November 13, 2003
Communal Joy for Seven Days
May there soon be heard, Lord our G-d, in the cities of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of celebration, the voice of a bridegroom and the voice of a bride, the happy shouting of bridegrooms from their weddings and of young men from their feasts of song. -- From the Sheva Brachot, the Jewish wedding blessings, www.ou.org/wedding/7brachot.htm
The "Sheva Brachot" (Seven Blessings) are among the most joyous and beautiful blessings in Judaism. Recited under the chuppah and over festive meals during the first week of marriage, they represent not only the happiness of the couple -- but of the entire community.
The roots for the "Sheva Brachot" tradition can be traced all the way back to biblical times. After Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, Laban commanded his new son-in-law to "wait until this week [of wedding celebrations] for [Leah] is over. Then we will give you the other girl" (Genesis 29:27).
The ceremony is also mentioned in the Talmud, by the Ramban and in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. But as Herb Geduld writes in the Cleveland Jewish News, since the festive meal was only eaten in the presence of 10 men, "It was not a widespread ceremony in Eastern Europe, where feeding 10 or 20 people was often an unaffordable expense."
If you are going to be honored with reciting one of the blessings, you can practice your rendition at Paul Evans and Rebecca Schwartz' "Sheva Brachot" Page, www.bexandpaul.com. Each blessing is presented in Hebrew, English transliteration, English translation along with an audio file of the traditional melody. While you're at the site, take a look at the joyous couple's July wedding photos.
There are several interesting laws and customs connected to the "Sheva Brachot." For example, Rabbi Doniel Neustadt explains at www.torah.org/advanced/weekly-halacha/5760/vayechi.html that one of the participants at the celebration should be a panim chadashot -- literally "a new face" -- someone who was not present at the wedding ceremony. Neustadt -- www.torah.org/advanced/weekly-halacha/5760/mikeitz.html -- notes that the first week of marriage is considered a "private Yom Tov" during which there is an obligation of simcha.
Couples who decide to observe the traditional week of "Sheva Brachot" should expect to see plenty of family, friends, meals and public celebrations. It also means postponing thoughts of escaping to a private honeymoon on some isolated beach. And that's a good thing, says author Michael Medved in his article titled "Banish the Honeymoon," www.taemag.com/issues/articleid.16350/article_detail.asp .
"Consider the underlying message that the honeymoon habit conveys. Even when the bridal pair is fortunate enough to enjoy a very public wedding ceremony, they follow this occasion with an abrupt escape from the very community that helped them consecrate their vows," he writes.
Medved acknowledges that seven days of feasting with friends may sound like an ordeal, but it really isn't. He says that we should take a look at the "synthetic and temporary environment of the honeymoon" compared with the grounding that a ritual like the "Sheva Brachot" gives us.
Gilah Langner continues that theme and makes a lovely observation when she describes the conclusion of the
"Sheva Brachot" ceremony at www.kerem.com/journals/journal3.htm . Wine is poured from two cups into a third and then back into the original cups. "The newlyweds sip from the wine and share the third cup with their guests. The "Sheva Brachot" ritual thus extends the sense of blessing expressed in the words just recited. Along with the wine, the couple's joy reverberates through the community."
Mark Mietkiewiczis is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .