In the past, certain dates were considered auspicious for marriage. For example, some proposed that marriages be held only during the first half of the lunar Hebrew month because love and good fortune should increase as the moon increases. The last word on the numerous "good days" and signs, however, was an endorsement of all days except those the law banned because they would violate the spirit of either mourning or joy.

Judaism protects the integrity of our two most extreme emotions, love and death. It does not permit a wedding, which the Halakhah considers the epitome of joy, to interfere with mourning, the paradigm of sadness. Conversely, it does not permit two joyous experiences to take place simultaneously—we must be able to separate them and handle these experiences with uncompromised concentration. Thus there are specific times when no marriage may take place.

Never on the Sabbath

The Sabbath, a day of joy and rest, is not a day for weddings. The Talmud states that no formal agreement, written or verbal, is permitted on the Sabbath. In the early Middle Ages, although the betrothal and nuptials were regularly fused into one ceremony, the Jews sometimes separated them by one day, celebrating the betrothal on Friday afternoon and the nuptials on Saturday night, after the close of the Sabbath.

Maimonides, however, prohibited weddings on Friday afternoons and on Sundays because he found that preparations were so time consuming and demanding of effort that they caused unwitting violation of the Sabbath. The restriction was ultimately set aside by later authorities who assumed that, by the time the day of the wedding arrived, the extensive preparations had been completed and the Sabbath would be fully observed.

Saturday night weddings are a western innovation. On late summer days the food is often prepared, and the wedding families and musicians often arrive, before the Sabbath is over. To enter the Jewish covenant of marriage by violating the Jewish covenant of Sabbath, even by those who are generally not observant of the Sabbath, is both ludicrous and sacrilegious. In such instances, Saturday night weddings are to be discouraged. However, if meticulous care is taken not to violate the holiness of the Sabbath, there is no reason to avoid scheduling weddings on this night.

Not on Days of Joy

No weddings may be scheduled for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, or on the Intermediate days. According to the Talmud there are two similar reasons: the first is (Deuteronomy 16:14) "And thou shalt rejoice in thy holy days," implying "but not with thy wife"; the second is ein me’ arvin simchah be’ simchah; "one should not intermix rejoicing with rejoicing." In this way, the integrity of the occasion remains intact. Because of the specific halakhic criteria for the concept of "joy," weddings may be held on Purim and Hanukkah.

Private joyous occasions must also be unsullied. Thus two brothers or two sisters should not celebrate their weddings on the same day; in fact, some authorities require waiting a whole week.

Not on Days of Sadness

A wedding may not contravene a day of public mourning or sadness. Therefore, it should not be held on fast days such as the Tishah be-Av, the fast of Gedaliah, the tenth of Tevet, the fast of Esther, and the seventeenth of Tammuz. In urgent circumstances, the wedding itself may be held on fast days (other than Tishah be-Av), but the meal and celebration should begin after nightfall.

Likewise, the period of semi-mourning for the Temple’s destruction—the three weeks from the seventeenth of Tammuz through the Tishah be-Av—are days of public sadness on which a Jew should not celebrate a personal happiness. The law held it forbidden from Rosh Chodesh until after Tishah be-Av, but custom has extended the ban from the seventeenth day of Tammuz until Tishah be-Av. Therefore, engagement announcements and gatherings are permitted, but without music, dancing, and elaborate foods. Weddings are legally permissible, under similar restrictions, especially for those who have no children, but only for urgent reasons. In all cases a rabbinic authority should be consulted.

The same principles apply to the thirty-three day period from Passover to before Shavuot, a time for mourning the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students and followers. There is a division of custom regarding the counting of these thirty-three days. Sephardim hold these days of semi-mourning from the second day of Passover through Lag ba-Omer. Many Ashkenazim, according to the decision of Rabbi Moses Feinstein, may hold weddings until after Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, and on Lag ba-Omer, evening and day, and from Rosh Chodesh Sivan and forward. The most common usage among American Jews seems to have been the prohibition of marriage until Lag ba-Omer, following the decision of the Bach, a seventeenth-century authority. This custom has the additional advantage of having specific, easy-to-determine parameters for the Jewish public. As there are many local customs and some leniency in cases of exigency, local competent rabbinic authority should be consulted before the planning proceeds too far.

The Mourner And Marriage1

1. When Marriages May Take Place.

(a.) Mourners should not be married during sheloshirn [the thirty-day period following burial], and certainly not during shivah [the seven days of mourning following the burial of certain relatives], even without pomp and music and sumptuous reception. Engagements may be contracted or announced during this period.

(b.) After the sheloshim, the wedding may proceed with all the adornments, the music and the food, and the bride and groom and their parents may dress for the occasion, without showing any evident signs of mourning.

(c.) During sheloshim (after shivah), there are exceptional circumstances when marriage may be contracted:

—If the groom is the mourner:

If he is childless, and preparations had been made, such as: the date set, the arrangements contracted for, and the food bought, so that postponing the wedding would incur a severe financial loss, or cause a large group of people to be absent.

If the date had not been set, but for some cogent reason such as military draft, it must be held during sheloshim, the couple may marry, but not live as man and wife until after sheloshim.

—If the bride is the mourner:

The marriage may take place during sheloshim only if she had already been engaged, the preparations made, and the groom is childless.

2. When Remarriages May Take Place

(a.) If the wife died:

The husband must wait for the passing of the three major festivals (Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot) before he remarries. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do not count as festivals for this purpose. Shemini Atzeret may be counted as a festival in certain cases involving the family’s urgent personal circumstances. The ostensible reason for this delay is the hope that the duration of three separate holidays and the cycle of seasons would temper his despair, and he would not enter a second marriage with the first love still fresh in mind. This time span may be as long as a year if death occurred soon after Sukkot, or only a few months if death occurred immediately prior to Passover.

There are notable exceptions to this general rule:

—If the husband did not sire children, marriage may be held after shiva and they may live as husband and wife.

—If he has small children who need to be cared for, marriage may be held after shiva, but marital relations must be postponed until after sheloshim.

—If he cannot bear to live alone, for whatever reason (this is not an infrequent occurrence), he may be married, but may have no marital relations until after sheloshim.

(b.) If the husband died:

The wife may remarry after three months, a considerably shorter time than the three-festival duration for a man. Evidently, the wife was considered better able to control her emotions, having to be more concerned with the rearing of her children than with her own feelings. The reason for the three-month delay is that it must be evident that she is not bearing a child from a deceased mate. Under exceptional circumstances to be judged by competent rabbinic authority, if it is known medically that she could not possibly be pregnant, and if her fiancé is childless, she may be granted permission to remarry after Shiva... .

3. Becoming a Mourner after the Ceremony

(a.) If one of the seven close relatives of the bride or groom died after the ceremony, but before the marriage was consummated, the couple must live apart until after shiva, [when they formally begin their seven days of rejoicing].

(b.) If the relative died after the consummation of the marriage, the mourning is postponed until after the full week of wedding celebration. During this time, the mourner may care for personal hygiene and grooming, and may experience all the joys of living. When the week is over, however, the garment of the mourner is rent and shiva begins in full, as noted above.