Finishing Weddings, Divorce Can Wait

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Be-Ha’alotecha

Wedding is a Family Right, Not Only a Personal One

Se’if 12 of siman 64 tells us a groom must make a wedding for his wife even if only her relatives care (she says she doesn’t mind), and must meet the standards of whichever family occupies the higher socioeconomic class [if the bride’s family is poorer, the groom must nonetheless put on a wedding of his own social circle’s quality, I think because the bride’s family would be embarrassed if he did not. Tongues would, sadly, wag: did you see how little he did for his bride, because she’s from a lower family?]

As we saw last time, by Aruch HaShulchan’s time, the practice had already reversed, the bride’s family making the wedding [pop quiz: what leniency did that lead to? Answer after the next sentence.] If so, now the groom’s family can insist on meeting the custom for the presentation of a wedding.

[The leniency: when the groom was hosting, we feared his desire to ensure the wedding come out perfect, please his bride fully, might lead to unthinking Shabbat violations, were the wedding on Friday or Sunday. Brides’ knowledge that men generally care less obviated the worry.]

Aside from the right to expect the usual, first-time marriers can insist on a first wedding, regardless of who usually makes it. [Two points, pushing in opposite directions. While AH doesn’t need me to say he is correct on legal rights, in practice either partner can back out of a wedding if the other demands too much, even if those demands are fully within their rights.

On the other hand, while the bride’s family might be making the wedding, we would hope a richer groom’s side, especially if they wanted what their social circles expected, would offer to defray those extra costs. As often happens, I have heard.]

Se’if thirteen sort of stands on its own. AH mentions customs people thought would be good signs for the marriage. He lists them, but prefers people not pay attention to these kinds of (superstitious) beliefs, to fulfill Devarim 18;13, tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha, to be whole with our God, to trust Hashem will take care of us rather than any such practices, other than the ones in the Gemara.

[A large topic, even within marriage, since we had spoken of preferring certain days for the wedding because of the blessing on those days. I think the Gemara would have said those were different because they were a matter of aligning ourselves with how the Torah says the universe works, different days having different strengths.]

Weddings Close to Shabbat

Se’ifim fourteen through sixteen teach about what we may do for the first time on Shabbat. The couple may consummate the marriage on Shabbat, but not have the ring ceremony nor the nisu’in, because those create a kinyan, a new status of connection.

For most marriages, the general view sees their going under the chuppah together to be the nisu’in, but AH tells us in se’if fifteen that many authorities held—and SA codified it twice, here and in Orach Chayim 339– a previously married woman only becomes married again through yichud, going alone into a room with her new husband. For them, it would be even more important to ensure the first yichud happens before Shabbat.

AH thinks the Yerushalmi taken to be the source of the idea really discussed a different issue. He concedes that all earlier authorities read the Yerushalmi in line with SA, so we must follow it, and be sure to have second marriages’ yichud before Shabbat.

[I know these last two paragraphs aren’t really practical halachah in our times. I like them because I like watching the AH balance intellectual independence with fidelity to tradition. He will not forgo his right to read the text for what it means, as it seems to him, while at the same time insisting our practice follow the majority reading. A model to follow, it seems to me.]

I’m skipping se’if seventeen, because it discusses the role of the chuppah for a never-married woman (where it is more likely thought of as the full nisu’in, including being a full yichud), as opposed to one married before, where the chuppah tends to have less pomp and also less of a role, where the later actual yichud finalizes matters.

Chol HaMoed Reminds Us To Pay Proper Attention to Joy

For the last se’if, AH records the blanket prohibition on marriage on Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of Sukkot or Pesach. The rule includes first marriage, second marriage, yibum (where a woman marries her brother in law after her prior husband’s passing from the world without children). All of these would violate Mo’ed Katan 8b’s insight, Devarim 16;14’s call to be joyous in our holidays excludes allowing other kinds of joy to mix in (the source of the principle ein me’arvin simcha be-simcha, we do not address two causes of joy at once).

Tosafot attribute it to the need to give each simchah its proper due, an early version of the commonplace that people can’t really multi-task, to celebrate a wedding during Chol HaMo’ed would necessarily distract us from the joy owed the holiday [a reminder that throughout the holiday we are supposed to experience its joy].

The Bavli says King Shlomo taught us this idea, when he insisted on separating the celebration of the dedication of the Temple from the celebration of Sukkot. [The Gemara thinks he therefore allowed the celebration to push aside Yom Kippur that year, a fascinating idea that is not our current topic.]

Yerushalmi pointed to Lavan’s words to Ya’akov as the source, Lavan tells Ya’akov to complete the week of his wedding to Leah, then marry Rachel.

When a Wedding Is Fine, But Not a Particular Joy

AH offers a surprising exception to all these rules, remarriage. When a couple divorces in halachah, they maintain the right to reunite until she marries someone else. Where they do remarry (I know a couple like this), the remarriage is not considered to have the kind of simchah, to inspire the kind of rejoicing, to contradict Chol Hamo’ed. If they divorced after erusin, the ring ceremony [imagine that today! A wedding breaks up in the middle of the ceremony, they divorce, then get back together! The scandal! The horror! The gossip!]. Should such a couple remarry, it would be a full simchah, and could not happen on Chol HaMo’ed.

The wedding can happen erev ha-regel, on the eve of the holiday, though, because we think the essential joy is the first day, any leftover is not enough to contradict the holiday’s own right to festivities and happiness. However, AH says the custom is to refrain from weddings on erev ha-regel, because there was debate about a festive sheva berachot meal on the holiday [were this the reason, we shouldn’t have wedding for the whole six days before, which does not seem to me to be current practice].

A bit shorter than usual, but I am not going to start siman 119 this time, because it immediately takes us into a long (interesting) discussion of the views of when divorce is proper in Judaism. Use the extra time wisely.

About Gidon Rothstein

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