Slap The Witnesses!

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

You’re just not going to believe this one…..

From the Sefer Kushiot #11

Q. Why is there a custom for those gathered at a wedding to slap the designated witnesses as the kiddushin is taking place?

A. It derives from the fact that the laws of marriage and kinyanim (acquisitions[1]) are derived from the words “kicha, kicha” (meaning “to take” or “to acquire”), that appear in the context of Avraham purchasing the Machpela cave from Ephron. Since “kicha” has the same gematria as “ketata” (fighting) and we are taught that there is no marriage that does not include some fights and arguments, the witnesses are slapped by everyone present in the hope that any fighting that might have been decreed upon the couple be discharged right then and there through the slapping of the witnesses.

Another version of the Sefer Kushiot manuscript has it that the two witnesses are simply to slap one another without the “participation” of everyone gathered. Additionally, in a footnote on this entry in the Rabbi Yakov Stahl edition of Sefer Kushiot there is a closely related custom cited for the groom to slap the bride under the chuppa until her tooth falls out [!]. This, again, in order for the slapping to discharge any fighting that might have been decreed upon the couple. With this slap, the kiddushin was said to be complete.

Wow.


[1] The principles of solemnizing a marriage are included under the umbrella of acquisitons.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

49 comments

  1. A little background of Sefer Kushiot, please? What is it? When was it written? Where? By who?

  2. Nachum-

    It is a somewhat mysterious sefer “written by one of the rishonim” that has several hundred entries in question-and-answer format. It reminds me a bit of the Taamei Haminhagim. The questions cover all areas of Torah (in fact, halacha is probably a minority subject). Some are obvious questions that you would wonder why they are even there (third grade type stuff) and some are wild and whacky like my post today.

    Definately a nice read…

    Ari Enkin

  3. wher can one see the whole Sefer, I seem not to find it in Hebrewbooks ?

  4. perhaps as a prenup so if there is a problem later on the beit din could say the witnesses were invalid either due to lack of daat/kavanah during the kiddushin or as enemies.
    KT

  5. Chaim-

    If you live in Israel it is easily available. And/or see here: http://www.virtualgeula.info/Stock/Books/Show/10580

    Ari Enkin

  6. A number of books made it into “Mesorah” that were clearly jokes.

  7. Already noted on: http://seforim.blogspot.com/2007/01/review-rabbi-yaakov-stal.html

    “Second, topics that, as of now, this sefer is the only source for include: hitting the עדים during the קידושין (pg 8), putting ashes on ones head ערב תשעה באב (pg 136), signs how to tell if an animal is כשר (pg 190), that a חתן should not go to the בית הקברות during שנה ראשונה (pg 206) and if one is sitting in the bathroom and hears someone learning he has to cover his ears (pg 221).”

  8. From the Seforim blog (thx, Skeptic):

    The author of the קושיות is unknown, but based on various ways of identifications he seems to be from the time period of the תלמידים of the מהר”ם מרוטנברג thus dating the book to approximately the 14th century. The way this was deduced was by examining which works the author quotes. Not finding any quotes later than the רא”ש, it can be assumed that the author is from the same era. Along these lines, Rabbi Stal composed a list of all sources quoted by name thereby showing that the author had been heavily influenced by חסידי אשכנז, thus giving the reader yet another clue as to the identification of the author.

  9. R. Enkin,
    I think you owe your readers to put in a little basic research so that you have some idea about what it is you are talking about. In this case you could have bothered to read the introduction to the book you were quoting, which according to the Seforim post contains all the relevant information.

  10. “http://www.virtualgeula.info/Stock/Books/Show/10580

    Ari Enkin”

    Interesting that they list the book under Geonim… Does geonim just mean anybody who few people know about?

  11. It seems that no one but the anonymous author of this sefer writes about this alleged “minhag.” ISTM that this is not sufficient evidence to support that there ever was such a minhag. Why bother to tell us about and appear to treat seriously such an irrelevant matter? I would substitute shtuyot for wow.

  12. Joseph-

    You might be right in conjecture but this is from one of the rishonim. It is real, authorotative, and legitimate even if you choosenot to accept it.

