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Lesson 20

Laws of the Wedding (8) Customs and Laws of the Wedding

Rav David Brofsky
Text file
            Last week, we discussed the role of eidim (witnesses) in the marriage ceremony. We noted that according to the Talmud (Kiddushin 65a; see also Shulcḥan Arukh, EA 42:2), kiddushin that is performed in front of only one witness is not valid. This led some Acharonim to explain that unlike dinei mamonot (cases of financial matters), the eidim not only testify as to what they saw, but their mere presence enables the change of legal status. This is known as “edut le-kiyum ha-davar.”
            We discussed the qualifications of the witnesses and how witnesses may be disqualified due to their identity, physical or developmental state, their behavior, or their relationship to the chatan, kalla, or each other.
            Finally, we mentioned that it is customary to designate witnesses under the chuppa. This practice is most likely based on an opinion cited by the Ritva (Kiddushin 43a, s.v. itmar). According to this view, the principle of “if one of them is found to be a relative or is otherwise disqualified, their entire testimony is voided” applies to the kiddushin performed at the wedding ceremony. In other words, if there are relatives present at the giving of the kiddushin, all eidim who witnessed the ceremony are disqualified. Therefore, “whenever there are valid and invalid witnesses at the (kiddushin) ceremony, it is necessary to designate the eidei kiddushin, because if not, since there is an invalid witness among them, the testimony of all of them is disqualified.” By designating witnesses to the exclusion of others, the “kat” of eidim, which does not include disqualified witnesses, is defined.
            In truth, the halakha is in accordance with the view of Tosafot (cited in Rema 42:4), and we are therefore not concerned that “if one of them is found to be a relative or is otherwise disqualified, their entire testimony is voided.” There is thus no need to designate eidim. Nevertheless, a number of Acharonim (see, for example, Radvaz 2, ch. 707; Shakh, CM 36:8; Beit Meir 42:2; Ketzot Ha-Choshen 36:1) record that it is customary to designate the edei kiddushin. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (EH 42:31) explains that “[since] those who are at the wedding ceremony are often distracted by the wedding music, and they do not witness the actual kiddushin, [witnesses are designated] in order that two witnesses should see the kiddushin… and since those standing under the chuppa who see the kiddushin are generally related to each other, and those who are valid eidim generally stand far from the chuppa and do not at all see the kiddushin… it is proper for the chatan to designate the witnesses however in order to spare him this embarrassment and responsibility it is proper for the officiating rabbi to designate the eidim.” If the eidim were not designated, and other people witnessed the kiddushin ceremony, the wedding is still valid (see Otzar Ha-Poskim 22:25:6).
            Interestingly, the Acharonim disagree as to whether designating the witnesses excludes specifically disqualified people from the appointed group of eidim, or whether it also disqualifies and excludes all other people witnessing the wedding ceremony. This question arises when one of the two appointed witnesses turns out to be disqualified. Can other guests then be counted as eidim? While some Acharonim maintain that under these circumstances, the wedding is invalid and the kiddushin must be performed again (see Mahari Weil; see also Minchat Asher 2:82), others maintain that the other guests may serve at witnesses and the wedding is valid (see Mahari ben Lev 1:17:101; Iggerot Moshe EA 4:46).
The Wedding Ring
            It is customary to perform the kiddushin through kiddushei kesef (Rambam, Hilkhot Ishut 3:21). A man betroths a woman by giving her money, or something of financial value, worth at least a “peruta.”
            The custom to perform kiddushei kesef with a ring dates back to at least the Geonic era (Teshuvot Geonim, Harkabi 65). The Sefer Ha-Chinukh (mitzva 592) cites this custom as well:
And given that which what I mentioned is the foundation of the commandment, Israel is accustomed to perform the betrothal with a ring, so that it be a constant commemoration on her hand, even though it is possible to betroth her with the value of a small coin (peruta) alone.
