A Layman’s Guide to Marriage
“A friend’s son in Yeshiva in Israel got engaged to a local girl, and my friends were told that there will be a tena’im. I thought only chassidishe families do this.”
“I was told that I should not include quotations from pesukim on my daughter’s wedding invitation. Yet, I see that ‘everyone’ does! Could you please explain the halacha?”
“I wish someone could walk me through all the halachic steps that we need in planning our daughter’s wedding. I am afraid I’ll forget to take care of something.”
From the engagement to the wedding
Mazel tov!! Mazel tov!! Your daughter just became engaged to an amazing yeshivah bachur from a wonderful family. You are in seventh heaven!
Virtually everyone plans some type of formal celebration when his or her child becomes engaged. Some call it a “lechayim,” others a “vort,” still others a “tena’im,” and in Eretz Yisroel today it is usually called an “erusin.” Since these differences are not inherently halachic, I am going to note only one point about this part of the simcha: does one sign a tena’im shortly after announcing the engagement? In chassidishe circles, and, in Eretz Yisrael, even among “Israeli Litvishe” families, it is accepted that one finalizes the engagement by signing tena’im, which is an agreement between the two sets of parents as to what each will provide to their child before the wedding and to conduct the wedding before a certain agreed-upon date. The climax of the engagement celebration is when this document is signed, parts of it are read aloud, and the two mothers break a plate together. The halachic authorities discuss why we break a plate at a tena’im and a glass at the chupah (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 560: 4; Keser Rosh, #114).
In “American,” non-chassidishe circles, these arrangements are more informal, and the two parties usually do not sign any formal tena’im. Some sign a type of a tena’im at the wedding, prior to the chupah.
There are, actually, some halachos germane to invitations. One may not quote any pesukim in invitations and, according to most authorities, the lettering of an invitation should not use kesav ashuris, the Hebrew writing used for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Yoreh Deah 4:32). This is because kesav ashuris has sanctity and should not be used for mundane matters (Shu”t Radbaz 1:45; Rema, Yoreh Deah 284:2; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 283:3). We should note that the Kesav Sofer writes that his father, the Chasam Sofer, permitted using kesav ashuris in wedding invitations and did so himself, contending that, since making a wedding is a mitzvah, the invitation to the seudas mitzvah is not considered a mundane use. Nevertheless, the Kesav Sofer concludes that it is better not to use kesav ashuris for invitations (Shu”t Kesav Sofer, Even Ha’ezer #22 at end).
Why do the choson and kallah require shomrim? From what time do the choson and kallah require shomrim?
The Gemara says that three people require a shomer: an ill person, a choson and a kallah Berachos 54b). Although many people have the custom of providing shomrim from the ufruf Shabbos, technically the choson and kallah require shomrim only from the wedding through the week of sheva berachos. The prevalent practice is that this includes only when they leave their house. This means that during sheva berachos week, the choson may attend minyan only if someone escorts him from his house, although some hold that a choson can go to shul without a shomer (told to me in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein).
It is common practice to provide them with shomrim on the day of the wedding also.
Things to bring to the wedding
The following can function as a useful checklist of items that should be brought to the wedding:
From personal experience, I suggest bringing not only the kesubah one intends to use, but also several blank extra forms.
If the choson will be wearing a kittel under the chupah, remember to bring it.
(3) Candles and matches
Four candles for the shushbinin, who are the two couples that will escort the choson and kallah, and matches with which to light the candles. The matches are also useful in the creation of ashes that will be placed on the choson’s forehead before he walks to the chupah.
Many deliberately bring a bottle of white wine, a position that I advocate, to avoid concerns of red wine staining a white wedding dress. (I am aware of some poskim who prefer that one use red wine at a chupah. However, I prefer white wine, since it spares the worry of a stained gown.)
Cards, or something similar, with all the berachos for the various honorees.
The wedding ring. This should be a ring without a precious stone (Even Ha’ezer 31:2). Some rabbonim prefer that it have no design at all. It is important that the ring be the property of the choson. In other words, the choson must either purchase it with his own money, or whoever purchased it must give it to the choson as a gift and the choson must pick it up to acquire it. So, if the bride wants to use her late great-grandmother’s wedding ring, they should make sure that the current, rightful owner of that ring gives it to the choson, with no strings attached, prior to the wedding.
A well-wrapped glass that will be broken. (Note that the Rema [Even Ha’ezer 65:3] states that the choson should break the glass that was used to hold the wine of the wedding beracha. Although I have seen this actually practiced, it is definitely not the common, contemporary custom.)
Make sure that someone has the key to the yichud room!
Wow!! We have actually gotten all the way to the wedding! What happens next?
The choson tish
If the tena’im were not performed earlier, some people make a tena’im now. If the tena’im will take place at the wedding, then one should also have a plate that one intends to break.
The kesubah is filled out and signed at the choson tish. (In Eretz Yisrael, many follow the practice of not signing the kesubah until the choson and kallah are under the chupah.)
At this point, we will introduce the mesader kiddushin, the talmid chacham who is honored with making certain that the halachic aspects of the wedding are performed correctly.
