I was recently invited to present at a seminar for rabbis wishing to qualify to officiate at kosher weddings. I chose to address the practical side of things, such as meeting with the parents in advance of the event, requesting that all participants switch off their cell phones for the duration of the chuppah, and to ensure the calm for the precious moment the fathers bestow their blessings on the bride and groom. But I also addressed several halachic issues, some of which I will share with you now. (As always: The halachot written here are for general guidance; specific questions should be directed to your community rabbi.)

A Person Who Does Not Know Hebrew Signing the Ketubah

I was once at a nephew’s wedding in South America. We had a dearth of kosher witnesses, since most of the Shabbat observant guests were related to either the bride or the groom and were therefore not eligible to be witnesses.

One of the few men eligible to be a witness was a local fellow known as Reb Avrohom, a very sincere baal teshuvah, whose davening was exemplary, and was every bit an Orthodox Jew. But he had one problem: He had never learned to write in the Hebrew alphabet.

Someone came up with a solution: to draw dots at the bottom of the Ketubah document, and Reb Avrohom would join the dots, thus writing his name.

This method would indeed be acceptable in a get (bill of divorce), but not in any other document, including a ketubah. The rationale is that a get is sometimes drawn up in a state of urgency, therefore the sages allowed certain leniencies in order to expedite the procedure, so as not to leave the woman to be an agunah (a ‘chained’ wife). In other documents, conversely, such a signature is invalid.

Therefore, the correct procedure would be for Reb Avrohom to sign his name in Spanish, which is his mother tongue. Alternatively, he could transliterate his Hebrew name, e.g.: Avrohom ben Mendl.

The Bride Leaving Her Hair Uncovered

Prior to the chuppah (the ‘wedding ceremony’), the groom is led to the bride, and he covers her head and face with a veil. According to some, it is this act which confers the status of “nisuin’”(marriage) upon the bride. Traditionally, the virgin bride would go to her wedding with her hair unbraided. By covering her hair, the groom is saying: “From now on you will have your hair covered, as does a married woman”.

Accordingly, it would follow that from the chuppah onwards, the bride’s hair is covered. This would mean that in the “yichud room” she will switch from her own hairdo to wearing a sheitel (wig). Many brides are daunted by that switchover, and choose to come to the chuppah already wearing their sheitel. To uphold the practice of having the hair exposed for the chuppah, they will expose a few wisps of hair, and then tuck these in after the chuppah.

Still others rely on the headpiece to suffice “coverage” until the night is over and begin wearing a wig the following morning.

Halachic guidance should be sought as to the practice in your particular community.

When the Wedding Is Done Out of Order

I recalled that in one of the early weddings that I officiated at, the groom slipped the ring onto the bride’s finger, and only then said the words, “Harei at mekudeshet li …” I realized the mistake and consulted the late Rabbi Henoch Padwa of blessed memory, the senior rav in our London community. Upon his advice, I called together the original witnesses as well as the bride and groom. The bride returned the ring to the groom, who then said “Harei at...” and then placed the ring on her finger, after which we all happily proceeded into the wedding hall.

Hearing the Blessings Via Microphones

The sound broadcast by a loudspeaker is not a human voice; it is merely a good replica. In order to to fulfill the obligation of hearing a specific blessing or prayer, it has to the human’s voice that is heard, not the replica. (This is also relevant to hearing the Megillah on Purim or Havdalah after Shabbat over a telephone.)

Another point here is that in order to recite the birchot nisuin, the blessings said at the wedding ceremony, a minyan (quorum of 10 adult males) must be present.

I therefore expressed my concern that at many weddings, following Birkat haMazon, the cup of wine for Sheva Brachot journeys around the hall to honor various guests with reciting a blessing. In tow, however, is the wireless microphone. This means that the bride and groom don’t hear the blessings from a human voice. Furthermore, sometimes the crowd has dispersed by then, and there’s no minyan within earshot of the gentlemen reciting the blessings.

To avoid this problem, I advised that the honorees be invited to step forward to the head table. In this manner, it’s safe to assume that the bride and groom will hear the blessings and they will recited in the presence of a minyan.

As a follow-up, one of the participants pointed out that a similar problem exists at more formal weddings, where the guests are all seated at some distance from the chuppah. It would require extra vigilance to ensure that there is a minyan who will hear the blessings without the loudspeaker system.

Sheva Brachot for One Who Didn’t Eat

As life gets more and more hectic, many people attending weddings will not have “washed for bread.” If honored to recite a blessing after bentching, are they eligible to do so? This question is actually well-debated in contemporary scholars. So, before accepting the honor, make sure to verify what is the accepted ruling in your community.

This last point is equally applicable for the entire week of Sheva Brachot.