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Betrothal Blessings

Betrothal Blessings

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After the initial blessing over the wine, the rabbi recites the betrothal blessing, birkhat erusin. The groom does not recite this blessing according to our custom, because he is tarud, undoubtedly nervous and not able to concentrate. Moreover, because some grooms may not be fluent in the language, expecting them to recite it might cause them embarrassment, especially at so sensitive a moment. As the blessing is geared to ke'lal yisrael, the sanctity of all Israel, and not only to these people, the rabbi is in any case the proper person to recite it.

Praised be Thou, O L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning illicit relations; and has prohibited us those who are merely betrothed; but has permitted to us those lawfully married to us by chuppah and kiddushin. Blessed art thou G‑d, who has sanctified His people Israel by chuppah and kiddushin.

ברוּךְ אתּה י-י א-להינו מלךְ העוֹלָם אשׁר קדשׁנוּ בּמצוֹתיו וצוָנוּ על העריות ואָסר לָנוּ את הארוּסוֹת והתּיר לָנוּ את הנשׂוּאוֹת לָנוּ על ידי חפּה וקדוּשׁין. בּרוּךְ אַתּה י-י מקדשׁ עמוֹ ישראל על ידי חפּה וקדוּשׁין.

Who Has Sanctified Us. G‑d has not merely allowed human beings an erotic indulgence by the legal validation of marriage. G‑d has sanctified us by giving us the institution of marriage. Through it we achieve a closer relationship with Him and a more intimate relationship with other people. Thereby we enrich the family and perpetuate the species, for G‑d created the world with the specific purpose that it be inhabited and civilized.

With His Commandments. The Rabbis pondered whether this blessing could technically be classified as birkhat mitzvah (a blessing that precedes the performance of a mitzvah), as the blessing over the shofar, for example. The predominant opinion held that it could not be so classified, since the mitzvah is not completed until after the couple had conjugal relations. In any case, the mitzvah did not depend on him alone, and the bride had not yet formally consented. Nonetheless, the Sages could not bring themselves to exclude such a mitzvah from having a blessing. Thus they instituted a special blessing for the sanctification of the Jewish people for practicing marriage that was properly authorized by the law.

Illicit Relations. At the moment of betrothal, not at the nuptials, the extension of the incest laws to include a mate's relatives begins. Hence the reference is first and foremost to illicit relations. The new status brings in its train new limitations. The bridge between sanctity and illicit relations is very natural, as the two themes follow one another in Leviticus 18 and 19. Says Rabbi Judah: "One who separates from illicit relations is called holy."

Has Prohibited Us Those Merely Betrothed. The sanctification of betrothal is not enough. We are prohibited conjugal relations even after betrothal, if the nuptials have not yet been held.

The blessing is unusual because of this phrase. There is no other blessing extant over that which is not permitted. Why then a negative blessing at this occasion? One answer, given by the author of Ha-manhig, serves to highlight and enhance the phrase, "but has permitted those lawfully married…" It is also a way of emphasizing, in the very benediction over the sanctity of marriage, that the process of the marriage ceremony has yet to be concluded.

But Has Permitted Those Lawfully Married. This aspect of nissuin is needed to conclude the marriage process. Sedei Chemed notes: We should not refer to the bride as one permitted, but as one with whom we are commanded to cohabit, since "be fruitful and multiply" is a commandment, not merely permission. But stylistically, since the language of the blessing refers to one prohibited, the opposite is one permitted.

Married To "Us." The pronoun "us" was added by Rabbenu Tam in the twelfth century. The Talmud mentions only ne'ssuot (married), with the clear understanding that "married to us" is what is implied. But since in later generations ne'ssuot referred to all married women, the addition of "to us" specified without doubt that it means "we are permitted our wives" and not "we are permitted all married women!" It also serves to underscore the exclusivity of the marriage presently being performed, just as the word 1i, "betrothed unto me," is the highlight of the marriage proposal.

By chuppah and Kiddushin, Nuptials and Betrothal. This phrase is problematic. It is in reverse chronological order—it should have read "kiddushin (betrothal) and chuppah (nuptials)." This traditional phrase led some to conclude that the Hebrew should be read chuppah in kiddushin, not chuppah and kiddushin—the nuptials as part of a whole process of sanctification. Our custom retains "and," not "in." It is likely that before the two ceremonies were combined, the Rabbis had to emphasize to the couple that though they are betrothed, they may not live as husband and wife until after chuppah. Precisely at the height of the ceremony of betrothal and in its special blessing, the second ceremony is emphasized and repeated after only six words.

The groom and bride now taste the wine. A modern custom that enables the mothers of the couple to participate is to ask each to lift the bride's veil when she drinks the wine after the betrothal blessing and after the nuptials. After the betrothals the veil is raised and then lowered; after the nuptials, it is raised and need not be lowered again—the bride is fully a wife.

The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. To purchase the book click here.
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