Shiur #09: Birkat Chatanim
Written by Rav Moshe Taragin and Rav Yair Kahn.
"Birkat chatanim [literally, "the groom's blessing"] is recited at the wedding celebration. Rabbi Yehuda says, even at the engagement celebration it is recited. Abayei said, this applies in [the region of] Judea, because [the practice there was for] him [the groom] to be secluded with her [the bride, at the engagement]." (7b)
The Gemara here deals with the "sheva berakhot" ("seven blessings") which we recite at the chupa ceremony. As we know, these berakhot are recited not only at the chupa ceremony, but also after birkat ha-mazon throughout the shiv'at yemei ha-mishteh - the seven days of celebration following the wedding. This second application arises later in the sugya: "Birkat chatanim is recited in the presence of ten people for all seven [days following the wedding]." In this shiur, we will deal with the institution of sheva berakhot in both its manifestations - as part of the wedding ceremony and as part of the seven-day celebration.
At the Chupa
The source for the recitation of birkat chatanim at the chupa is quoted in the beginning of Masekhet Kalla: "A bride without a berakha is forbidden to her husband like a nidda; just as a nidda who has not immersed is forbidden to her husband, so is a bride without a berakha forbidden to her husband. From where in the Torah do we derive birkat chatanim? As it says (Bereishit 24), 'They blessed Rivka.' From where do we derive that even a widow is forbidden [to her new husband without the recitation of birkat chatanim]? As it says (Rut 4), 'He [Boaz] assembled ten men… All the people in the gate and the elders, the witnesses, said: May God make… and your house shall be like the house of Peretz… '" Thus, just as a betrothed woman remains forbidden to the groom before the chupa, so does she remain forbidden until the recitation of the birkat chatanim. It emerges, then, that this berakha constitutes not merely a birkat ha-shevach - a blessing of praise - but a birkat ha-matir - a blessing that permits something.
We thus have two requirements to be met before a bride becomes permissible to the groom: chupa and berakha. It stands to reason that the chupa constitutes the primary "matir" (that which brings about the permissibility), whereas the berakha is required merely to lend a certain character to the chupa. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilkhot Ishut 10:1-3) rules:
"A betrothed woman is forbidden to her husband by force of rabbinic enactment so long as she is in her father's home… until he [the groom] takes her into his home and is in seclusion with her and designates her for him. This seclusion is what is called 'entering the chupa' and is always called 'nisu'in [marriage]… Once the betrothed woman enters the chupa, she is permitted to him to sleep with whenever he wishes, and she is his wife in every respect. Once she enters the chupa, she is called a 'nesu'a' [married woman]… Birkat chatanim must be recited in the groom's home before the nisu'in… "
We may infer from this passage that the nisu'in constitutes the essential matir; a separate condition requires the recitation of the berakha as well, perhaps in order to express that the couple's seclusion took place within the required religious framework.
In the continuation of this halakha, however, the Rambam adds, "One who betroths a woman and recited birkat chatanim but did not seclude himself with her in his home - she is still [only] a betrothed woman, for birkat chatanim does not effect the nisu'in; only entering the chupa does." The Rambam entertained the possibility that the berakha alone triggers the nisu'in. Although the Rambam preferred the first approach, he nevertheless suggested an alternate view of the berakhot not only as impacting on the character of the chupa, but as possessing independent and intrinsic significance with regard to the generation of the nisu'in. After all, the berakhot contain and express the religious motifs related to marriage, and their recitation constitutes a declaration reflecting and thereby effecting the Jewish conception of marriage. We indeed find that this berakha permits yichud (seclusion between bride and groom) even before the chupa. Recall that Rabbi Yehuda mandated the recitation of birkat chatanim even at the engagement celebration in the communities of Judea, where the custom was for bride and groom to have yichud at that point. Rashi explains that the birkat chatanim alone served to permit this yichud.
During the Seven Days of Celebration
Clearly, during the week of sheva berakhot the birkat chatanim does not serve as a matir; seemingly, it serves as an expression of praise for the wedding celebration. However, the Rishonim debate the issue of whether the sheva berakhot are recited specifically at a meal, or even outside the context of a meal. The Ritva writes:
"Even on the other days, there is no requirement for a berakha with panim chadashot [the presence of people who had not previously participated in the celebrations] specifically at a meal; rather, whenever they gather to rejoice with the groom and bride, be it at a meal or not at a meal, [the berakhot are recited]. This version appears in Masekhet Sofrim. My rabbis were accustomed to reciting birkat chatanim in the morning over a cup [of wine] in the presence of ten [men] and with panim chadashot all seven [days], as well as in the evening before the meal. Now the custom is not to recite the berakha after the chupa, unless at the celebration, since we gather for celebration specifically at the meal."
