Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sheva Brachot—Customs and Traditions

An errata is necessary before I go into the customs and traditions of the Orthodox and in this case Haredi world! I was very remiss not to mention three others from the States who attended the wedding: Our nephew and Mona's son, Marty; Sarah Batya's brother, Nathan, who as always lent his contagious sense of humor and sense of fun; and their cousin Lizzy who teaches photography in Austin, Texas and lent her contagious smile and great photography!

Top center: Jennifer, Mona, Simone, H, Alexander, Sara Batya, Zalman, Marc, Ashira, M, Marty; Chana Tsipora, Talia, Shalom Simca
Top left: Vivi Artzieli, Gloria Kramer, Suzy Locke Cohen, Mona, Amy Friedkin; Center: Jack Adler, Marv Cohen, Herbie, Arnold Jacobson; Mid left: Mona, Betty Adler, Me, Suzy Locke Cohen, Joanne Jacobson,
Marj Wolf
Bottom left: H, Mort Friedkin, Marc; Right: Lizzy, Nathan, Ashira, Talia being naughty

To try to clarify and simplify a confusing situation re Sheva Brachot or Seven Blessings, these blessings are always said during the wedding ceremony after the bride circles the groom seven times. The same seven blessings are said at the end of each of the Sheva Brachot or Seven Blessings dinners on the nights following the wedding ceremony. To put it as simply as possible, the seven blessing deal with G-d...(what did we ever do without google?!)
  1. ... who has created everything for his glory
  2. ... who fashioned the Man
  3. ... who fashioned the Man in His image ...(referring to the woman)
  4. ... who gladdens Zion through her children
  5. ... who gladdens groom and bride
  6. ... who created joy and gladness ... who gladdens the groom with the bride
  7. and the standard prayer over wine.
It is a mitzvah or good deed for guests to bring joy to the bride and groom on their wedding day. That accounts for the incredible music and dancing that took place as the guests celebrated with Zalman and Rivi; many of the young men from Zalmans' yeshiva entertained with juggling and acrobatics at the wedding and repeated the singing and dancing at several of the Sheva Brachot.

The history of Sheva Brachot goes back to biblical times and the stories of Yakov, Leah and Rachel, and of Samson. Even though Yaakov accepted this week of celebration as being a custom, Moses later instituted it like a binding decree. Some commentators even comprehend it to be a Torah law.Family and friends consider it a great honor and merit to host these meals. We hosted some 40 of our friends, our kids and the bride's family in our home for a catered dairy meal prepared by a French caterer, our third simcha with him. And no, we do not have room for 40 and some had to sit outside shivering but with heaters!

As explained in a book by a prominent rabbi: “It is not the Jewish practice for the bride and groom to ‘escape’ on a honeymoon directly following their 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.”

A brand new husband and wife should even take off from work or study to be with each other for the entire week following the ceremony. Even during the entire first year of marriage, neither spouse ought to travel away from home without the other, somewhat impractical if you ask me! I believe Zalman and Rivi did stay close to their apartment during the first week, however, she is finishing her graphic design course and teaching swimming while Zalman is learning (studying) Torah.

The festive meals with friends and family are a tradition and technically they are not obligatory. However, they require at least ten men (or a minyan as required to recite any prayers at other times as well) in order to recite the seven blessings. We attended nearly all of them and it will be a long time till I look at a piece of chicken! I must mention one Sheva Brachot in particular, however The lunch after our last dinner was hosted by Rabbi Yosef and Rebbetsin Rachel Silberman in their incredible home in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Rabbi Silberman runs the yeshiva where Zalman and younger brother Alexander learn and he and his wife have 14 children. (see photo of a mother of 14!) Their four-year-old is in the same nursery school as two of their grandchildren! When they moved into their home 11 years ago and affixed the mezzuzah to the doorpost, it instantly disappeared. So they extended the entry, made an inner front door and hired two full time guards. Their son is Zalman's closest friend and he met us and Marc and Sarah Batya at Jaffe Gate to walk us through the maze of narrow alleyways lined with stores and the Arabs and Christians hawking their wares. After the meal, we women who sat behind a curtain or mehitzah were sent to watch from outside the dining area so the men from the yeshiva could use the entire area for dancing. It was a smaller repeat of the wedding! The Rabbi invited me to stand behind a table to take pictures and I promptly stood on a chair for a better view. Once again, my age and stature as the grandmother gave me points! But it must be said that the Rabbi and Rebbitsin are two of the warmest, most welcoming people I have ever met.
Picture above: Sarah Batya, Rivi and Rebbetsin Silberman (mother of 14) share a laugh

The Hebrew marriage contract dating back to ancient times is called the Ketubah. The Ketubah is usually printed in a very beautiful, artistic, and creative way as a keepsake document for the bride and groom and an heirloom to pass on. Those of us who had a Jewish wedding have one and those of us who were active in the Magnes Museum, were surrounded by them. But did any of us really wonder what they signified? Although this relationship agreement describes the husband’s responsibilities to his spouse, its foremost characteristic may be the amount awarded the spouse if or when there is a divorce or husband’s death. I am far from knowledgeable but it is the only item in Orthodoxy I know about that is for the woman in that it gives detailed instructions on the husband’s obligations to his wife, which include housing and clothing, food, and marital relations. Not all women obtain the identical amount for their settlement in the cases mentioned above. A girl who marries as a virgin is entitled to two hundred zuz (about $10,000 currently). The ketubah of a widow or divorcee, however is only one hundred zuz (about $5,000 today). "The amount with the ketubah for a woman who lost her virginity by means of injury instead of cohabitation is disputed..."

I hope this is neither overly detailed nor over simplified and that it provides just enough education to not lull you to sleep!

Some of you have asked how a young man who is learning pretty much full time will provide for his wife. From what I have gleaned, mostly from our kids, the first year of marriage is equivilent to a four year college education with an additional course in life's lessons. If the parents, as in this case, can somehow purchase a small (read very small) apartment, all the better. The support extends through the first year but is negotiable depending on the parents ability and attitude. If and when the partial or full support ends, it is hoped that the young couple will have learned how to live, budget, etc. In the case of Zalman and Rivi, both sets of parents met before the wedding to talk about their philosophy of assistance. They will continue to help the couple when they start a family by purchasing the major items necessary such as a crib, stroller, etc. This couple is very lucky as some families throw a wedding, step back and wish their kids good luck! In my opinion, it is fairly easy here to live on a budget once you have a place to live.

Bottom right: Professional wedding portrait

Because I want to send off this long overdue blog, I am once again not checking with the participants. And hopefully, they will once again overlook any errors or omissions. Will try to send a few fun updates before we return home in a few days. M

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully told. I hope you'll make a book on Shutterfly about your story and pictures.