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Question:

I am a woman serving as a member of the clergy in an Orthodox synagogue. I have been asked to officiate at a wedding. I would like to say Birkat Eirusin, the blessing before the giving of the ring. Although I could be the mesaderet and not say this b’rakhah, neither I nor the couple like the message that would be implied, were I to step aside for someone else to recite the b’rakhah. It signals that I am not truly the one officiating at the wedding. Is it permissible for me as a woman to recite the Birkat Eirusin?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. This question has yet to receive any in-depth analysis by the poskim. In our analysis below, we will show that this b’rakhah may be recited by women, as our practice together with the rulings of Shulhan Arukh and the poskim demonstrate that this b’rakhah is considered a birkat ha’shevah, a blessing of praise, whose obligation rests on all who are present at the wedding, men and women alike. We will also show that the text of the b’rakhah, though written in the male voice, may nonetheless, be recited by a woman. All of this is from a halakhic point of view; any final decision of whether a female mesaderet kiddushin should recite this b’rakhah needs to incorporate considerations of policy and communal norms as well.

What type of a b’rakhah is it?

Rishonim debate the type of b’rakhah that Birkat Eirusin is. Rambam takes the position that it is a birkat ha’mitsvah. (Hilkhot Ishut 3:23) This is consistent with his opinion that marriage is a mitsvah distinct from the mitsvah to have children.[1] According to this approach, the b’rakhah could only be said by the person obligated in and performing the mitsvah. As the mitsvah to marry, provided that it is in fact a mitsvah, is generally understood to be the man’s mitsvah, this would mean that only the groom would recite Birkat Eirusin. This is indeed how Rambam rules (ibid.).

Rosh (Ketubot 1:12) rejects Rambam’s approach and states that this b’rakhah is a birkat ha’shevah. He argues that there is no independent mitsvah to marry, and that the text of the b’rakhah demonstrates this point, as it differs from the standard text of birkot ha’mitsvah. For Rosh, Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah for the institution of marriage.

A number of Rishonim, among them Ramban and Ritva,[2] adopt a variation of Rosh’s position, saying that Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah in the form of kiddush, comparable to Friday night Kiddush.[3] Kiddush calls on us to recognize the sanctity of Shabbat — to frame it and sanctify it through our words as well. Here too, this b’rakhah calls on us to sanctify the marriage with our words, and to recognize that marriage is an institution of kedushah (the term kiddushin was probably chosen by the Rabbis for this reason, contra the stam gemara in Kiddushin 2b).

The large majority of the Geonim and Rishonim adopt the birkhat ha’shevah approach.[4] The implication of this is that the obligation of the b’rakhah rests on all who are present, as everyone is fit to give praise to God or declare words of sanctification over the kiddushin. Ritva makes this point explicitly. He states that the widespread practice in his days was that the blessing was recited by someone other than the bride and groom, demonstrating that this b’rakhah is a birkat ha’shevah. This position is supported by the language of the Gemara, which states: מברכין… ברכת אירוסין בבית אירוסין , “we (emphasis mine) recite Birkat Eirusin in the house of eirusin,” suggesting that this is a communal obligation that may be performed by anyone present.

It should be noted that there is yet another variation to the birkat ha’shevah approach. Ramban and Ritva[5] who see this as a b’rakhah of shevah and a b’rakhah of kiddush, also state that it serves the function of a birkat ha’mitsvah. Like a birkat ha’mtisvah, it functions to frame the act of kiddushin as a mitsvah-act.[6] However, it is unlike a birkat ha’mitsvah in the following way: a birkat ha’mitsvah is the obligation of the one performing the mitsvah, and its purpose is to frame the mindset of the one doing the mitsvah — a type of institutionalizing mitsvot ts’rikhot kavanah, mitsvot demand that the person performing them intend to do a mitsvah-act. This b’rakhah, in contrast, focuses only on the act, not on the one performing the act, and can be said by anyone present, a point made explicitly by Ritva (Ketubot 7b, s.v. man).[7]

Thus, regardless of the variation one takes within this birkat ha’shevah approach — a simple birkat ha’shevah, or a birkat ha’shevah that serves as a kiddush, or a birkat ha’shevah that serves some of the functions of a birkat ha’mitsvah — it would be a b’rakhah whose obligation would rest on anyone present, and should be able to recited by women as well as by men.

