by R. Gil Student
I. The Wedding
Sometimes in the 1550’s or 1560’s, Rav Moshe Isserles officiated at a wedding on Shabbos. This fascinating episode offers further evidence to a previous discussion in which we demonstrated that husbands do not own their wives.
Rav Moshe Isserles, commonly known as the Rema, wrote the Ashkenazic glosses to the Shulchan Arukh, the code of Jewish law. He was the rabbi of Cracow, surprisingly accomplished despite his untimely death at the age of 42. In Cracow, a man who had lost this wife arranged for his daughter to be married, promising a sizable dowry. During the engagement, the man passed away. An uncle took the bride in and attempted to supply the dowry. On the wedding day, the bride was prepared by neighbors, dressed in a wedding gown and ready to get married. However, the dowry had not yet been fully provided and the groom refused to wed until the financial arrangements were completed. It was a Friday, and rabbis attempted to convince the man to get married.
Night arrived and according to the testimony of Rema’s student, Rav Mordechai Tiktin, Rema instructed that no one could recite the Shabbos evening prayers until the wedding was effected (Chiddushei Anshei Sheim to Mordekhai, Beitzah 5:2). If the wedding was delayed, the groom might break the engagement or the bride’s relatives might back out of paying the dowry. Frankly, an orphan girl with no dowry would not be able to overcome this shame and find a husband. This was the last opportunity for this woman to marry. Rema insisted that everyone wait until the wedding was conducted. Finally, the man agreed and, two hours into Shabbos, Rema personally conducted the wedding. After the full wedding ceremony, the Shabbos prayers were recited.
II. Wedding on Shabbos
The Mishnah (Beitzah 36b) lists otherwise permissible activities that are forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov, among them a wedding. The Gemara (ibid.) asks why a wedding is considered a permissible activity and not a mitzvah activity. It answers that this refers to a man with children marrying a second wife (back when it was permissible). Therefore, this wedding does not facilitate the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, which the man has already fulfilled.
Rashi (ad loc., s.v. ha) explains that the Gemara was concerned with why a wedding was listed as permissible and not as a mitzvah. He implies that even the mitzvah case should still be forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov, just included in a different list. However, Tosafos (ad loc., s.v. ve-ha quote Rabbeinu Tam as explaining differently — the Gemara implies that a mitzvah would be completely allowed. A first marriage is allowed on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The only wedding forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov is when it is not a biblical mitzvah, i.e. where the husband already has children. However, in a responsum (Sefer Ha-Yashar, no. 10), Rabbeinu Tam expresses hesitancy about implementing this leniency. He would only allow a first marriage on Shabbos or Yom Tov in a case of great need. Rema writes that the Gemara’s language seems to support Rabbeinu Tam’s interpretation.
However, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Beitzah 5:2) explains the prohibition against getting married on Shabbos and Yom Tov because it is like making an acquisition (ke-koneh kinyan). This isn’t an actual acquisition because a husband does not own his wife. Rather, a husband inherits from his wife. Therefore, the wedding achieves this future financial benefit and is like an acquisition. This would forbid all weddings, first and second, mitzvah or not, because in all marriages the husband inherits from the wife. Rav Moshe of Coucy (Semag, prohibition 75) says that the Talmud Bavli disagrees with the Talmud Yerushalmi, in which case we follow the Bavli as a general rule. If, in fact, a husband acquires his wife, then everyone would agree that it is forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov. This is not the case, which leads to the complicated different opinions.
III. Second Stage of Wedding
Rav Yitzchak of Corbille (Semak, no. 194) follows Rabbeinu Tam in permitting a first wedding on Shabbos and Yom Tov. However, he only allows the first stage of marriage (Eirusin) and not the final stage (Nissu’in). His proof to forbid is from the high priest, the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, who must have one wife in order to perform the Temple service. What if his wife dies on Yom Kippur before he can perform the service? The Gemara (Yoma 13a) says that before Yom Kippur, the kohen gadol would marry another woman and divorce her on condition that his first wife does not die. That way, he definitely has only one wife on Yom Kippur.
Semak asks why the marriage and conditional divorce are necessary. If the kohen gadol’s wife dies, he should marry someone else quickly on Yom Kippur and then perform the service. Since the Gemara does not adopt this simple answer, Semak deduces that you cannot get married completely — Nissu’in — on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Rema rejects this logic. Maybe the mitzvah of having children is more important than the Yom Kippur service. Even if the latter does not permit a complete wedding on a holiday, the former might. Additionally, perhaps the Yom Kippur service requires more than a complete wedding but an actual consummated marriage. Since marital relations are forbidden on Yom Kippur, this is impossible and another, more complicate option must be found. Therefore, in a case of extreme urgency, Rema permitted a complete wedding on Shabbos.
IV. The Aftermath
Even though Rema was the rabbi of Cracow, other important rabbis disagreed with his decision to conduct the wedding on Shabbos. He wrote a responsum (Responsa Rema, 125) defending his decision and concluded likewise in his glosses to Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 339:4). Nevertheless, his colleagues decided to avoid this problem in the future by forbidding weddings on Friday. The head of the Cracow religious court, Rav Chaim Nassan Dembitzer, records this local enactment in his Kelilas Yofi (cited by Rav Asher Ziv in his footnote 4 to Responsa Rema, ad loc.).
Two centuries later, Rav Avraham Danziger (Chayei Adam 38:6) mentions this episode and says that a Shabbos wedding is only allowed under very specific conditions. He mentions that obviously we should reaching the situation in which a Shabbos wedding is necessary. Nearly a century after that, Rav Yechiel Mikhel Epstein (Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 339:14) describes this episode and the subsequent enactment forbidding Friday weddings. Rav Epstein praises the enactment for preventing other problems, such as Shabbos violations stemming from celebrations extending into the evening, particularly on short winter days.