    The minhag must have been observed somewhere, in some form — this is not a work of fiction.

    Ari Enkin

  13. Nachum-

    Like which ones?

    Ari Enkin

  14. R. Enkin — is it really the case that some anonymous sefer of which fewer than a handful of manuscripts seem to have surfaced can really be classified as “one of the rishonim”?

  15. IH-

    I think so. You can see by the sources he quotes that he was no amatuer.

    It is the author’s fluency in rabbinic sources that makes the sefer credible regardless of anything else. It is the same story with the Kol Bo, Orchot Tzaddikim, and other such anonymous works.

    Ari Enkin

  16. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabi Enkin: The fact that the author was knowledgeable and even fluent in rabbinc sources does not make him one of the rishonim, certainly not a par with Kol Bo, Orchot Tzaddkim, etc. There may be a reason why those sefarim are classics while this sefer was unknown until recently.

  17. Prof. Kaplan-

    But maybe it was the pogroms and other such turbulence that caused the sefer to be lost? The Aish Kodehs wa salso ‘unknown’ until the manuscripts were miraculously found.

    Ari Enkin

  18. R. Enkin — if we just view Rishonim as a historical period, then no issue. But, by saying “one of the Rishonim” in today’s zeitgeist, you imbue this sefer with an authority that seems unwarranted.

  19. “But maybe it was the pogroms and other such turbulence that caused the sefer to be lost? ”

    Does anyone cite it? Many works were lost, but were cited all the time. If not then this work is a phantom – a fascinating phantom, perhaps.

    As for fluency in rabbinic sources, almost everything pre-modern shows fluency in rabbinic sources for the very simple reason that only educated Jews wrote books, and educated Jews were Jews who were well familiar with the classics.

  20. r’ enkin – “It is real, authorotative, and legitimate even if you choosenot to accept it.”
    you have neither demonstrated that its real, authoritative, or legitimate. and why would anyone ever accept it based on what you wrote. as others have said a little or a modicum of research before writing would be appreciated if you keep posting this type of stuff. if no one quotes it how authoritative could it ever have been if one does not know who the author is?

  21. To be fair, given the information we have been given, there does not seem to be much reason to doubt that the book reports an authentic minhag. a quick google search will reveal that ritual spanking of the bride exists in other culture. this post reports a mighag to slap girls when they they have their first period.
    http://www.mum.org/slap.htm

  22. R’ Enkin:

    The Alphabet of Ben Sira, for one. That it’s humor should be clear to anyone, but it’s listed among midrashim.

    “this is not a work of fiction”

    How on Earth can you say that? Because it was written in Hebrew hundreds of years ago?

    Lots of forgers, by the way, were much more than “fluent in Rabbinic sources.” Doesn’t mean their work is worth anything.

  23. Reminds me a little bit of Salomon Maimon’s report that under the chuppah both the bride and the groom could step on the other’s foot, and the one who did it first would have dominance over the other:

    “Here I must mention a little anecdote. I had read in a Hebrew book of an approved plan for a husband to secure lordship over his better half for life. He was to tread on her foot at the marriage ceremony; and if both hit on the stratagem, the first to succeed would retain the upper hand. Accordingly, when my bride and I were placed side by side at the ceremony this trick occurred to me, and I said to myself, Now you must not let the opportunity pass of securing for your whole lifetime lordship over your wife. I was just going to tread on her foot, but a certain Je ne sais quoi, whether fear, shame, or love, held me back. While I was in this irresolute state, all at once I felt the slipper of my wife on my foot with such an impression that I should almost have screamed aloud if I had not been checked by shame. I took this for a bad omen and said to myself, Providence has destined you to be the slave of your wife, you must not try to slip out of her fetters. From my faint-heartedness and the heroic mettle of my wife, the reader may easily conceive why this prophecy had to be actually realised.”

  24. Moshe-

    Thanks for that. This is the type of feedback I am looking for…other similar sources, minhagim ,etc.

    Ari Enkin

  25. Ruvie-

    Many sefarim in the era were written anonymously. That shouldnt be a factor.

