by Rabbi Yair Hoffman
You left work early. You showered and got dressed in record time. You arrived at the wedding fifteen minutes before the Chuppah was called. You danced at the Chuppah and now you washed at the meal. So now, what is the problem? It is 10:30 PM and the main has not been served. And it is Williamsburg and you valet parked. It looks like even now, you won’t be in bed before midnight.
The question, therefore, is: Halachically, is one permitted to leave a wedding early?
We begin with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 193:1) rules that a large group of people that ate together cannot break up into groups of three to bentch. The Mishna Brurah (193:11) explains that if they know that they will be unable to hear the blessing of zimun from the mevaraich and they are unable to break up into groups of ten, then and only then may they break up into groups of three. It is an involved and complex subject, and it is not absolutely clear that intent prior to washing is effective in “not joining” with a wedding party group.
One theory is that the issue depends upon whether the obligation to recite sheva brachos after eating at a meal is an individualized obligation incumbent upon each person or whether it is a general communal obligation. If it is the former, then it is unlikely that one would be permitted to leave early. If it is the latter, then as long as there is a minyan that is left to recite the Sheva Brachos it perhaps would be permitted.
There is a fascinating TaZ, however, that seems to indicate that there is an individualized obligation incumbent upon each person. The Shulchan Aruch (both in sif 12 and in his Bais Yoseph) cites a debate between Rabbeinu Tuvya and the Kol Bo about whether waiters who partake of a wedding meal after bentching must recite the sheva brachos. The Shulchan Aruch rules like those Rishonim who hold that they do. The TaZ rules that they do not recite them, since they were not eating for the bride and groom, but rather they were there to serve the guests. It is clear from the Taz’s language that the guests who ate at the wedding would certainly be obligated to stay and recite the Sheva Brachos. The TaZ clearly learns that it is an individualized obligation and not merely an obligation incumbent upon the Tzibbur.
The language of the Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 2:10) is even more revealing. He writes that this bracha is added to the bentching in the house of the groom. The language of added indicates that it is part of the 4 blessings of bentching. This diuk is made by the Brisker Rav (cited in Chidushei HaGriZ on Sotah Siman 18). The Brisker Rav rules that the Sheva Brachos can therefore only be recited by someone who has bentched Birkas HaMazon. He also rules on this account that the Sheva Brachos should be recited before the harachamans rather than afterward. Another indication tha this is the Rambam’s position is that the entire concept of Sheva Brachos in bentching is not brought down in the laws of weddings, but rather in the laws of bentching. It is interesting to note that the language of Tosfos in Psachim 102b (“Sh’ain), however, indicates that Sheva Brachos are not part of the blessings of Bentching.
Those who went to Camp Agudah long, long, ago remember that the camp Rav was Rav Yaakov Teitelbaum zt”l, (also the Rav of K’hal Adas Yereim in Kew Gardens. His Rebbe was Rav Meir Arik zt”l. The Tchebiner Rav, also a student of Rav Meir Arik recalled that his Rebbe made the same inference in the Rambam and would never allow someone who did not wash and bentch to recite Sheva Brachos.
It is clear that the TaZ and the aforementioned Tosfos in Psachim, of course, do not agree with this reading of the Rambam. Leaving early, especially when one washed on bread, thus might be a machlokes Rishonim. As mentioned earlier, however, the issue is not so clear cut. If he does need to leave early, and he does wish to eat bread, it is better that he washes after everyone else washed and that he bentch before the rest of the wedding party bentches. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (IM OC Vol. I #56) writes that he should also have in mind that he does not intend to join them whatsoever when he washes. The Birchas Shaim (page 132) by Rav Shaul Mizrachi also cites the ruling of Rav Elyashiv zt”l that when there is a need, one can follow this recommendation.
If a person did not have this condition upon washing, then based upon the Mishna Brurah elsewhere (200:5) one can bentch earlier than the rest (with two others of course) but only if there exists a great need. There is also the view of the Rashbash cited by the Birchas Shaim that when there are not ten people at the same table, it is not considered as having had eaten together. Although generally speaking the view of the Rashbash is not the way we normally pasken, when there is a great need it is a view that we can rely upon.
One final thought to consider: What is considered a need or a great need? Although each person should consult his own Rav or Posaik, there is a fascinating Ramah (end of OC 248) that waking up in the morning so that one can go to work and provide for one’s family is considered a Dvar Mitzvah. This is certainly the case for attending a Torah shiur in the morning as well. So, all in all it would depend on the amount of repercussions involved in coming in late. If they are serious then that would constitute a great need. If the repercussions are not so significant, it would be a regular need. If the repercussions are almost miniscule – then perhaps one should not do it at all.

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