They key question then is: do we rule that it is a birkat ha’mitsvah that may be recited only by the groom, or a birkat ha’shevah, of whatever type, that may be recited by anyone present?

Ashkenazi P’sak

A look at the rulings of Rema and later poskim, and at accepted Ashkenazi practice, makes it clear that we rule that Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah and not a birkat ha’mitsvah.

Neither Shulhan Arukh nor Rema (E.H. 34:1-3) rule explicitly whether it is a birkat mitsvah or birkat ha’shevah, but their positions may be inferred from their rulings about who says the b’rakhah and when it is said.

Shulhan Arukh follows Rambam, stating that the groom recites the blessing, and gives no indication that anyone else may do so. This is a clear indication of a birkat ha’mitsvah approach. He also states, following Rambam, that the b’rakhah must be recited before the kiddushin, and in Beit Yosef he clarifies that to recite it after the kiddushin would be a b’rakhah li’vatalah. This is following Rambam, who rules that Birkat Eirusin must be recited before the kiddushin, because a b’rakhah over a mitsvah always precedes the mitsvah-act (Ishut 3:23). It is clear then that Shulhan Arukh rules it is a birkat ha’mitsvah, and this is how Rabbi Ovadia Yosef understands his position (Yabi’a Omer, E.H.7:17; see also O.H. 8:8).

In contrast, Rema rules that the brakhah may be recited by someone other than the groom, as is the common practice (E.H. 34:1). He also rules that while the brakhah is normally said before the kiddushin, it may also be recited at the nissuin even if it occurs many months or even years later (E.H. 34:3).

These rulings are fully consistent with the birkat ha’shevah model. In particular, Rema’s ruling that anyone may recite the blessing certainly indicates that it is not a birkat ha’mitsvah, as such a brakha may only be recited by the person performing the mitsvah.

Similarly, the ruling that it may be recited before or after the kiddushin fits with the birkat ha’shevah model. While a birkat ha’shevah is normally recited after the event (e.g., after seeing a new tree blossoming), there are times when it may be recited beforehand as well, particularly, when a person is already encountering the particular event in some way. A good example of this is the b’rakhah of She’hehiyanu. This b’rakhah is said over the performance of a seasonal mitsvah, but, in principle, it should be said when one begins to construct the mitsvah-object. For example, when one constructs a sukkah or puts together a lulav, since this is the person’s first encounter with the mitsvah, the b’rakhah should, in principle, be recited at that time, although this encounter takes place before the mitsvah is performed.[8] At a wedding, a person is of course already encountering the reality of the kiddushin well before the act of the kiddushin takes place, so a birkat ha’shevah would be in place prior to the kiddushin as well. Moreover, in the case of Birkat Eirusin, it is preferable to recite the b’rakhah before the kiddushin since the b’rakhah does not just thank God, but —as we have seen above — frames the kiddushin by functioning as a type of birkat ha’mitsvah or b’rakhah of Kiddush.[9] That being said, since at its core it is a birkat ha’shevah, it may certainly be said after the kiddushin as well.[10]

In short, Rema’s rulings that Birkhat Eirusin is said by someone other than the groom and that while it is best to recite it before the kiddushin, it may be recited afterwards as well, follow perfectly from the birkat ha’shevah approach.