            Rema (EA 27:1) cites this practice in the name of the Tikunei Zohar.
            The Mordekhai (1240-1298), in his commentary to Kiddushin (488), mentions that it is customary to use a gold ring for kiddushin. The Rishonim discuss whether the kiddushin is valid if the kalla believed that the ring she receives is made from gold, when it is really made of silver or copper (see Otzar Ha-Poskim 31:15). Therefore, one should not use a gold plated silver ring for the kiddushin. Similarly, one should not use a ring with an inscription, nor should one use a ring with a stone, as the ring’s value is not clearly apparent, and the kalla may not wish to be betrothed with a ring of a lesser value than she thought (see Shulchan Arukh, EA 31:2 ).
            The ring must belong to the chatan. Thus, the groom must pay for the ring, and he cannot use a ring which was stolen or borrowed (Rosh 35:2; Shulcḥan Arukh 28:19), or which was given to the chatan as a conditional gift (matana al menat le-hachzir, see Shulchan Arukh ibid. 20).
            Sometimes, a chatan is given a ring by his parents, or others. He may use this ring for kiddushin if it is given to him as a gift and he performs a proper kinyan by raising the ring three tefachim (see Arukh Ha-Shulchan 28:84), or if it fits completely into his hand (see Netivot Ha-Mishpat, CM 198:3).
            What if the chatan borrowed a ring in order to use it for the kiddushin? The Rosh (Kiddushin 1:20; see also Mordekhai, Kiddushin 545) asserts that since the ring was lent to the chatan with the awareness that it was to be used for the kiddushin, “we attest to the fact that [the lender] had full intention to give it to him in manner acceptable for kiddushin, so that the woman would be betrothed with it.” This ruling is partially based on another passage in the Talmud (Moed Katan 26b), which teaches that if Reuven lends Shimon a shirt so that Shimon can visit his sick father, and when Shimon arrives at his father’s house he finds that his father has passed away, he may perform keri’a and tear the shirt (and then pay Reuven for the damage caused). This implies that Reuven lent the shirt with the intention that if Shimon were to become a mourner, the shirt would be considered his and he may perform the mitzvah of keri’a.
            The Rashba (3:273) disagrees and explains that while one who lends his shirt to his friend gives him implicit permission to tear the shirt, it is not viewed as a gift. Therefore, regarding the case of kiddushin, the ring did not belong to the chatan, and the kiddushin are thus not valid.
            Although the Shulchan Arukh (EA 28:19) rules in accordance with the Rosh, many Acharonim write that one should take the position of the Rashba into account (see Avnei Nezer, EA 136; Yabi’a Omer, EA 6:6).
            If the ring belonged to the kalla, before the ceremony, it must be given to the chatan with the intention that it belongs to him. However, if the kalla did not properly “give” the ring to the chatan, even the Rashba rules that “when they have been designated for marriage, and she accepted it with the intention to be betrothed, we can testify to the fact that it is fine with her and that she has resolved in her heart that the ring should be his” (based on a different passage  in Kiddushin 13a). Some Acharonim (see Chatam Sofer, Gittin 20b; Beit Shmuel, EA 124) disagree and cite a different passage that appears to contradict this ruling (see Gittin 20b).
            If the kiddushin was performed with a borrowed ring, even if the kalla lent her ring to the chatan for the kiddushin, some Poskim rule that the kiddushin should be performed again with a ring fully owned by the chatan. (See R. David Stav and R. Avraham Stav, Sefer Avo Beitekha, ch. 18.)
The mesader kiddushin asks the witnesses under chuppa if the ring is worth a peruta (Rema 31:2), and he should ensure that the chatan fully acquires the ring (see Beit Shmuel 28:49).
