An old Jewish tradition, that we are skipping

There is an old Jewish tradition that the week prior to the wedding, the chasson (groom) and kallah (bride) don’t see each other. In fact, they are even given shomrim (guards) to ensure that they don’t run into each other. I have seen this practice when I went to Crown Heights, the headquarters of Chabad Judaism, for my friend’s weddings. I even acted as a shomeret (female guard) for one friend (it’s a big honor to be asked). Basically, you are their chaperone.

A friend of mine in Israel, Chaviva, is getting married tomorrow and she was discussing on her blog that they are not holding to this tradition either. What I found so interesting was the history and details of the halacha (Jewish law) behind this… or really the lack there of. She says:

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.

I find this all so fascinating. I watched my friends struggle with this custom but still take it in stride. But remember, their relationships were limited from the start (no touching at all prior to marriage) and their engagements, relatively short. In fact, my friend Rucheli writes on her blog here that she missed her husband to be during that week and missed his council when she needed it but it was more of a pain to drag a shomeret to New Jersey with her for a job interview.

While I like the idea that it would be like seeing Dan for the first time on our wedding day when he veils me, I know that it will still feel that way. We will leave each other the night before our wedding to go sleep in separate places. It will be the hardest night for me, not only without the man I love, but because I know I will be in transition. When I wake up in the morning it will be my own personal Yom Kippur. A day that I am intimately connected to HaShem, G-d but also to my husband.

I will go to bed a fiancé and wake up a bride.


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