Nevertheless, there are poskim who debate this conclusion. In their view, Rema may be ruling that the b’rakhah is a birkat ha’mitsvah. They explain that although as a rule such a b’rakhah may not be said after the mitsvah, in this case it may be said after kiddushin, provided it was said at the time of nissuin. This is permitted, according to this explanation, because the mitsvah of kiddushin ends with the nissuin, so the b’rakhah is being recited before the mitsvah has been fully completed.[11]

It is much harder for the proponents of the birkat ha’mitsvah model to explain how someone other than the groom is permitted to recite the b’rakhah. They argue that the groom should be making the b’rakhah, but the practice to have a rabbi recite the b’rakhah began so as not to embarrass grooms who were unlearned and were unable to recite the blessing themselves.[12] Nevertheless, this practice should not work if it is a birkat hamitsvah; such a blessing should only be valid if recited by the person doing the mitsvah.

It will be countered that we do, in fact, permit a person to make a b’rakhah on behalf of another who is performing a mitsvah, based on the principle of shomeia ki’oneh, that the hearing [of the b’rakhah by the one performing the mitsvah] is like [his] reciting [of the b’rakhah], and the principle of af al pi she’yatza motzi, although [the one reciting the blessing] has already fulfilled his obligation, he can discharge [the b’rakhah obligation of the one who is currently doing the mitsvah]. However, this would not be applicable here. As Ittur, Ritva, Ra’ah and other Rishonim point out: לא מצינו בשום מקום שזה עושה מצוה וזה מברך בשבילו. “We have never found anywhere that one person can do a mitsvah and another person can recite the b’rakhah for him.”[13] In other words, the only time we allow a person to recite a b’rakhah for another person is when the one making the b’rakhah is doing the mitsvah act himself. For example, someone can read megillah and recite the b’rakhah for me even if he has already fulfilled his obligation, but he cannot recite the b’rakhah for me if I am the one reading the megillah and he is not.[14] There is thus no way someone other than the groom can recite Birkat Eirusin if it is indeed a birkat ha’mitsvah.

This question of making a b’rakhah for another person without actually performing the mitsvah act is in fact discussed by the poskim in the case of a hearing, mute person who is a shohet, a ritual slaughterer. Shulhan Arukh (Y.D. 1:7) rules that in such a case, another person recites the b’rakhah for the shohet who is mute. However, Shakh (ibid., no. 32) states that this is only valid if the one reciting the blessing is doing a shehitah himself. In a similar vein, Taz (ibid., no.17) states that for a birkat ha’mitsvah, we would never allow a person to recite the blessing if he himself were not also doing the mitsvah. Taz specifically addresses the case of Birkat Eirusin, and states that in that case, the only reason that someone other than the groom may recite the b’rakhah is because that brakha is a birkat ha’shevah and not a birkat ha’mitsvah, and thus not specifically the groom’s obligation. This is echoed by R. Akiva Eiger (ad. loc.).

Many other poskim argue likewise, and conclude that Birkat Eirusin is without question a birkat ha’shevah whose obligation rests equally on all present. These poskim include Tevuot Shor (1:59), Shu’t Be’er Sheva (no. 49), Rav Shlomo Kluger (Tuv Ta’am Va’daat, third edition, 1:98), and Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi O.H. 1:44). As Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank writes: וכי מפני שלא לבייש התירו ברכה לבטלה, וא”כ עכצ”ל דבאמת נוהגין דלא כהרמב”ם משום דנקטינן דהברכה לא רמיא על החתן. “And would we then for the sake of not embarrassing [the groom who could not recite the b’rakhah himself], recite a blessing for naught [by having the rabbi recite a blessing which is not his to make]?! Rather, one must conclude that in truth our practice goes against Rambam’s position, because we adopt the position that the b’rakhah is not specifically the groom’s obligation.”

Additional evidence that we rule that this brakha is a birkat ha’shevah is the widespread practice is for the mesader to recite Birkat Eirusin without instructing the groom to have intent to fulfill his obligation through listening to the mesader’s b’rakhah. This would be required if it were indeed a birkat ha’mitsvah. As Tevuot Shor states (ibid.): דאטו בעינן התם שהרב יכוין להוציא את החתן והחתן יכוין לצאת?! ולא נתקנה מעיקרא דוקא על החתן. “Do we then think that it is required that the rabbi must intend to discharge the groom his obligation and that the groom must intend to fulfill his obligation?! [Obviously not; this shows] that from the very outset, the obligation of this b’rakhah does not rest specifically on the groom.”

