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The role of the dependency attribute is to mark that a bundle is a dependency. If a dependency is already satisfied (an existing bundle already exports the same packages/version) then it doesn't get installed. This behavior happens if the declared feature resolver is installed (e.g. obr is installed).
In your case "my-feature" depends from the cxf feature. The cxf feature requires the presence of jdom, dom xstream etc. It specifies the servicemix bundles that satisfy those dependencies. If the specified resolver is present, it will check to see if those dependencies are already fulfilled and only in those case that are not, will those bundles be installed.
I am not sure if the exception that you mentioned is somehow related to the dependency attribute. Maybe a complete stack trace could shed some more light into it.