The Kiddushin
            It is customary to say the following formula before giving the ring to the kalla: “Harei at mekudeshet li be-taba’at zo ke-dat Moshe ve-Yisrael,” “Behold you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moshe and [the People of] Israel.” This text is cited by numerous Rishonim (see Sefer Ha-Manhig, Hilkhot Eirusin; Maharam Mintz 109; Shulchan Arukh and Rema 27:1). The chatan and kalla must know the meaning and intention of this sentence. Some mesadrei kiddushin say the above formula and the chatan repeats after him.
            Although the kalla must willingly accept the ring and wish to be married, she does not generally respond to the chatan’s statement (see Kiddushin 13a and Maharam Mintz 109). While she may answer “yes” or “I wish to be betrothed to you,” if she says “Behold you are consecrated unto me” to the chatan, some question the validity of the kiddushin (see Otzar Ha-Poskim 27:40:3).
            It is customary for the chatan to take the ring in his right hand; if he is left-handed, he takes the ring in his left hand (see Be’er Heitev 27:1). The kalla extends the index finger of her right hand (see Rokeach 351), even if she is left-handed, as the right hand symbolizes love (Tikunei Zohar 21). Although it is customary to perform the kiddushin in this manner, if the ring is given or received in a different manner, it is certainly valid (see Arukh Ha-Shulchan 27:4). 
A Chatan’s Ring and a Double Ring Ceremony
            In recent years, it has become quite common for married men to wear wedding rings, and some couples even insist that the kalla present the ring to the chatan as part of the wedding ceremony. Are these practices halakhically valid and/or permissible?
            Some suggest that a man wearing a ring may be a violation of the biblical verse, “Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes” (Vayikra 18:3). The Rambam (Hilkhot Avoda Zara 11:1) describes how one should not imitate the non-Jews, “not their manner of dress, nor their haircuts.” It appears, however, that one only violates this prohibition by adopting a practice of behavior that has no apparent reason, simply in order to be similar to the non-Jews (Maharik 88; see Rema, YD 178:1). R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, EA 4:32:2) rules that wearing a wedding ring is not a violation of this prohibition.
            Others suggest that wearing a wedding ring may violate the biblical prohibition of “nor may a man wear a woman's garment, because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your God” (Devarim 22:5). However, due to the fact that men’s rings are different than women’s rings (see Yabi’a Omer, YD 6:14), as well as the fact that rings are no longer perceived as “women’s clothing,” there appears to be no halakhic objection to a man wearing a wedding ring.
            May the kalla give the chatan a ring during the wedding ceremony? In a number of response, R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, EA 3:25; 4:13) dealing with weddings performs by Reform and Conservative rabbis, notes that among the many reasons to invalidate these weddings, “the fact that she is giving [the ring] demonstrates that his giving the ring was only a gift, and not in order that they should be become man and wife.” Elsewhere, however, he upholds weddings performed in this manner, and he rules that if an Orthodox rabbi is coerced into permitting this ceremony, the wedding is valid.
            R. Feinstein (ibid. 3:18) objected to the “double ring ceremony” for numerous reasons. First, he feared that it may violate “chukat ha-akum (see above). Second, he was concerned that people might think that a woman giving the chatan a ring is an integral part of the ceremony. Finally, people may forget that a halakhic kiddushin is only one-sided, i.e. the man offers kesef kiddushin to the kalla. R. Soloveitchik (see Mi-Peninei Ha-Rav 272) and other poskim similarly object to a two ring ceremony.
            Nevertheless, R. Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, EA 4:13) writes that when the mesader kiddushin feels that there is no other choice, the kalla may give the chatan a ring and the rabbi explains that the official ceremony is completed. Similarly, R. Yaakov Ariel advised Tzohar rabbis, who perform weddings primarily for non-religious Jews, that they may permit the kalla to present the chatan with a ring before the breaking of the cup, at the end of the ceremony. Indeed, this is the practice at many “chiloni” weddings. However, it appears that the preferred practice is not to incorporate an additional giving of a ring into the kiddushin.
            Next week, we will discuss the reading of the ketuba and the sheva berakhot

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