Celebrating a Wedding

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Naso

Two points of order: I realized last week I had failed to do a chapter of Even HaEzer last round, so we’re going to do two in a row now (I know you may not care about going in a clear cycle through the parts of Shulchan Aruch, but my bit of OCD does. Sorry.) Second, there is a blank space in Aruch HaShulchan between the laws of Kiddushin, ending at siman 65, and the laws of Gittin, bills of divorce, siman 119 (it’s all of Hilchot Ketubbot, the laws of financial arrangements within a marriage).

This time, we’ll review Even HaEzer 64, the second to last chapter of laws of Kiddushin, and move to 119 next time.

Wedding Celebration: Berachot and/or Spending Time

The first two se’ifim of the chapter present a debate about how long after a wedding the celebration continues for the couple. SA already taught us, in siman 62, the sheva berachot, the seven blessings established to extol the joy of the occasion, are recited for seven days after a wedding where either member of the couple is marrying for the first time, for three days if both have been married before.

Rambam disconnected that rule from the question of simchah, joy, expressed in the husband’s staying away from work to focus on his bride, to enjoy the time with her. For Rambam, these latter practices are about ensuring the bride’s happiness, and therefore extend seven days only if she has never been married before. If she has, even if he has not, he could, if he wants, mark only three days and go back to work.

Women’s Concern With Celebrating Weddings

[A side point: AH explains the focus on the bride’s happiness with the words “for he is the principle, and she is subordinate to him,” making it seem like this “joy” is about accommodating her to her new, lesser, role. Until now she was herself, and now she’s a wife. Later in the siman, he speaks of the first marriage being the significant one, because it makes the woman into a wife.

Its equally plausible to me that it’s a function of Chazal’s awareness of women’s greater investment in relationships. Remember, Chazal thought women would put up with much less appealing men for the sake of a relationship than vice verse, because they know the value of relationships more than men do. Similarly, Chazal’s insistence a man spend time with his new wife is phrased in the Gemara as shakedu chachamim al takkanat benot Yisrael, the Sages took steps to ensure the proper treatment of Jewish girls/women. Seems to me Chazal thought men were often insufficiently expressive about important life changes, and wanted to be sure they gave it the attention it deserved.]

Celebrating and Berachot Go Hand in Hand

Others linked the two more fully, thought any time there could be sheva berachot, the husband would have to stay home and spend time with his new wife. (I write could because other factors can interfere with the actual recitation of berachot, such as the presence of a minyan and/or of panim chadashot, people present for the first time).

This view (AH refers to Chelkat Mechokek, a commentary on SA Even HaEzer) rejects the possibility the berachot could be said when there’s not still simchah, the joyous celebration of the wedding. If the man (and, today, the woman) is off to work all day, this view cannot see how we could recite berachot for a wedding they clearly have finished celebrating. Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer seems to be the source identifying work as contradictory to celebration, when it says the groom is like a king, who doesn’t work.

The same Midrash also thought the groom should dress in holiday clothing throughout, so people who see him (PDRE in fact spoke of him) see the joy on his face) know he is in his sheva berachot week.

[I note again the concern with the husband giving the wedding its due. We want him to broadcast his feelings, I am suggesting because men often don’t do that well enough.]

Types of Giving a Wife Joy

In se’if four, AH points out another place the Torah obligates a man to ensure his new wife is happy with the relationship, the shanah rishonah, the first year. The Torah says the groom should be naki le-veito, free to stay home, for that year, ve-simach, and shall give joy, to his new wife.

We’ve already discussed one kind of joy, and that lasts for only seven days. This type of joy consists of the husband’s being exempt from military service, according to Sotah 44a including other responsibilities of war, such as supplying the army with water [sadly for the Jewish people, almost all our wars are milchamot mitzvah, wars where even brides and grooms must participate. Be-ezrat Hashem, we will soon again merit a world where young grooms are not off to war, sometimes tragically never to return].

Aside from the exemption, AH thinks it also means the husband should do as much of what the wife wants/likes as he can, to make her happy [I wonder whether this means literally whatever she wants, or means build a working relationship, with the proper give and take of a healthy relationship, so they can be happy together for years to come]. AH knows and rejects a view that during this year the groom may not travel out of the country (I believe there are authorities who rule he must receive his wife’s permission for any business trips he takes, although she will almost certainly agree).

Last for this section, in se’if five, we learn Rema allowed her to forego these practices, with Rambam thinking that could even include work, during the sheva berachot week, where others limited it to her foregoing parties and celebrations. AH distinguished between a never married woman, where the husband’s staying home was part of the essential celebration, and a second marriage, where it is about what makes her happy, and therefore can be overridden by her decision to forego.

The Day for the Wedding

Ketubbot starts with the rule that a first-time bride should marry on Wednesday, a previously married one on Thursday. In our times, none of the reasons for Wednesday weddings are in force (either when courts would meet or the need to have enough time post-Shabbat to prepare a proper feast), allowing for weddings any day of the week.

The Gemara gave two reasons for the Thursday wedding, that it will “force” the groom to spend the weekend with his new wife (the wedding will be Thursday, so he will be involved with that, and who goes to work on Friday if they were off on Thursday?).

It might also be because Thursday is the day God created fish (in Bereshit 1), and blessed them to be fruitful and multiply. With no push to marry on another day, a Thursday wedding connects this couple to this blessing. In se’if seven, AH presents the consensus the berachah idea is not required, and that no authorities mention the Thursday/celebration rule as a requirement. In se’if eight, we learn that Rambam, Ritva, and Ran held the Thursday rule was a practice, not a firm rule.

AH in se’if nine suggests the rule, where both of them had been married before, was that one day of celebration was enough; when Chazal spoke of Thursday weddings and three days, they weren’t legislating, they were advising, to avoid hurt feelings (even if the rule is one day, the bride might be hurt to have him take her wedding so lightly). Once people knew that brides and grooms spent three days together, the need to start on Thursday fell away.

(I’m skipping a discussion of Tur’s view that Thursday is necessary, and where it would or wouldn’t be.)

Not Friday or Prefer Friday?

Rambam thought weddings should not happen on Friday or Sunday for fear of Shabbat violations, as part of preparing or celebrating [similar to why the Chief Rabbinate moves Yom HaAtzmaut so neither it nor Yom HaZikaron land on Friday or Sunday].

Rosh and his son, Tur, understood the Gemara to conclude we need not worry about this, because people prepare ahead of time, also the reason we allow celebratory meals on Shabbat or just after. With the idea of preparing ahead (and finding ways to avoid the food going bad) came the custom to marry on Friday.

AH suggested we today worry less about Sabbath desecration because brides now prepare them rather than grooms. When it was the groom’s job, he would be nervous to get it just right for the bride, women taking the details more seriously than men. A bride preparing a wedding feast knows her groom doesn’t care as much, and will not forget about Shabbat because of the pressure of preparation.

One interesting note to close. AH thinks it should be obvious not to have weddings on short winter Fridays, because they often run late, and people end up getting married on Shabbat (when it’s not allowed). Yet people were doing it anyway. He wishes he could protest, but he and other rabbis have no power to change matters, so he leaves it as is. A sad note on people’s openness to rabbinic input.

Although there’s not a huge amount left in the siman, there’s enough that I am trying to teach myself restraint. We’ll finish the chapter next time, and if it is too short to qualify as a full discussion, we’ll start the laws of gittin.

About Gidon Rothstein

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