By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is 10:30 p.m. Do you know where your children are?
It is not their fault, of course. You and your wife are at a wedding in Brooklyn, and the main dish is still yet to be served. Sadly, this reality and the specific time frame are fairly commonplace.
The repercussions are such that there is an extraordinary amount of time where everyone is waiting around. And while it does provide for some social opportunity, there are ramifications for the ever decreasing amount of time spent with one’s children at home. Another repercussion is the significant bitul Torah that such a long gap in time creates. A third repercussion is the sheer amount of food that goes to waste because people simply cannot stay so late at weddings. This is a violation of something called bizui ochalin and is codified in chapter 171 of the Orech Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch. It may also be a violation of ba’al tashchis–wasting.
There is a fourth repercussion as well. Babysitters are often told by parents who are attending these weddings that they will be home by 11:15 p.m. The babysitter has school the next day, and quite often the parents actually come home after 1:00 a.m.
The delays in our weddings are caused by the fact that the photography takes a significant amount of time. Due to minhag constraints, the photographers cannot take a significant portion of the pictures earlier before the wedding begins. This is because the majority of wedding pictures involve having the chassan and kallah together in the pictures along with family members. This cannot be done since the custom is that the chassan and kallah do not see each other before the bedekin.
Where Did The Minhag Come From?
Shockingly, although the custom not to see each other during the week before the wedding is almost universal in Ashkenazic circles, there is virtually no mention of it in the halachic literature. There is much mention of the bride and groom not seeing each other at all. (See Responsa Maharshdam #31, the RaDaK Bereishis 24:64, Peleh Yoetz “Kallah.”) Rav Binyomin Forst, shlita, in the second volume of his Hilchos Niddah sefer (pp. 458—459), suggests that the source of this custom is related to the issue of dam chimmud (see Y.D. 192:1) which may render the kallah impure. Rav Elyashiv is quoted as being most stringent in the custom, although it is not mentioned in the compilation of his wedding halachos that was published by his grandson. Regardless, it seems that in Ashkenazic circles the custom of the bride and groom not seeing each other is here to stay.
In this author’s view, there are two possible solutions to the situation. The first solution is to “serve through.” Generally speaking, caterers provide dinner rolls for washing (1), a presentation or mini first course (2), soup (3), the main dish (4), and then dessert (5). What usually happens is that the serving pauses right after step 2 until the chassan and kallah come out. Sometimes the pause is after the step 3.
The first solution would involve actually serving all the way through the main course during the prolonged photography session, then having the first dance. Dessert would then be served, followed by the second dance, and then bentching.
Another solution would be to have an earlier badekin. There is no halachic impediment to having an early badekin as long as the documents are prepared earlier. If the early badekin is done, the photography can be done earlier with the bride and groom together.
What is the badekin? Before the chuppah, the groom is escorted by the shoshvinim and the two witnesses to the place where the bride is sitting. The groom covers the head of the bride with a veil or some other designated garment. This is called the hinoma. According to many authorities, the covering of the bride with a hinoma is called the chuppah. Because of this, the bride and groom should have in mind that the covering of the veil on her head is a kinyan of marriage just like chuppah.
It is the custom for the mesader kiddushin to tell the father of the bride that he should go to his daughter and tell her that the covering is a form of kinyan and is not just a mere procedure alone. On account of this, the witnesses as well need to see the groom actually covering the bride. They should be aware that this is a kinyan, as mentioned earlier. There is no need to have the groom acquire the veil.
All of this can be done earlier, before the guests arrive. The photography can then be done with everyone present. Following this photo session, a chassan’s tisch can be held where the tenaim are read aloud. Then a second badekin can be held. Lest the reader think that this suggestion is too radical, where the second badekin is done mostly just for show, a prominent rosh yeshiva made this suggestion a number of years ago.
The issue is something that should be addressed, either by adopting the “serving-through” suggestion or with the second badekin method. The benefits are not just avoiding the negative repercussions described earlier. It will allow more people to enjoy the food at the wedding. It will allow more people to stay for the dancing, too, because time is not wasted. The wedding will also finish faster.
Some have suggested that the caterers will be unhappy with these two solutions because they will end up having to serve more food since more guests would be staying. This is incorrect, however. The major cost to the caterer lies not in the food but rather in the cost of labor. If weddings ended earlier, the waiters and clean-up crew could leave earlier as well and save the caterer significant money.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.