    Ari Enkin

  26. I don’t know if many things were written anonymously. The point is that they were copied, and if the copyist didn’t copy the author’s name, or the page got detached from the manuscript, or if subsequent quoters did not give the name of the author, then we would not know who the author is.

  27. The question and answer cited would be considered foolish or offensive to a normal person (I can think of more derogatory terms). The real question is the nature of the book. If all the answers are in this vein, then it is simply Purim torah and should be treated as such. The identity of the author and the time frame is then irrelevant. If other questions are answered in a sensible and knowledgeable manner then we have a problem with the author’s mentality or the customs of his little group. If someone can show that such customs existed and were widely observed in Ashkenaz, that would call into question other customs mentioned in Sefer Hasidim.

  28. Lawrence Kaplan

    Actually, the Alphabet of Ben-Sira is more than humor. According to Prof. Joseph Dan, it is parody bordering on the heretical. Which did not stop its being quoted by Tosafot re artificial insemination. Ve-dai le-meivin.

  29. You have to understand such things in proper context.

    1) If people were not okay with such a custom, it would be a serious violation to hit someone, so we must assume that such a thing was known and accepted (albeit perhaps just among a relatively small group).

    2) Your accompanying illustration, which shows an unexpected, painful slap in the face, may not be what happened here. Perhaps it was more like a friendly slap on the back or a high five? Perhaps the illustration should be removed or replaced.

    3) “until her tooth falls out” – how about if we say that has to be assumed to be exaggerated and עד ולא עד בכלל?

    Context is very important when trying to understand such things.

  30. I was wondering the same thing as “P. on January 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm”. I mean, how many of our practices will seem nuts in a couple hundred years? Two fat machetainestes smashing a piece of crockery on a chair? All dressed up but wearing crocs on YK? And I think sfardim have a practice of bursting into spontaneous laughter after havdallah. Like he said, context is everything.
    I think that (the great intellectual) Country Yossi has a song highlighting some of these rites. Its punchline is something like “cause I’m a Jew- I do that too”

  31. Context is very important when trying to understand such things.

    Well, either context is very important when trying to understand any such text from the period of the Rishonim; or, it’s not. No cherry picking.

  32. If there was SOME support that this minhag actually existed I might take this source more seriously. But the fact that it’s anonymous, not cited by other halachic authorities and has a number of “minhagim” that can be found no where else takes away, IMO, any credibility it might otherwise have.

  33. In case anyone is interested, the first 40 pages of Sefer Kushiyos (including the introduction, through #40) can be read here: http://www.otzar.org/wotzar/Book.aspx?155412&&lang=eng&lang=eng – there’s also the article “ענייני נישואין מתוך ספר קושיות” (Yeshurun 18) which you can read here.

  34. Looking through it, it’s pretty clear that it is not Purim Torah at all. I suppose the question is, what’s going on. All we know is the language (which R. Enkin should have quoted: “למה נהגו העולם להכות העדים בשעת קידושין.”

    We have no idea what this actually means, as opposed to what it seems to mean. Putting aside the possibility of a simple scribal error (although I have no other suggestion) for all we know people slapped the witnesses on the back (to use a contemporary example) to tell them “good job,” much as we’d do today. So the author was asking, why do we slap them on the back?

    Or in a contemporary idiom a sefer might ask “Why do we shake hands?” and then give some reason. So even though this is unattested (although Moshe Shoshan pointed out that ritual spanking of sorts does exist) I wouldn’t be so skeptical. Not every minhag is a “minhag.” To use my example again, while we most definitely do shake hands all the time, the fact that no one ever thinks to treat it like a “minhag” doesn’t mean we don’t do it. If only one person ever thought to give a spiritual reason why we shake hands, and put it into writing, that will not be a reason for people in 700 years to truly doubt that we actually grab hands and shake them.

    See here http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_0bWFoPo2o2c/SRSw_MDIUAI/AAAAAAAAAnQ/46Lj2JGBUqE/s400/Handshake.jpg

  35. I think sfardim have a practice of bursting into spontaneous laughter after havdallah.

    I would be interested to know, how does one practice doing something spontaneous? Surely something which is ritual, prompted or practiced is (almost my definition) not spontaneous.

