Laws of the Wedding (9) Customs and Laws of the Wedding

  • Rav David Brofsky
Last week, we discussed the kiddushin performed under the chuppa. We noted that although there are three methods through which one may betroth a woman (Kiddushin 2a), it is customary to perform the kiddushin through kiddushei kesef (Rambam, Hilkhot Ishut 3:21), and more specifically through giving the kalla a ring, which “is a constant commemoration on her hand” (Sefer Ha-Chinukh 592). We learned that it is customary to use a gold ring for kiddushin (Mordekhai, Kiddushin 488), without a stone or inscription (see Shulchan Arukh, EA 31:2). Furthermore, the mesader kiddushin asks the witnesses under chuppa if the ring is worth a peruta (Rema 31:2), and should ensure that the chatan fully acquires the ring (see Beit Shmuel 28:49).
 We also noted that numerous Rishonim (see Sefer Ha-Manhig, Hilkhot Eirusin, Maharam Mintz 109; see Shulchan Arukh and Rema 27:1) write that it is customary to say, before giving the ring to the kalla, “harei at mekudeshet li be-taba’at zo ke-dat Moshe ve-Yisrael.” The chatan then takes the ring in his right hand (unless he is left-handed) and places it on the kalla’s index finger of her right hand (see Rokeach 351), as the right hand symbolizes love (Tikunei Zohar 21). Finally, we discussed whether the kalla may give the chatan a ring under the chuppa (see Iggerot Moshe, EA 3:25; see also 4:13).
This week, we will discuss the custom of wearing a tallit and the possibility of reciting the Shehechiyanu blessing under the chuppa.
Spreading a Tallit over the Chatan and Kalla
There is an ancient practice, preserved by some German and Sephardic communities, to use a tallit as a chuppa. More specifically, the chatan covers his wife with his tallit during the wedding ceremony. Some trace this practice to the Biblical description of the betrothal of Rivka to Yitzchak:
And Rivka lifted her eyes and saw Isaac, and she let herself down from the camel. And she said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field towards us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." And she took the veil and covered herself. (Bereishit 24:64-65)
The Tashbetz (461; see also Maharil, Hilkhot Nisu’in, p. 466) explains that the practice of covering the chatan and kalla during the birkat eirusin is derived from the verse, “and she took the veil and covered herself.”
Others point to the laws of the marital designation (yi’ud) of a Jewish maidservant (ama ivriya):
Be-vigdo vah” means that once her master has spread his garment over her, the father may no longer sell her. (Kiddushin 18a)
Numerous Rishonim, including the Orchot Chaim (vol. 2, pp. 64-65; see also Kolbo 75), explain that spreading his garment over the kalla constitutes the chuppa.
Others refer to Ruth’s statement to Boaz:
“I am Ruth, your handmaid, and you shall spread your skirt over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman.” (Ruth 3:9; see Rashi ibid.)
The Rokeach (353), for example, writes that this is the source of the custom tospread the tallit over the chatan and kalla. This is echoed by other Rishonim and Acharonim as well (see Abudraham HaShalem, p. 357; Derisha, EH 61; Ha’amek Davar, Devarim 23:1).
This practice was observed throughout Ashkenaz, and it appears in recent Sephardic halakhic literature as well (see Ben Ish Chai, year 1, Shoftim; see also Sefer Ha-Mifkad, vol. 1, 2b; Birkei Yosef, OC 8:5).
The common custom of holding the wedding ceremony under a canopy consisting of four poles and a tallit or other cloth is first mentioned by the Rema (EH 55) and contemporary Polish Acharonim (see Taz, EH 62:7; Mas’at Binyamin 90; Bach EH 62:1). Nowadays, while some communities still adhere to the custom described above, in most places the wedding is held under a canopy.
Wearing a Tallit and Reciting the Birkat Shehechiyanu
R. David ben Shimon (1826-1879), in a book dedicated to the special traditions of the land of Israel, Sefer Ha-Mifkad (ibid.), mentions the custom of reciting the Shehechiyanu blessing over a new tallit during the chuppa:
For those who understand and [for] those who fear God in Egypt, they make a new tallit for the chatan, and during the chuppa, when it is held above the head of the kalla, he says the Shehechiyanu blessing … and he fulfills the birkat shehechiyanu blessing, which would be appropriate to say during the chuppa over the mitzva of peru u-revu (be fruitful and multiply).