While there are, admittedly, poskim who argue that the b’rakhah is a birkat ha’mitsvah, and who state that a person who is not doing a mitsvah-act can indeed recite the b’rakhah for another person (see Yabi’a Omer, E.H. 7:17), all the evidence weighs against this position.

Interim Conclusion: For all the reasons enumerated above, given the rulings of Rema against Rambam, and the accepted practice in Ashkenazic communities, it is clear that this b’rakhah is a birkat ha’shevah and not a birkat ha’mitsvah. As such, the obligation of this b’rakhah rests on all present, men and women alike.

If it is a birkat ha’shevah — may a woman recite it?

Once we have established that Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah, there is no reason in principle that this b’rakhah should not be recited by a woman; she is just as obligated as a man to give praise to God for the institution of kiddushin. In fact, Rav Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) states in one place that if it is a birkat ha’shevah then היה ראוי שיהיה עצם החיוב על כל אדם שישנם בשעת האירוסין, “In essence, it would be appropriate for the obligation to fall on every person who is present at the time of the kiddushin” (Iggrot Moshe, E.H.1:87).[15] Similarly, Tevuot Shor (1:52), Be’er Sheva (no. 49), and Har Tsvi (O.H.1:44) all state that the blessing is an obligation on all those who are present. Their language is significant. Tvuot Shor states that the obligation is on על הנועדים לבית אירוסין, “those gathered at the wedding,” and Be’er Sheva states that היא ברכת שבח והודאה בעלמא על קדושתן של ישראל, “it is merely a blessing of praise over the sanctity of Israel” and thus not limited to the groom. There is nothing in their framings to suggest that women would not be able to recite the b’rakhah.

If women present at the kiddushin share in the obligation to recite Birkat Eirusin, we must still address the fact that the text of the b’rakhah is in the male voice. It seems odd, and perhaps inappropriate, for a woman to recite אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצנונו על העריות ואסר לנו את הארוסות, “God Who commanded us regarding forbidden sexual relationships and forbade to us (men) [sexual intercourse with] betrothed women”.

The question of whether the text of the b’rakhah may be said by a woman is addressed by poskim in cases where the groom was not obligated in the mitzvah of kiddushin, either because he was a minor or because he was deaf and mute (both of these individuals are exempted from mitzvot). For those poskim who consider Birkat Eirusin to be a birkhat ha’mitsvah, it would be logical to conclude that it would not be recited in these cases. Nevertheless, these poskim still raise the possibility that the mesader kiddushin may recite the b’rakhah on account of the bride. To argue this, they must assert two things: (1) the mitsvah of kiddushin relates to the bride as well as the groom; and (2) the b’rakhah may be recited by the bride though it is in the masculine voice.

Poskim who raise the possibility that the b’rakhah may be said on account of the bride, include: Nodah Bi’Yehudah (E.H. tinyana, 1), Beit Shlomo of Rav Shlomo Drimer of Skala, Galicia (no. 81), Shut Maharash Engel (2:28), Nita Sorek (no. 12) and Knesset ha’Gedolah (E.H. 34).

These poskim assume that the bride can be the one to recite it herself, regardless of the male voice of the text of the b’rakhah. If this weren’t true, the mesader would not be able to recite it on her behalf. Knesset ha’Gedolah states explicitly that the male voice of the b’rakhah would not prevent it from being seen as the bride’s b’rakhah: אף על פי שנוסח ברכת אירוסין מדבר באיש ואין בכך כלום, “Even though the text is in the male voice, this is not a matter of concern.”

For these poksim who adopt the birkat ha’mitsvah approach, it remains unclear if the bride may say the b’rakhah when the groom, the party with the primary obligation, is able to do so himself.

