Sunday, February 17, 2013

Marriage: The Law in the Custom


For the first time in what seems like a long time, I have a lot of blog posts in mind that don't involve pulling from the Ask Chaviva Anything! log of inquiries and curiosities. A lot of this is probably because of pending nuptials (whoa, getting married in just a few days!), but also because I feel like with the move to Neve Daniel I'm in a more curious and settled head space than I have been for a while now. So where do I begin?

On Friday, Mr. T and I bumped into several people over the course of the morning in Neve Daniel, which I'm sure raised some eyebrows. Why?

Traditionally, the week leading up to a religious Jewish couple's wedding the two don't see neither hide nor hair of their betrothed. On the day of the wedding, there traditionally is fasting and more not seeing, even before the actual chuppah itself. The keyword here is "traditionally."

The first time I got married, my ex and I didn't see each other the week before the wedding, which created a lot of entertaining choreography as we were staying in the same city, and pretty much the same house but on different levels. On the day of the wedding, we didn't see each other up until the point of picture taking, at which time we decided that it made sense to see each other.

Although Mr. T and I have decided that the day of the wedding we won't be seeing each other, we concluded -- after some research and investigation into the whole "not seeing each other thing -- that we're going to let minhagim be minhagim (traditions) and not stress out about avoiding each other during the week before the wedding.

I know what you're thinking: Catastrophe! Disaster! Shanda! But hold your horses. What would you do if I told you that the basis for this tradition is not in halakah (Jewish law)? What about the fact that Sephardim don't even observe this custom?

Yes, friends, shocker time. The whole avoidance pre-wedding is a tradition that has some shady and unclear origins, ranging from medieval fears of bad luck to the fact that most religious people just weren't in the same place the week up to the wedding (and in most cases, the months up to the wedding after the engagement).

You can read the entire megillah on this topic over at the OU, but I'll give you the rundown quickly here.

This custom seems to date back to as early as 1228, but in Jerusalem it was introduced in the early 1700s. The main reasons cited by poskim for why a couple shouldn't see each other in the week leading up to the wedding are that forced separation builds excitement and that it decreases the likelihood of premarital relations (seriously?), but also that it can be a tense period of time in which strife could arise and the wedding could be called off as a result of stress, tension, and arguments (“There is no marriage contract that does not contain a quarrel,” Shabbat 130a). After watching a few episodes of Bridezillas, this makes gobs of sense, but it also doesn't explain why in most religious circles this has become the required "law." Where exactly does it all come from?

Let's start with this interesting morsel.
"In a footnote, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Made in Heaven, [New York, 1983], p. 67) cites two other works that mention the custom, and then states that the source for the custom may be YD 192:1, the section that deals with dam chimud ... [which is the] concern that meeting the chatan [groom] may cause the kallah [bride]to have a discharge that could invalidate the shivah nekiyim (seven clean days before going to the mikvah)."
Both Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Binyomin Forst find this tie suspect at best, because the Talmud requires that upon accepting a marriage proposal or setting a wedding date that she might discharge blood as a result of the excitement (talk about a complete lack of understanding about the female body, am I right?). Even if this were to happen, she's still required to observe seven "clean days" prior to the wedding, so unless she's getting engaged and married seven days later, there's no concern here (also, because, you know, women don't bleed when they get excited). 

In Sefer Minhagim: The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs, the footnote simply cites letters from the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the basis for the tradition. However, 
"Nitei Gavriel, a recent, comprehensive source of customs, does not mention this practice, but records that around one hundred years ago, there was a custom in Jerusalem of the bride and groom going together to famous rabbis to get their blessings during the week before the wedding (Hilchot Nisuin, p. 55, in the name of Sdei Chemed, Ma’arechet Chatan Vekallah, 22)."
The reality is that halakah requires that a bride and groom must see each other before the wedding, which makes this custom kind of strange even at its very roots. Even Ravs Moshe Feinstein and Aharon Soloveichik advocated for not letting this custom serve as an inconvenience to couples prior to the wedding. 

So what did you do when getting married, or what do you plan on doing when you get married? Did you realize just how custom-y this was, or have you always assumed it was halakah

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