Tzarich Iyun: Sheva Berachot

Misconception: A newly married bride and groom are required to participate in sheva berachot (festive meals) each day for seven days.

Fact: There is no obligation to have festive meals during the week following a wedding celebration. However, if the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) participate in a festive meal made in their honor in which certain conditions are satisfied, sheva berachot, seven blessings, should be recited.

Background: The first seven days[1] after a wedding are considered a private yom tov for the chatan and kallah.[2], [3] Thus, there are various laws that apply during this week. These laws include the following: The chatan and kallah should eat their meals together (SA, EH 64:1; KSA 149:12), they should wear nice clothing (AH, EH 64:3; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of chap. 16) and they are prohibited from doing work (Rema, EH 64:1; Rambam, Ishut 10:12; see the strict opinion of Tzitz Eliezer 11:85 regarding the definition of work; see Shu”t Maharsham 3:206 and Yam shel Shlomo, Ketubot, chap. 1:12 regarding the kallah not working). They should not get haircuts (this is similar to the laws of Chol Hamoed—see Pachad Yitzchak, s.v. “chatan v’kallah,” p. 61a; others disagree: see Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 57:11-12) and they should, in general, rejoice as on a holiday (SA, YD 342:1). If either the chatan or kallah is present at a minyan, Tachanun is not recited (SA, OC 131:4; Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 63:14). They are exempt from tearing keriyah when visiting the Kotel, as on a holiday (Hanissuin Kehilchatam 15:66), and a chatan who is a Kohen may not become tamei for a first-degree relative. If a chatan or kallah has to sit shivah during this week, he or she does not tear keriyah or engage in the public aspects of mourning (Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 112:1, 5, 7). According to many opinions, a chatan and kallah are exempt from fasting on Ta’anit Esther (Hanissuin Kehilchatam 15:53) and on a parent’s yahrtzeit (Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 79:6). In ancient times, a Kohen would not examine a suspected case of tzara’at on a chatan or kallah lest he or she be rendered impure during the week of celebration (Moed Kattan 7b; Negaim 3:2).

During these seven days, others are required to make the new couple happy (SA, EH 65:1).[4],[5] In order to fulfill this requirement, family and friends usually arrange daily sheva berachot meals,[6] at which the new couple is regaled by guests who have not yet celebrated with them. Because these meals are considered “seudot mitzvah” (Aishel Avraham, OC 38:7), and include the element of simchah, it is preferable that they include meat and wine (Shu”t Maharam Shick 89). However, sheva berachot should be recited at these meals, even if meat is not served (Otzar Haposekim, EH 62:5:3). At the end of a sheva berachot meal, the zimmun recited prior to Birkat Hamazon is introduced with a poem entitled “Devai Haser” (“Banish pain …”), and the phrase “She’hasimchah bem’ono” (“The celebration is in His dwelling”) is added. Birkat Hamazon is then followed by sheva berachot, the seven blessings.

The practice of making sheva berachot is so widespread that it is now widely assumed to be an obligation. However, there is no obligation to make these meals. One is only required to recite the sheva berachot blessings at a meal in which all the following requirements are fulfilled: the chatan and kallah participate; at least ten men (a minyan) are present, seven of whom have eaten bread, and there must be at least one new face (“panim chadashot”), i.e., a person who has not yet participated in the wedding celebrations, whether at the wedding or at any other meal (Ketubot 8a; SA, EH 62:7; many Sephardim and Yemenites require two panim chadashot—see Yabia Omer 3: EH:11:12). According to some authorities, the meal must be arranged specifically in the couple’s honor (Orchot Chaim, Birkat Hamazon 11; Taz, EH 62:7); that is, if a chatan and kallah are at a meal coincidentally, sheva berachot blessings would not be recited. On Shabbat and yom tov, there is no requirement to have panim chadashot because the day itself fulfills that role (SA, EH 62:8).[7]

