Parashat Chayei Sara: Birkat Eirusin The Berakha Recited at Halakhic Engagement
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur 05: Parashat Chaye Sara
The Blessing Recited at Halakhic Betrothal
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
The gemara (Ketuvot 7b) distinguishes between the Sheva Berakhot of marriage and the berakha on halakhic betrothal. Halakhic betrothal, known as kiddushin or eirusin, is generally performed today under the chuppa by the groom, who gives a ring to the bride and states that she is now mekudeshet (halakhically engaged) to him. (What we popularly call "engagement," i.e. when a couple decides to get married, has no halakhic validity.) Following kiddushin, the actual marriage (nissuin) takes place when the couple enter the yichud room (according to the Rambam, Hilkhot Ishut 10:1). The berakhot of marriage are said in the wedding hall at the time of the marriage. These berakhot should be recited in the presence of a minyan, as we see that Boaz assembled a minyan before his marriage (Ruth 4:2). Birkat Eirusin, on the other hand, is recited at the time of betrothal (not necessarily at the wedding hall). Neither the requirement of a minyan nor a source for this berakha is mentioned.
Tosafot (ad loc.) point out that Masekhet Kalah cites a different source for this berakha. When Eliezer left the house of Lavan with Rivka, her family blessed her (Bereishit 24:60). Tosafot then say that the berakha of Boaz was at the wedding, while Eliezer was the agent (shaliach) for eirusin and that is the source of the berakha of betrothal. Tosafot further add that this berakha can be recited by a shaliach, as seen in this case. Tosafot then add that perhaps the derivation from Rivka is merely an asmakhta (an allusion used as a support for an oral law), as the blessing given to her is stated in the Torah ("Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads") and does not really refer to Birkat Eirusin.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Ishut 3:23) codifies that kiddushin (eirusin) requires a berakha immediately prior to its performance, as is done in all mitzvot. This berakha should be made by the groom or his agent. If one did perform the kiddushin without a berakha, he may not recite it afterwards, as that would constitute a berakha le-vatala (a berakha for no purpose), since the mitzva was already performed. This conforms with the opinion of the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:5-7) that a berakha on a mitzva must precede the mitzva and may not be recited once the mitzva has been completed. The Or Zarua (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 25) disagrees and maintains that all the berakhot recited prior to the mitzva can be said even if the mitzva was completed.
Inasmuch as this is a berakha recited on the mitzva, it seems surprising that our custom is that the rabbi performing the ceremony recites the berakha. While there is a general rule that one may recite a berakha for someone else, it is only true when that person is also involved in that mitzva (e.g., on Rosh Hashana, one who has already heard the shofar can recite the berakha for someone who did not). In fact, the custom in Yemen and other communities was that the groom himself recited the berakha. The Noda Bi-Yehuda (Even Ha-Ezer Tinyana I) cites a responsum of the Rambam that if anyone but the groom recites the berakha, it would constitute a berakha le-vatala. Rav Yosef Kapach zt"l, the great Yemenite scholar, told me that although this position seems logically accurate, this alleged responsum does not exist.
Apparently, our general custom is based on the opinion of the Rosh and other Rishonim. The Rosh (Ketuvot 1:12) says that this berakha is not on the mitzva of kiddushin. Indeed, there is no mitzva at all of kiddushin. There is a mitzva of procreation, which can be fulfilled without kiddushin. Moreover, the berakha is to be recited even in a case where it is clear that the couple will not have children. The unusual text of the berakha ("Who Sanctified us through His mitzvot and commanded us about forbidden relations") implies that this is not a berakha on the mitzva. It seems to fall in the category of "Birkot Ha-Shevach" (berakhot recited on special events or occurrences, such as the berakha on thunder, a rainbow, seeing a king, etc.).
In fact, the Ritva (Ketuvot 7b) proves that this is not a berakha on the mitzva, inasmuch as our custom is that the groom does not recite it. He maintains that the berakha is like "kiddush." We praise God who sanctified the Jewish people by forbidding relations and formulating laws of procreation. He therefore maintains that although the general practice is to recite the berakha prior to kiddushin, logically it should be said afterwards, just as we recite Kiddush after the day has already been sanctified.
According to the opinions that this berakha is indeed a Birkat Ha-shevach, who is obligated to recite it? One could argue that the berakha should be made by the person or persons who experience the mitzva of kiddushin, namely, the groom and the bride. We have a similar example in the case of a brit mila: the father makes a berakha of "le-hakhniso" after the brit. This is presumably not a berakha on the mitzva, and there is a discussion as to whether anyone else may make this berakha (Shulchan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 265:1).
However, the Ritva cited above proves from the very fact that the custom is that someone other than the groom recites the berakha, that it is a different type of berakha, which may be recited by anyone. In fact, the Tevuot Shor (1:59) maintains clearly that this berakha is not at all incumbent upon the groom, and the rabbi does not even have to intend for him to fulfill this mitzva. This would solve the dilemma that a rabbi may feel if the groom does not seem to desire to hear or relate to the berakha. In such a case, although according to the Rambam it would seem to be a berakha le-vatala, according to Tevuot Shor (presumably the Rosh and Ritva as well) this berakha does fulfill the obligation of others (the rabbi himself) and is not in vain.
This may be the reasoning of the Tosafot, who prove from the case of Eliezer that an agent could make the berakha. If the berakha is on the mitzva, obviously the agent who performed the mitzva may make the berakha (Shabbat 137a). If the berakha is on the event, perhaps it should not be recited by proxy. Firstly, the berakha still may be incumbent on the one(s) involved, but more important, perhaps it is not the type of event that would require a berakha. Therefore, Tosafot cite the "proof" from Eliezer that the berakha is still to be made.
There are other ramifications of the dispute between the Rambam and the Rosh. According to the Rambam, the mitzva is incumbent upon the groom and perhaps the bride as well (Noda Bi-Yehuda, op cit.). If so, the one(s) who is (are) required to recite the berakha should choose the rabbi who helps them fulfill their requirement. However, according to the Tevuot Shor (Rosh and Ritva), the obligation is incumbent upon everyone attending the wedding. Rav Herschel Schachter (Be-ikvei Ha-tzon, Jerusalem 1997, p. 271) notes that the attendees should choose the rabbi according to the above criteria.
While it is proper decorum for people to remain silent and listen to the betrothal ceremony, according to the Rambam this does not seem to be a halakhic obligation, as they are not involved in the berakha. However, according to Tevuot Shor (and others), they must listen and intend to fulfill their obligation.
Our custom that the rabbi recites the berakha seems to follow the opinion that it is not a berakha on the mitzva. However, we recite the berakha before the kiddushin, even though, according to the Ritva, it would be preferable to say it after the event (like Kiddush). The Ritva justified this custom by saying that, since the berakha is said at the time of the mitzva, it was instituted similarly to a berakha of any mitzva and therefore the custom should not be abolished.