This custom, which originated in Egypt among “those who understand and those who fear God,” spread to other Sephardic communities, and in recent years to many Ashkenazim as well.
Wearing a new tallit under the chuppa enables the chatan to say the Birkat Shehechiyanu, indirectly, over the mitzva of peru u-revu. This practice raises a fascinating question: Why isn’t the Shehechiyanu blessing said on the wedding itself? Indeed, R. Yosef Colon (1420–1480), known as the Maharik, remarked that just as we must understand why Shehechiyanu is not recited over bedikat chametz, “we must reconcile the custom not to say the [Shehechiyanu] blessing over the betrothing of a woman or her marriage” (Maharik 128).
Similarly, the Shakh (YD 25:5) asks why Shehechiyanu is not recited over a wedding ceremony. He notes that there are different opinions regarding when the Shehechiyanu blessing is recited. Tosafot (Sukka 46a, s.v. ha-oseh) claims that it is only recited upon performing mitzvot that entail simcha, such as sukkah and lulav. Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:9) writes that Shehechiyanu is recited over a mitzva that is performed from time to time or which does not occur often (such as brit mila and pidyon ha-ben), and over a mitzva that one “owns,” such as new tefillin and tzitzit. The Ran (Sukka 22a, s.v. ve-katvu) limits this blessing to time-related mitzvot (and not to a new pair of tefillin).
While the Rema (YD 28:2) rules in accordance with the Rambam and therefore writes that one who fulfills the mitzva of kisuy ha-dam for the first time should say the Shehechiyanu blessing, as one does at a brit mila or pidyon ha-ben, the Shakh rules like the Ran that Shehechiyanu is only said over mitzvot fulfilled on fixed occasions. Therefore, like the Maharik, the Shakh writes that the Shehchiyanu blessing is not said for a wedding, as it is not related to a specific time.
While the according to the Ran, Shehechiyanu should not be said at a wedding, it seems that Tosafot and Rambam would permit the recitation of Shehechiyanu at a wedding. Furthermore, just as one says Shehechiyanu upon acquiring new clothing or a new house, marriage should certainly justify reciting the Shehechiyanu blessing. (See Rokeach 371, who raises this question.) Some further question why the chatan and kalla do not say the HaTov Ve-HaMeitiv blessing, and others question why the kalla doesn’t say the blessing upon receiving the kiddushin ring.
R. Yaakov Emden (cited in Pitchei Teshuva, EH 63:6) rules that the chatan should indeed say Shehechiyanu during the wedding ceremony. Most Acharonim disagree, however.
R. Shlomo Eiger (Gilyon Meharsha, YD 28:5) explains that the kiddushin is only a “hekhsher mitzva,” a necessary preparation for the mitzva of peru u-revu, and a blessing is not recited on a hekhsher mitzva. (This answer, of course, demands a thorough analysis of the relationship between kiddushin and nisu’in, which we discussed in a previous shiur.) Alternatively, the Tevu’at Shor (28:4) writes that since the mitzva of kiddushin is dependent upon the action of another person – i.e. whether the woman will accept kessef kiddushinBirkat Shehechiyanu us not said over the kiddushin, just as a birkat ha-mitzva is not said when the mitzva is dependent upon others (such as in the case of the mitzva of tzedaka).
We might offer other answers to this interesting and difficult question. In the context of the laws of birkat ha-nehenin and birkat ha-rei’ach, we find the principle that it is preferable to say a more specific berakha and not a general berakha. Regarding kiddushin, since the Rabbis already instituted specific blessings formulated especially for kiddushin, including the birkat ha-eirusin and the sheva berakhot, the shehechiyanu blessing is superfluous and therefore not to be said. Alternatively, we might argue that the Shehechiyanu blessing may only said upon fulfilling and completing a mitzva, and kiddushin is only the first stage of a larger, ongoing mitzva, which includes nisu’in, sheva berakhot, peru u-revu, etc. Shehechiyanu cannot possibly be said on the very beginning of the process. (In this view, kiddushin is not merely a hekhsher mitzva; it is the first stage in the mitzva. This view is beyond the scope of the present shiur.)
Next week, we will discuss the reading of the ketuba and the sheva berakhot