Even in his conclusion, where the Ritva rules that we recite the berakhot specifically at a meal, he bases this ruling on the fact that we conduct the celebration specifically in conjunction with a meal. Thus, in his view, what generates the obligation of sheva berakhot is simchat chatan ve-kala - the joy and celebration.
The Rambam, by contrast, brings the halakha of sheva berakhot in Hilkhot Berakhot, amidst his treatment of the laws of birkat ha-mazon. The Rambam there discusses the various additions introduced into birkat ha-mazon on special occasions, such as retzei on Shabbat and ya'aleh ve-yavo on Yom Tov. In this context he writes (2:9): "At a wedding celebration we recite birkat chatanim after these four berakhot [of birkat ha-mazon] at every meal where they eat." This strongly implies that the addition of these berakhot resembles the other additions in birkat ha-mazon, and they become part of birkat ha-mazon. It would thus turn out that what obligates sheva berakhot is not the general simchat chatan ve-kalla, but rather the se'udat chatan ve-kalla, which requires a special birkat ha-mazon with the sheva berakhot. A practical ramification of this issue involves the possibility of someone who did not participate in the meal reciting sheva berakhot. According to the Rambam, we would certainly not allow someone who did not eat to recite the berakhot. If, however, the obligation of sheva berakot arises from the simchat chatan ve-kalla, which finds expression through the meal, then perhaps anyone present could recite the berakha, regardless of whether or not he ate. This debate would also impact upon a different question, whether someone who participated in the se'udat chatan ve-kalla could recite birkat ha-mazon independently, without adding the sheva berakhot. According to the Rambam's position, that the sheva berakhot blend into birkat ha-mazon, it stands to reason that every participant in the meal bears an obligation to recite birkat ha-mazon together with the sheva berakhot. If, however, the seven berakhot constitute an independent obligation, separate from the requirement of birkat ha-mazon, then it does not necessarily obligate every individual.
The Ritva brings a debate as to whether the cup of birkat ha-mazon may be used for the sheva berakhot, as well. Since we normally do not recite two different types of blessings over the same cup, due to the principle of "ein osin mitzvot chavilot chavilot" (we do not perform mitzvot "in bundles" - Pesachim 102b). It would appear that if we view sheva berakhot as detached from birkat ha-mazon, it should require a separate cup. If, however, the sheva berakhot combine together with birkat ha-mazon, we could, presumably, recite all the berakhot over a single cup.
Regarding this issue of the nature of the sheva berakhot, the Rambam appears to draw a distinction between the different berakhot. In halakha 10, he writes: "This berakha which we add at a wedding celebration is the final berakha of the sheva berakhot of marriage. When does this apply? When those eating are the same ones who stood at the birkat nisu'in and heard the berakhot. If, however, the ones eating were other people, who did not hear the birkat nisu'in at the wedding, the seven berakhot are recited FOR THEM after birkat ha-mazon, just as they are recited at the time of the wedding, so long as there are ten [people] present." The Rambam here distinguishes between the last berakha added to birkat ha-mazon and the others, which we recite only in the presence of panim chadashot. Moreover, the Rambam writes that we recite these berakhot "for them" - on behalf of the panim chadashot, who did not hear the berakhot at the chupa ceremony. The Rambam apparently maintains that the se'uda itself generates only the obligation of the seventh and final berakha, and it alone combines with birkat ha-mazon. The other berakhot, by contrast, which we recite only in the presence of panim chadashot, result not from the se'uda, but rather reflect the obligation of the panim chadashot to praise Hashem. This obligation is generated by the simcha and does not combine with birkat ha-mazon.