Tosafot (Sukkah 25b, s.v. “ein”), many other Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch (EH 62:10) rule that sheva berachot are recited only “b’veit chatan” (lit., “in the house of the chatan,” but the term also refers to a wedding hall). Nowadays, it is common for sheva berachot to be held in different locations. Noting why it is acceptable in contemporary times to have the meals at a location other than the beit chatan, Rabbi Sarya Duvlitsky (Sova Semachot, chap. 1, n. 85) states, based on the Aruch Hashuchan (EH 62:36; cf. Taz, EH 62:7), that in olden times the custom was to host a wedding at a “wedding hostel” (or a beit chatan) where the couple and their guests would spend the week. Because this is no longer the case, the sheva berachot meals can be held anywhere, and this is the practice of most Ashkenazim[8] and some Sephardim, such as Moroccans.[9] However many other Sephardim still only recite sheva berachot blessings beveit chatan.[10]

The Gemara (Ketubot 7b-8a) clearly states that there is no obligation to host daily sheva berachot meals. On the first day of the week of celebration, all seven berachot are said; on the other days, if there are panim chadashot, all are said, and if not (or if there is no minyan present), then only “She’hasimchah bem’ono” is added in the introduction to the zimmun and the berachah “Asher Barah” is recited over the same cup of wine used for Birkat Hamazon.[11]

Many authorities, while not commenting on the actual obligation (or lack of one), discuss how sheva berachot was practiced in their day. Rashi (Ketubot 8a, s.v. “samayach t’samach”) states that in his experience, often either a minyan, or panim chadashot, or both were lacking, and thus a sheva berachot meal was not held every day. The Maharil (d. 1427; Hilchot Nissuin) records that in the Rhineland the custom was to recite sheva berachot only on Shabbat, but not on other days due to the lack of panim chadashot. The Levush (d. 1612; OC, Minhagim, in the back, sec. 30) says that apart from the wedding day, in his day, sheva berachot were recited on Shabbat, and during the rest of the week only if there was panim chadashot. The Maharshal (d. 1574; Yam shel Shlomo, Ketubot, chap. 1: 12), one of the leading posekim of his time, states that in Poland and Lithuania seven days of simchah were not observed due to the difficulties of life in galut, exile. Indeed, many authorities who lived during particularly dark periods in Jewish history indicate that sheva berachot were not recited in their day because of a general lack of simchah that prevailed. Thus, Rabbi Eliezer of Germaiza (Roke’ach 354; d. 1238) states that sheva berachot meals were not celebrated in Germany because “there is no real simchah nowadays in exile,” and the Pitchei Teshuvah (CM 7:13) cites the Tumim as saying that because of the lack of simchah, the custom was to have a festive meal only on the first day. The Chatam Sofer (d. 1839; Shu”t EH 1:122) mentions the long-standing practice in Krakow, Poland, of minimizing the celebration due to a lack of simchah and notes that in Frankfurt am Main he never witnessed sheva berachot meals past the second night. He goes on to say that once someone in Frankfort am Main recited sheva berachot on Shabbat, but that it created quite a stir in the community since this was not the local custom. The Gra (EH 55:11) explains that one of the reasons weddings were commonly held on Fridays was to allow more time for the community to celebrate with the couple in light of the fact that the custom of celebrating for seven days was not generally observed.[12] The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 640:14) notes that in his time (late nineteenth century, Lithuania) meals were not prepared on all seven days.

Some authorities explicitly address the question of whether or not there is an obligation to have daily sheva berachot. The Ben Ish Chai (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim 4: EH:6) notes that if the chatan cannot afford daily sheva berachot, there is no obligation to have them. Similarly, Shu”t Kinyan Torah (2:107) writes that one does not need to make an effort to fulfill the conditions necessary for sheva berachot to be recited.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky maintains that there is no obligation to host daily sheva berachot meals.[13] Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo, p. 325, n. 17) frequently stated that one should not go to undue lengths to make daily sheva berachot if doing so poses a hardship in any way, because in previous generations this was not done. And in Meged Giv’ot Olam (Yerushalayim, 5765, p. 72), Rabbi Michel Shurkin relates that in early 1992 he was at a sheva berachot for Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s grandson when Rabbi Shlomo Zalman bemoaned the fact that the contemporary practice is to make these daily meals, and that this was a burden on him as an attendee.

Even though making daily sheva berachot is not obligatory, halachah does not endorse the secular custom of a honeymoon either.[14] Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 3:EH:11:11) strenuously objects to such a practice and views it as indicative that the couple “is not interested in the berachot.”[15] On the topic of the honeymoon, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide [New York, 1983]) writes:

It is not the Jewish practice for the bride and groom to “escape” on a honeymoon right after the wedding. Rather, they remain in their home community. They are beginning their married life, not separated from the community but as an integral part of it (p. 230).


