Fasting on the Wedding Day

Now that Shavuos is past, we
enter the heaviest wedding season of the Jewish calendar. I decided to discuss
this usually not-well-understood topic.

Question #1: Our wedding is going
to be after nightfall. Do we fast until the wedding, or may we break the fast
when it gets dark?

Question #2: Yocheved asks: I
usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I
fast that day. What do I do?

Question #3: Sheryl’s
dilemma: “What will I explain to my non-observant parents when they
exclaim at my pre-chupah reception – ‘What! You can’t eat anything at
your own wedding?’”

Sheryl comes from a very
assimilated background. Let her explain:

“In my extended family, my
parents were considered the religious ones, since they were the only ones who
married Jewish. Furthermore, my Dad was the only one who fasted on Yom
Kippur
, albeit with a little cheating on the side. So, when my family
members heard that I had become Orthodox, they were shocked at many of my new
practices, despite my efforts to keep things as low-key as possible. None of
them had a clue what it means to really keep kosher or Shabbos. Now that
I’m getting married, many of them are curious to attend my wedding, and I would
like to make the experience a Kiddush Hashem for them. Therefore, I
intend to explain our mitzvos and customs to them in the best possible
light.”

Sheryl’s goals are indeed
noble. How will she explain the reason we fast on one’s wedding day to someone
who knows little about Yiddishkeit? The prospect seems almost ominous.

Why do we fast?

Although early authorities
cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities
discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen
Avraham
and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel
61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):

Reason #1: To avoid
inebriation

Some explain that the
practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober
when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they
will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some
commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain
that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything
intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were
inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even
Ha’ezer
60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind, but also
sometimes intoxicating.

Reason
#2: To achieve atonement

Since
a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos
63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).

One
allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of parshas
Tolados,
the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married
was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that
although her name was actually Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her
Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his
wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).

Who fasts?

I am sure you are already
asking why I said that the chosson fasts on hiswedding day, and
omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:

Are there any halachic
differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are
several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson
fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day
atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic
sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later
authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson
and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities
conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1:
Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara
mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins, since the kallah
is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel
Avraham Butchach
573).

However, if the reason for
the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too,
should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be
easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her
wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.

On
the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah
and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction
to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this
approach, the kallah should fast also, even if we are not concerned
about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1).
This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after
mincha
on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9).
In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with
children who bring great credit to themselves and to Hashem (Aruch
Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer
61:21).

Sheryl
can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say
that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the
occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and
opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.

How long must one fast?

There are other halachic differences
that result from the two reasons quoted above.If one fasts to ensure
that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the
wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly,
if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue
their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic
day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the
other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the
day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is
at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior
to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham
Butchach
573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not
followed.

How do we rule?

The Chachmas Adam (129:2)
concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than
the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one
may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However,
one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine
at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch
Hashulchan
disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas
Adam
.

What about the opposite
situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the
rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the
entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach
Chayim
562 at end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the
wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to
fast until nightfall, even through the chupah and the yichud room!
However, accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony,
even when it takes place before nightfall.

Do Sefardim fast?

Most sources citing the
custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not
Sefardim
fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic
anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic
communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least
for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the
Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the
prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel
was not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2;
Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that
some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because the weddings were
always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held
late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may
drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is
no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby
argue that when the Sefardim marry in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic
practice and fast.

Nevertheless, the common
practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast.
Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael
should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities
where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim
to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not
have the practice are not permitted to fast.

Like receiving the Torah

What are the other reasons
mentioned for the fast?

One early source states that
the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of
the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the
carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah,
commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source
mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson
fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465).
What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash
that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. Obviously,
the Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash.Perhaps this is
why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic
ramifications that result from it.

This is a beautiful reason to
observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate
it.

To avoid rift

Here is another, very
meaningful reason mentioned for the fast, although it is largely ignored by the
later authorities: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah
is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing
opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple
cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is
common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and
they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t
Mahari Bruno
#93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would
appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.

The king gets judged daily

Others explain that the
origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and
we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin
2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his
wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully
understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do teshuvah and
fast.

To appreciate the mitzvah

The above-mentioned anthology
Hanisu’in Kehilchasam mentions yet another reason, which he attributes
to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation
of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an
opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah
look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot
even eat!

Do they say Aneinu?

Do the chosson and kallah
say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the
day ends?

The Rama (562:2) rules
that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not
going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place
during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing
the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom
Tzom Taaneiseinu
, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a
full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).

Accepting the fast

Usually, someone intending to
have a voluntary fast must state at the end of mincha on the day before
that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept
the fast during mincha on the day before?

The halachic
authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this
declaration during mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend
specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony.
Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one
did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they
are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12).
If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah
should daven mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu,
since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah
Berurah
562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do
not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

Are there days when they
do not fast?

Indeed, a chosson and kallah
must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This
includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen
Avraham
(573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such
as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.

But maybe they will get
intoxicated?

I understand that they are
not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not
become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must
be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri
Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav
573:1). Observing this precaution is a
fulfillment of the custom to fast.

What about Lag BeOmer?

Technically speaking, there
is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the
month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits
fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to
fast. This applies also during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan,
even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1,
2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and
kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas
Shivah
). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier
authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who
chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient
practice (hameikil lo hifsid).

What about a second
marriage?

Does someone marrying for a
second time fast on his wedding day?

According to the rationale that
the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no
difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast.
Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should
also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from
the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married
Basmas/Machalas he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah
teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even a subsequent
marriage atones, and someone marrying for second or third time should fast on
the day.

What if they are not
feeling well?

At this point we can address
the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well,
and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I
do?”

We should be aware that on
the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone
suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom
to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting
on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah
suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they
should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course,
specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.

Conclusion

The Ashkenazic
practice of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of
custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many
leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast
unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying
on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to
fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted
minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish
people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not
forsake the laws of your mother
, and that one is obligated to observe them.

May the fasts of our chasanim
and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and
kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.