Following the instructions of the mesader kiddushin, the choson lifts up a pen, handkerchief, or other itemas a means of kinyan in the presence of two witnesses. By doing this, he assumes the financial responsibilities of a husband and future father.
Should we use the same witnesses?
There are two prevalent practices regarding the witnesses, usually dependent on the preference of the mesader kiddushin. The more common American practice is that each part of the ceremony — the signing of the kesubah, the kiddushin itself, and the yichud — are witnessed by different sets of witnesses, in order to honor more people. In Eretz Yisrael, the common practice is to have one set of witnesses for all the stages. The Tashbeitz (2:7) explains that once one honored someone with performing a mitzvah, we encourage that he perform the rest of the mitzvah (hamaschil bemitzvah omrim lo gemor). Other reasons for this custom are provided by the Eizer Mikodesh (end of Even Ha’ezer 42) and Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach.
Signing of kesubah
After the choson makes the kabbalas kinyan, the witnesses carefully read through the kesubah and then sign it (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 66:1 and Choshen Mishpat 45:2). If they are attesting to something by signing, they must know what it is.
Choson signing kesubah
Many have the practice that the choson also signs the kesubah, beneath the witnesses’ signatures. This practice dates back to the times of the rishonim and demonstrates that the choson approves what the witnesses are signing (Rashba, Bava Basra 175; Eizer Mikodesh 66:1 s.v. hayah ta’us).
The choson, escorted by the two fathers and accompanied by the celebrants, now goes to badek the kallah, by pulling the veil over her head. At this point, the kallah’s father and perhaps others bless her. The celebrants then proceed to the chupah.
The chupah itself should, ideally, be open on all four sides (Eizer MiKodesh). This is reminiscent of the tent of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu, whose tent was accessible from all four directions of the globe, so as not to inconvenience any potential guests. We are conveying blessing upon the bride and groom that the house they build together be as filled with chesed as the house of Avraham and Sarah was.
Immediately prior to walking to the chupah, the mesader kiddushin places some ashes above the choson’s forehead. The ashes are placed where the choson wears his tefillin, and are immediately removed, and serve to remind the choson that even at this moment of tremendous joy, he should remember that our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruins. This, literally, fulfills the verse in Yeshayah (61:3), To place on the mourners of Zion and to give them splendor instead of ashes, where the Navi promises that in the future we will replace the ashes that currently remind us of the churban (Even Ha’ezer 65:3).
Chupah under the Stars
The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is that the chupah is conducted outdoors or under an open skylight, in order to provide a beracha for the marrying couple that their descendants be as numerous as the stars (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). However, if a couple prefers to hold their chupah under a roof, the mesader kiddushin should still perform the wedding ceremony for them, since there is no violation to perform the chupah this way (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:93).
Jewelry at the Chupah
There is a common custom that the kallah removes all her jewelry before she goes to the chupah. Some explain that this custom is based on the Mishnah that after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash, Chazal decreed that the choson and kallah should no longer wear the crowns that they were accustomed to wearing before that time (Sotah 49a). Although removing jewelry may be associated with this idea, most authorities contend that this is only a custom borrowed from this idea, but is not required. If it were required, then wearing jewelry would be prohibited from the night before the wedding, until the end of sheva berachos (see Mishnah Berurah 560:17).
Accepted practice is to prohibit only silver, gold or jewelry of precious stones that are worn on the kallah’s head, and only at the chupah (Mishnah Berurah 560:17, quoting Pri Megadim). However, some authorities prohibit a kallah from wearing any silver or gold jewelry the entire sheva berachos week (Yam shel Shelomoh, Gittin 1:19).
Wearing a Kittel
The common practice among Eastern European Jews is that the choson wears a kittel at the chupah. The reason for wearing the kittel is tied closely to the wedding day as his personal day of atonement, and is to encourage the choson to do teshuvah on this day.
When does he put on the kittel? There are two common practices: some have the choson wear the kittel folded up under his suit jacket, whereas others have the kittel placed on top of his suit as soon as he stands under the chupah, and remove the kittel either immediately after the chupah or in the cheder yichud.
The accepted practice is that the shushbin places the kittel on the choson. His “dressing” the choson reinforces the idea that the wedding day is a day of teshuvah and atonement – it should remind the choson, when he puts on the kittel for the first time, of the day when he will be wearing his kittel for the last time (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 147:4).
Who walks them down?
The choson and kallah are escorted by two couples, called the shushbinin, who are usually their parents. There was an old custom that the shushbinin should both be couples who are married in their first marriage (cited by Eizer Mikodesh 68:2, who says that he is uncertain of the origin of this custom). Some have a custom that a woman who is visibly pregnant should not serve as a shushbin (Shearim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 147:12). Since these practices are custom and not halacha, when following them may create a dispute, shalom is more important.
There are two common practices as to who, specifically, escorts the choson and who escorts the kallah. Some have the custom that the choson is escorted by the two male shushbinin, and the kallah by the two female shushbinin, whereas others have each escorted by a couple. To decide what to do, I quote a well-known practice of Rav Yaakov Kamenetski, who at three of his children’s marriages had the shushbinin walk as couples and at the other three had the fathers escorting the choson and the mothers escorting the kallah. His rule: I did whatever the mechutan preferred.