The position maintained by the Rambam that the additional six berakhot are repeated for the benefit of the newcomers, assumes that through these berakhot each individual fulfills his personal obligation of rejoicing the chatan and kalla. (Some of these berakhot are direct blessings wished upon the chatan and kallah.) This position can be challenged based upon the interesting comments lodged by Tosafot (Ketubot 7b s.v. "ve-hu") about panim chadashot. Tosafot claim that only individuals who add to the simcha environment recreate a chiyuv to repeat the seven berakhot. Presumably, friends, relatives or generally respected individuals would fall into the category of those whose presence augments the simcha. If the repetition of these berakhot were intended to allow the new arrivals the opportunity to fulfill their mitzva, we should recite the berakhot whenever anyone new arrives. Evidently, Tosafot felt that panim chadashot revitalizes the simcha and creates a new obligation to recite the berakhot. Even the people who have already recited the berakhot previously are obligated to repeat them when they experience the higher simcha generated by the arrival of panim chadashot. However, the revitalization of simcha can occur only if valued or significant individuals make their first appearance during the week of simcha.
A second indication that Tosafot view panim chadashot as stimulating new simcha is their position that on Shabbat the seven berakhot are recited even without panim chadashot. Since Shabbat obligates special meals and simcha, the effects of panim chadashot are attained even without the arrival of new people. Had panim chadashot meant simply that the new arrivals must recite the berakhot, we would not regard the experience of Shabbat as a substitute.
An important issue stemming from the definition of panim chadashot might be the question of whom we consider "new." If someone attended the original wedding se'uda but did not attend the berakhot (neither the berakhot recited under the chupa nor those recited after the wedding meal), would his attendance during the ensuing week (for potentially his first round of berakhot) trigger an obligation of new berakhot? If panim chadashot obligates newcomers to recite berakhot, anyone who has not yet recited or answered berakhot would fall into this category. If, however, panim chadashot – by their first appearance at the celebratory events - increase the general mood of simcha, someone who already celebrated the wedding (even if he did not hear berakhot) might not qualify as panim chadashot. This issue - of how we define the term 'chadash' - is the subject of an important machloket Rishonim (see the Ritva for an elaboration of the different views).
Another debate among the Rishonim surrounds a situation in which the panim chadashot departed before the berakhot were recited. For example, panim chadashot attended the actual meal during the week but left before birkat ha-mazon. Some claim that on a day in which panim chadashot arrived the seven berakhot may be recited the entire day. Other Rishonim, though, claim that berakhot are recited only in the physical presence of panim chadashot. Conceivably, if panim chadashot generate new simcha and hence a renewed obligation of berakhot, the obligation might outlast their presence. Even after they leave, the new level of simcha might be sustained, thus compelling a new set of berakhot. If, however, the berakhot are their obligation, yet to have been fulfilled, we would not recite berakhot in their absence.
Would individuals (such as ketanim) who do not comprise a minyan of ten necessary for the recitation of sheva berakhot, constitute panim chadashot? If there are ten adult men, but all of them have already participated in sheva berakhot, would the arrival of newcomers who are ketanim allow or obligate new berakhot? Again, if the arrival of panim chadashot launches a new level of simcha, these ketanim (assuming their presence adds to the simcha) perhaps inspire a higher degree of simcha for the adults which obligates them to repeat sheva berakhot. Obviously, if the panim chadashot themselves must fulfill the mitzva, we cannot define ketanim as panim chadashot. The Pitchei Teshuva (Even Ha'ezer 62:14) cites a discussion concerning this issue.
Sources for next week's shiur:
1. 8b - "Amar Rabbi Elazar… u-petach patuach ki-shnei eidim dami"; mishna, Kiddushin 65a.
2. Keritut 11b - "Shenayim omerim akhal… meizid hayiti patur"; Keritut 12a - "Amar Rabbi Meir… meheiman u-patur"; Rambam - Hilkhot Shegagot 11:8, and Ra'avad.
3. Shita Mekubetzet, Ketubot - s.v. "ne'eman le-osera alav"; Pitechei Teshuva - Y.D. 1:18; Ketzot 34:4 - "U-miktzat she-katevu… al atzmo."
4. Rambam - Hilkhot Issurei Bi'a 20:13; Mishneh Le-melekh ibid., halakha 12; Hilkhot Ishut 24:17-18; Ritva, Ketubot - "Ve-ha de-amrinan ne'eman le-osera alav… ve-zeh barur."
1. Why do we accept the husband's claim despite the fact that he does substantiate it with any objective evidence?
2. How can we explain the law of "shavyei a-nafshei chatikha de-issura" on the basis of the sugya in Keritut?
3. What additional explanation do the commentators give for this halakha? What is difficult about this approach?