmud, Kidushin 12b http://www.halakhah.com/pdf/nashim/Kiddushin.pdf ; access June 29, 2015
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