What emerges from this discussion is that for those who rule that this b’rakhah is a birkat ha’shevah and that the bride, or any woman, shares equally in the obligation to recite the b’rakhah, the additional factor of the male language of the b’rakhah is not a matter of concern.

The point here is a simple one: the text of the b’rakhah does not change to match the person who is saying it even if the text is not exactly appropriate for that person. Having a woman say a b’rakhah whose text is in the male voice is, in fact, a daily occurrence in most Ashkenazic communities. Every morning many women recite the b’rakhot שלא עשני גוי and שלא עשני עבד. For these texts to accurately apply to women, they should read שלא עשני גויה and שלא עשני שפחה. Although these b’rakhot are in the male voice, the general practice is to neither change the text nor rule that women may not recite them. Rather, women recite these b’rakhot using the standard text. The same would be true with Birkat Eirusin.

Thus, according to the approach that Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah — which, as we have shown, is supported by all the evidence and the dominant position of the Ashkenazi poskim — a woman would be permitted to recite Birkhat Eirusin.

Conclusion:

In summary: From a halakhic point of view, a woman may recite Birkat Eirusin. As Ittur, Ra’ah and Ritva argue, it is clear from the accepted practice that the mesader recites the b’rakhah and that it is a birkat ha’shevah whose obligation rests on all who are present. This is the position of a large number of poskim, including: Taz (Y.D.1:17), Shakh (Y.D. 1:32), Rabbi Akiva Eiger (to Y.D. 1:7), Tevuot Shor (1:59), Be’er Sheva (no. 49), Rav Shlomo Kluger (Tuv Taam Va’daat, third edition, 1:98); and Har Tzvi (O.H. 1:44), and I find this position fully persuasive. As a birkat ha’shevah whose obligation rests on all who are present, men and women alike, Birkat Eirusin may be recited by women. And as we have seen, the male voice of the b’rakhah does not create a problem for a woman who wishes to recite it.

It is clear from your question, that for the couple asking you to be their mesaderet kiddushin, it would be a significant loss if you were to refrain from reciting the Birkat Eirusin. In addition to your own status and your relationship with them, you need to consider how a decision to not recite the b’rakhah could affect the couple’s connection to halakhah and Orthodoxy. You must also weigh communal norms and how your decision will play out with the families and guests. It would be advisable to discuss these and related issues with your colleagues. I leave these policy decisions in your capable hands.

(Reprinted in a edited form with permission from owner of copyright. To see in its original form or purchase, please click here )

Footnotes:

1

[1] For the mitsvah to marry, see Sefer Ha’Mitsvot, Mitsvat Asei 213, Heading to Hilkhot Ishut, mitsvah 1, and Hilkhot Ishut 1:2. For the mitsvah to have children, see Sefer HaMitsvot, Mitsvot Asei 212, Heading to Hilkhot Ishut, mitsvah 4, and Hilkhot Ishut 15:1.

2

[2] Ramban, Ketubot 7b s.v. vi’tsivanu and Ritva, Ketubot 7b s.v. vi’nahagu. The original source for this approach appears to be Ittur, Birkat Hatanim, p. 62d. See also Rashi, Ketubot 7b, s.v. midei d’havei a’kiddushah.

3

[3] See Ritva, Ketubot 7b, s.v. vi’nahagu, who speculates that the post-talmudic minhag to say this b’rakhah over a cup of wine developed as a way of making this b’rakhah that much more like Kiddush.

4

[4] These include: Sefer Ha’Ittur, Birkat Hatanim, p. 62d, Ra’ah, Ketubot 7b, s.v. birkat), Ritva, Ketubot 7b, s.v. vi’nahagu, Rabbenu Kreskas, Ketubot 7b, s.v. birkat, Or Zarua, Hilkhot K’riat Shema, no. 25. Similarly, Tosafot Pesahim 7a, s.v. bi’li’vaaer, