Laws of the Wedding (4) Customs and Laws of the Wedding (continued)

  • Rav David Brofsky


Last week, we began discussing the halakhic components of the wedding ceremony, focusing on the ketuba. We noted that the ketuba, discussed in a previous shiur, is generally signed before or during the wedding. The Talmud (Ketubot 56b) teaches that it is prohibited to live with one’s wife without a ketuba, even if it is lost (see Rambam, Hilkhot Ishut 10:9-10; Shulchan Arukh, EH 66:3). If a couple loses their ketuba or if it is destroyed, they should replace their ketuba with a special text, known as a “ketuba de-irkasa.” We related to an interesting debate regarding whether it is urgent and imperative for the wife to receive a new ketuba nowadays.

We discussed a number of practical issues relating to the ketuba, including the importance of writing the proper date and performing a kinyan. If the ketuba was written and dated before the day of the wedding ceremony, and the kinyan and signing of the ketuba happened at a later date, the ketuba is deemed a shetar mukdam, which is invalid (see Gittin 18a; Shulchan Arukh, CM 43:7). If the ketuba was written and the groom was involved in wedding matters (asukin be-oto ha-inyan) and the kinyan and signing of the ketuba did not happen until evening, some Acharonim validate the ketuba after the fact (see Shulchan Arukh, CM 43:16; Ha-Nisu’in Ke-Hilkhata 11:28). It is very common, especially during the summer months, that the ceremony is held during bein ha-shemashot or slightly after nightfall. In this case, when is the ketuba to be signed? Some suggest that that as long as the groom performed the kinyan before sunset, the ketuba should be valid (see Shulchan Arukh, CM 43:16). R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, EH 4:100) and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 2:128) object to this practice, although for different reasons. R. Asher Weiss (Techumin 36) disagrees and upholds the common practice of performing the kinyan before nightfall and the ceremony afterwards. Alternatively, some suggest writing the date of the ceremony on the ketuba and performing the kinyan and signing the ketuba the day before. Although this is generally deemed a “shetar me’uchar,” according to some authorities, this may be preferable to other options.

This week, we will continue our study of the wedding ceremony.


It is customary for the bride’s face to be covered before the formal ceremony under the wedding canopy begins. This custom is known among Ashkenazim by its Yiddish name, badeken. In some communities, this was performed on the morning of the wedding; in most communities, it is performed immediately before the ceremony. The chatan approaches and lowers the veil over the face of the kalla.

This custom is very ancient. Some trace its origins to the mishna (Ketubot 2:1), which rules that if there are witnesses who describe the bride being wed with a hinuma (veil, see Ketubot 17b) then she is considered to have been married as a betula (virgin).  

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to understanding this practice.

Some explain that covering the face of the bride with the wedding veil (hinuma) is the halakhic act of nisu’in. As we discussed in a previous shiur, the Talmud teaches that only after the “chuppa” is the couple considered to be fully married. At that point, a husband may annul his wife’s vows, he inherits her estate, and if he is a Kohen, he must become impure for his wife’s burial (Kiddushin 10a). The Talmud does not define the term “chuppa” or explain how it affects the couple’s marital status. Some Rishonim appear to maintain that an act or situation that reflects the most intimate aspect of marriage – sexual relations – functions as the beginning of nisu’in (see, for example, Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 10:1), most likely based upon the verse “when a man takes a wife and is intimate with her” (Devarim 24:1). Others suggest that nisu’in is achieved not by an act of (or a situation which enables) marital intimacy, but in a more formal manner that reflects their marital relationship (see, for example, Ran, Ketubot 2a, s.v. oh, who cites a view that describes nisu’in as the bride entering the husbands “domain”). In this context, some Rishonim (see Tosafot, Yoma 3b, s.v. le-chada) maintain that nisu’in is marked by the bride going out with her special head covering (hinuma). This view is somewhat perplexing, as according to our custom, the nisu’in would thus be performed at the badeken (when the chatan lowers the veil over the bride’s face), which is performed before the kiddushin.

Others do not view the badeken is not an integral part of the wedding ceremony, instead attributing other reasons to this ancient custom.

As noted above, the mishna (Ketubot 2:1) appears to cite this practice. Furthermore, some (Maharil 64b) trace this custom to the Torah, as the Bible relates that Rivka “took a veil and covered herself” (Bereishit 24:65; see also Rut 3:9). Some explain that covering the bride’s face is a sign of modesty or a negation of the centrality of beauty. Others write that the bride is not meant to be able to discern the value of the ring used for the kiddushin (see Rema, EH 31:2).

As for the final halakhic ruling, the Shulchan Arukh (EH 55:1) cites a number of views regarding the definition of nisu’in/chuppa:

This seclusion (yichud) is known as entering into the chuppa, and it is called marriage in all places.

R. Moshe Isserles (Rema) adds:

There are those who say that the chuppa is not considered seclusion. Rather, the groom must bring her into his house for the purposes of marriage (Ran at the beginning of Ketubot).

And there are those who say that the chuppa is when they spread a cloth over her head at the time of the blessing, and there are those who say that a virgin's chuppa is when she goes out in a headdress, and for a widow when they become secluded.

The Rema concludes:

The simple custom nowadays is to call the chuppa a place where they place a cloth on poles and bring the groom and bride underneath in public, and he betroths her there and they say the blessings of betrothal and marriage, and then they walk them to their house and they eat together in a secluded place. This is how the chuppa is done now.

As the Rema apparently believes that our practice is to be concerned with all of the opinions cited above, some Acharonim insist that that badeken is indeed a possible component of the marriage ceremony. Therefore, for example, R. Yoel Sirkis (Bach, EH 61) records that it is customary for the chatan to be escorted to the kalla and to cover her before the ceremony. This report is confirmed by later authorities, including R. Yechezkel Landau (Dagul Me-Revava, YD 342) and R. Yechiel Mikhel Epstein (Arukh Ha-Shulchan, EH 55:15). The Derisha (EH 65:1; see also YD 342:1) explains that the badeken is indeed part of the chuppa, and therefore the birkat ha-erusin concludes, “He who sanctifies the people of Israel through the chuppa and kiddushin,” as the chuppa precedes the kiddushin. Other Acharonim, such as the Taz (EH 65:1 and YD 342) and Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (147:3), disagree, and relate that the chatan himself does not perform the act of covering the kalla.

A possible practice outcome of viewing the badeken as the chuppa is that according to those opinions that require witnesses for the chuppa, the eidim should witness the badeken as well. This stringency is addressed by some Acharonim (see Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot, EH 4:286:7, and Shevivei Eish, Hilkhot Chuppa Ve-Sheva Berakhot 1), and some authorities insist that the eidim view the badeken. However, it is generally accepted that be-di’avad, we do not view the badeken as a component of the marriage ceremony.

It is customary to bless the kalla following the badeken. Some bless her with the blessing given to Rivka (see Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 147:3):

Our sister, may you become thousands of myriads. May your descendants inherit the gates of your foes. (Bereishit 24:60)

Others add (or only say) the blessing given to one’s daughters on the Sabbath eve: “May God make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.”

Next week, we will continue our discussion of the wedding ceremony itself.