Toward a More Balanced Wedding Ceremony
Envisioning ceremonies that respect modern gender roles and adhere strictly to tradition.
At the end of the marriage ceremony, some of the wedding guests--traditionally men--are called upon to recite the sheva berakhot, or seven blessings of joy. The blessings are repeated after birkat hamazon (the Blessing After Meals) at the end of the wedding reception, and for many traditional couples, during their whole first week of marriage.
Whether the language of the Shulkhan Arukh (Even Ha'Ezer 62:4-5) allows women to recite sheva berakhot is debated. The primary conceptual question is whether these blessings are the obligation of the groom or of the community. If they are the groom's obligation, it is problematic for a woman, who is never obligated in these blessings, to make them on behalf of the groom. (It is easier, if not unproblematic, to understand how another man might make a blessing for the groom, since he is at least someone who might become or has already been obligated in its recital.)
If it is the community's obligation, a woman may be able to make the blessings.
It seems clear that sheva berakhot during the meal are the community's obligation, and there is a good basis to claim that they can be made by women. Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin rules this way in principle (B'nei Banim III:27), and a number of Orthodox rabbis have begun to allow women to recite sheva berakhot at the meal.
In contrast, there is also some reason to believe that the sheva berakhot under the huppah may be the obligation of the groom. These blessings, then, should be made by men. Women can still participate by calling men and women in pairs for each blessing, with the man reciting the Hebrew text and the woman reciting an English translation. (The English translation would not be considered an unnecessary blessing, a berakhah l'vatalah; see Iggrot Moshe, Orah Hayyim, II:49.)
It is my hope that these suggestions will assist couples in creating a wedding ceremony that reflects their view of marriage as an equal partnership. Couples should consider the carefully what changes they wish to incorporate, working with their officiating rabbi to address not only halakhic issues, but to determine the proper balance between innovation and tradition as well.
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