  36. “I would be interested to know, how does one practice doing something spontaneous? Surely something which is ritual, prompted or practiced is (almost my definition) not spontaneous.”

    You are correct of course. I was told about this ritual by a J-dub friend who was by a sfardi havdallah. Immiediatly afterwards they burst into (what appeared to him to be) uncontrollable giggles. He only found out afterwards that it’s a rite.

  37. So, it’s not Purim torah, it’s merely foolishness. As if a foolish minhag needed some pseudo-halachic rationale for support. S’s attempt at rationalizing the hitting of the eidei kiddushin doesn’t fit the rationale given by the anonymous author of the manuscript. Nor is it at all comparable to the mechutanot breaking a plate at the conclusion of tena’im. The latter may or may not be silly. It is line with the supposed sadness that breaking the glass under the chupa is supposed to invoke (but doesn’t, it is rather a signal for shouting mazal tov) but no harm is done to anything other than the plate. On the other hand, the apparent minhag brought by the editor of the manuscript about giving the kalah serious blows under the chupah is not foolishness, it’s an abomination. Thankfully, neither type of hitting was perpetuated. Jews have had some sense, after all (I don’t know about some people today).

  38. “S’s attempt at rationalizing the hitting of the eidei kiddushin”

    I didn’t make any attempt. I just pointed out that we have no idea what is being described. Was it a slap? A punch? A tap? Some sort of thing which you really had to be there? While I agree that the “taamei minhagim” genre is often foolishness, that doesn’t mean the practice described here is or was.

  39. MiMedinat HaYam

    “I was told about this ritual by a J-dub friend who was by a sfardi havdallah. Immiediatly afterwards they burst into (what appeared to him to be) uncontrollable giggles. He only found out afterwards that it’s a rite.”

    SA says to smile at the kiddush cup (I believe that applies to the one making kiddush.) they are machmir on this. and i wouldnt call it giggles — its loud laughter.

  40. Moshe Shoshan

    “Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is serious science”

    HaGraShaL z”l

  41. Rabbi Enkin

    This topic is discussed at length in Kovetz Or Yisrael 52. See here http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=50520&st=&pgnum=155&hilite=

  42. Lawrence Kaplan

    Yitzi: You should have made it clear that the article there is based entirely on the Sefer Kushyot. There is no other source for hititn witnesses. The author of the article suggests that one hits the witnesses, as a type of pre-Yom Kipur malkot, in order to arouse them to do teshuvah, so as to ensure that they will be kosher witnesses. Nu, nu.

  43. Thnaks Yitzi! p. 155.

    Ari Enkin

  44. “Does anyone cite it? Many works were lost, but were cited all the time. If not then this work is a phantom – a fascinating phantom, perhaps.”

    does anyone cite the manuscript from the student of rav yehuda hachassid who attributes to him a position that conflicts with the rambam’s 8th ikar? is not this student otherwise unknown? what makes this different, other than the way the content appears in the eyes of commenter-beholders?

  45. Lawrence Kaplan

    ayg: The views of R. Yehudah he-Hasid are cited, not only by his son (not an unknown student), but by other Hasidei Ashkenaz and later scholars, R. Menachem Tziyoni for one. See Prof Ta-Shma’s article on the subject.

  46. At that time in Europe, one shul in one little town could start its own tradition, and someone could refer to it as a “minhag”, without reference as to how long the “minhag” had been around, or whether anyone else did it. It would be like some Young Israel in Texas starting an annual summer rodeo, and then somebody writing a shtikle toirah to explain the custom of roping cattle in July.

  47. Fotheringay-Phipps

    I agree with those who are questioning the validity of this “Sefer Hakushiot”. However, ISTM that a lot of these same people need to be similarly skeptical of such sources when they are straining to find support for things they agree with.

  48. Groise Choochem

    My family has the custom of laughing during havdala too, and it’s after the hagafen blessing-

    re: sefer kushiyot. Rabbi Stahl is a reputable fellow and I think the fact that more then one manuscript actually survived is evidence that this was a book that was copied…

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