Kallah on the Right
Based on a verse in Tehillim (45:10) that teaches that the place of honor for a princess is to be stationed on the right, the kallah stands to the right and the choson to the left.
Standing at the Chupah
In America, the guests usually sit throughout the chupah ceremony, whereas, in Eretz Yisrael, the standard practice is that everyone stands throughout the chupah. The latter practice, or, more specifically, that everyone stands while the sheva berachos are recited, is quoted in the name of the Zohar (see Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shelomoh, Even Ha’ezer #115).
Erusin and Nesuin
There are two stages to a Jewish wedding. The first stage is called kiddushin or erusin (not to be confused with the Modern Hebrew word erusin, which means “engagement”), and is focused on the choson giving the wedding ring to the kallah. The second step is called nesuin. In Talmudic times, these two stages were conducted separately – often as much as a year apart. After kiddushin, the couple is married, but do not yet live together.
Today, the two stages are conducted as one long ceremony.
Is the Kallah’s face covered?
The Rema (31:2) cites an old Ashkenazic custom that the kallah’s face is covered at her chupah. The Rema does not say how thick the veil is, although we find a dispute among later authorities about this. Some authorities object strongly to the kallah wearing a veil that is so thick that the witnesses cannot identify her (Mabit, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 31:5). Others rule that it is not problematic for the veil to be this thick, and, therefore, in many places the custom is that the kallah wears a very thick veil.
The mesader kiddushin recites the beracha of borei pri hagafen on behalf of the choson and the kallah. They should have in mind to be included in his beracha and not to interrupt before they drink the wine (see Afikei Yam 2:2). According to some opinions Shu”t Noda Beyehuda, Even Ha’ezer #1), the choson should also have in mind to be included in the birchas erusin¸ but most contend that he is not required to recite this beracha (see Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #44, who quotes this from the Tevuos Shor, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and several other authorities). The choson and kallah then sip from the cup. The most common practice is that the mesader kiddushin gives the choson to drink, and then hands the cup to the kallah’s mother, who gives her to drink. The choson and kallah need to drink only a small sip of the wine (Be’er Heiteiv, Even Ha’ezer 34:6; Amudei Apiryon page 71).
On behalf of the choson, the mesader kiddushin appoints the two witnesses, and then asks the witnesses, within earshot of the kallah, whether the ring is worth a perutah, which is worth only a few cents. The reason for this strange conversation is so that the kallah agrees to be married, even if the ring is worth so little (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 31:2).
According to many authorities, the witnesses must see the choson place the ring on the kallah’s finger (Shu”t Harashba 1:780; Rema, Even Ha’ezer 42:4). Although most authorities rule that this is not essential, the accepted practice is to be certain that the witnesses see the actual placing of the ring on the kallah’s finger (Pischei Teshuva, Even Ha’ezer 42:12).
Reading the kesubah
At this point, the kesubah is read to interrupt between the erusin and the nesuin, and then the sheva berachos are recited. Although some authorities question how one can divide the sheva berachos, the accepted practice is to divide them among six, and in some places seven, honorees (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer #94; cf. Har Tzvi).
Out of order
One should be careful to make sure that each person being honored knows which beracha he is supposed to recite. If the berachos are recited out of order, one should not repeat a beracha, but recite the skipped beracha and then proceed to recite the remaining berachos. Similarly, if the honoree began reciting the wrong beracha, including Hashem’s Name, he should complete the beracha he has begun, after which the remaining berachos are recited. If someone began reciting either the beracha of Sos tasis or Samayach tesamach, which do not begin with Hashem’s Name, out of order, he should stop and the correct beracha should be recited (Amudei Apiryon page 76).
Putting his foot down
After the sheva berachos are completed, the choson smashes a glass (Rema, Even Ha’ezer 65:3). (According to an alternative practice, the choson smashes the glass earlier in the ceremony, immediately after the kiddushin are completed.) Many have the custom that prior to breaking the glass, the choson or the audience sings the pasuk, “im eshkacheich Yerushalayim… .” This custom has sources in rishonim (Sefer Hachassidim #392).
The choson and kallah are then escorted with music and dancing to the yichud room. Two witnesses, called the eidei yichud, make sure that there is no one else in the yichud room, and then remain posted outside for the amount of time that the mesader kiddushin instructs them.
Having studied the basic customs of our weddings, let us examine an observation of the Noda Biyehudah germane to the priorities people use for checking out shidduchin: “I am astonished that most people have no concern about marrying their daughter to a halachic ignoramus, notwithstanding the words of Chazal about the importance of marrying her to a Talmudic scholar… yet they are concerned about having her marry someone whose name is the same as her father’s, which has no Talmudic basis or source” (Shu”t Noda Biyehudah, Even Ha’ezer 2:79). Thus, we see what factors are significant in a marriage: The choson should be a Torah scholar, and his bride, a ye’rei’ah Shamayim.