While there is no halachic obligation to create the conditions for a sheva berachot meal, if a meal is hosted at which all the necessary conditions are fulfilled, there is a halachic obligation to recite sheva berachot. Indeed, some halachic authorities encourage daily sheva berachot even though there is no obligation. Rabbi Duvlitzki[16] (Sova Semachot, chap. 1, n. 5*) says that the medieval custom of only keeping one or two days of sheva berachot has changed and that nowadays it’s worthwhile to try to have them daily. Shu”t Zivchei Tzedek (new: 95) says it is praiseworthy to have sheva berachot twice a day for seven days (see also Otzar Haposekim, vol. 17, p. 7) and that this is implied in Mesechet Sofrim (19:11; cited in Taz, EH 62:3). It further says that such was indeed the custom in Bagdad for those who could afford it; others made sheva berachot at least once a day.[17] Rav Pe’alim (EH 4:6) concludes the discussion on this topic by noting that although there is no obligation to make daily sheva berachot, if one does, “it is a mitzvah gedolah.”[18] So, too, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Sova Semachot, p. 297) refers to having daily sheva berachot as a “mitzvah min hamuvchar.”

Despite the benefits of having daily sheva berachot, there are possible drawbacks: Having to attend daily sheva berachot can be stressful for the new couple. For that reason, many feel it is advisable that the couple eat a few evening meals by themselves or only with members of the immediate family during that first week. As the Sova Semachot (1, n. 7, cited in Sefer Hanissuin Kehilchatam, p. 470, n. 15) concludes, “…if it appears that organizing daily sheva berachot [meals] is a burden on the chatan and kallah, they should conduct themselves [in a way] that it does not become burdensome to them.” If having daily meals is affordable, both financially and emotionally, and it does not present any undue hardships to the couple, it is a commendable custom; if it is not, then it is unnecessary.

Irrespective of whether or not one has daily sheva berachot, the beauty of the tradition and its message should be valued: As a new home is created, the Jewish community welcomes the young chatan and kallah, drawing them into the community. This message is in sharp contrast to that of the secular honeymoon, which implies independence and self-sufficiency. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (end of chap. 17) relates that when King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, he constructed a special gate through which grooms entered. On Shabbat, people would sit near the gate and bless an approaching groom, saying, “May the One who dwells in this house gladden you with sons and daughters.”[19] In the Jewish community, a chatan and kallah begin a new life together not away from the community but as an integral part of it. As a new home is formed, the role of the community is to bring the new couple happiness,[20]
for in Jewish life, the community is with one at all times—times of sadness as well as times of joy.

Notes

1. These days are not counted “me’eit l’eit,” that is, seven complete twenty-four-hour periods. Rather, they are calendar days. Thus, if a wedding takes place in the afternoon, at sundown of that day, the first day is over and day two commences.

2. At a second marriage for both participants, sheva berachot are only recited at the first meal on the day of the wedding. There are three days of simchah, celebration, for a second marriage, not seven. According to some opinions, during these days, only the blessing of “Asher Bara” may be recited at meals (SA, EH 62:6, 64:2; Beit Shmuel, EH 62:5, 17; Chachmat Adam 129:4; KSA 149:4). See sources in Yalkut Yosef, pp. 299-301, and Hanissuin Kehilchatam 17:30-43. This seven-day period (known as “zayin yemei hamishteh,” from Negaim 3:2) is an early custom, as evidenced by the seven-day period referred to after Yaakov married Leah (see Rashi and Ramban on Genesis 29:27; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 16) and after Shimshon’s marriage (Judges 14:12, 17).

3. See Yerushalmi Ketubot 1:1 (where this seven-day period is attributed to Moshe); Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 10:12; Hilchot Avel 1:1. Some view the practice as being Biblical (Korban HaEdah on Ketubot 1:1; Shu”t Mishkenot Yaakov, YD 78), others as rabbinic (Taz, YD 342:1). Still others differentiate between the first day and the other six (Rosh, Ketubot 1:5). C.f. Tosafot, Berachot 47b, s.v. “mitzvah.”

4. There is a separate mitzvah for the chatan to make his wife happy the entire first year of marriage (see Yeraim 190; Sefer Hachinuch 582; c.f. AH, EH 64:4). Rashi (Deuteronomy 24:5, s.v. “v’samayach”) emphasizes that the verse requires that he specifically cause her to be happy.

5. Tanna Devei Eliyahu, chap. 23, implies that the Jews in Egypt observed these seven days. Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 16, uses Shimshon’s seven days as a paradigm, and draws a comparison between a chatan and a king that yields some of the above cited rules. (Note that in a similar vein, rabbinic scholars are compared to a king [Gittin 62a].) In other contexts the chatan is compared to a Kohen (Moed Kattan 28b) or a Kohen Gadol (Rashi and Targum to Isaiah 61:10). Regarding the obligation to make the couple happy at the wedding, see Tur, EH 65, and Meiri to Ketubot 17a. That one should sing the couple’s praises, see SA, EH 65:1. See also Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, The Jewish Wedding (translated and excerpted from Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin), 1993, p. 95, n. 33 on the merit of a wedding badchan (jester), who is guaranteed olam haba (see also Meam Loez, Genesis 29:27).

6. Note that there is a position found in many Rishonim, based on Soferim 19:11, that sheva berachot may be said at any celebratory gathering for the chatan and kallah, even in the absence of a meal. See Nitei Gavriel, Nissuin 83, n. 25.

7. Some authorities require panim chadashot at seudah shelishit, while others do not say sheva berachot at seudah shelishit.

8. There are some Ashkenazim who prefer to be strict. See Rabbi Yochanan Sofer, Aperyon Chatanim (Jerusalem, 5750), p. 21.

9. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rayim Ahuvim, 5765, pp. 165-167, rules that Sephardim may say sheva berachot anywhere.

10. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is emphatic about this point. See the long footnote in Yalkut Yosef, pp. 301-304. He emphasizes that even the chatan’s parent’s house is insufficient (ibid., pp. 316-317).

11. SA, EH 62:4-7; Rema 62:7; c.f. KSA 149:3.

12. It should be noted that in Europe, the practice was to celebrate one or two days; in Yemen, they seemed to have celebrated all seven. See Halichot Teiman, pp. 153-154.

13. Rabbi Nissan Shlomo Kaplan, Kuntres Birkat Chatanim (Jerusalem, 5764), 93.

14. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, pp. 167-169, is in the minority when he says he sees no problem with a honeymoon and that couples should do as they please.

15. He also raises the difficulty of dam betulim.

16. See Kuntres Birkat Chatanim, chap. 21, which connects the requirement to have sheva berachot all seven days with the rationale behind panim chadashot.

17. Note that if on the seventh day the meal ends after sunset, sheva berachot are not recited. See Pitchei Teshuvah, EH 62:12 citing, and questioning, Sha’arei Teshuvah, OC 188. Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Vosner (Shevet HaLevi 1:39) rules that it is straightforward: If the meal on the last day continues into the night, sheva berachot are not recited. However, if it is a Saturday night, they may still be recited. Others disagree.
Some sources rule that on the seventh day sheva berachot should not be recited at sunset even if some of the berachot have already been said. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef permits reciting them during twilight as well (see Yalkut Yosef, chap. 17, n. 13-14).

18. Making daily sheva berachot can be a chumra (stringency) that leads to a kullah (leniency). There is a possibility that in the attempt to make so many festive meals, there may not be true panim chadashot at all of them and the blessings will be berachot levatalah (said in vain).

19. See Tur, YD 393.

20. It is considered a great mitzvah to rejoice with a chatan and kallah (Rambam, Hilchot Aveil 14:1; Tur, EH 65), to the extent that a talmid chacham dancing in front of them may act in ways that would otherwise be viewed as beneath his dignity (see Ketubot 17a; Rema, EH 65:1; and Chavot Yair 205). Eating at a wedding feast and not rejoicing with a couple is viewed unfavorably by Chazal, while rejoicing with a new couple is seen as praiseworthy and equated with rebuilding destroyed buildings in Jerusalem (Berachot 6b).

Reprinted from JEWISH ACTION Magazine, Winter 5769/2008 issue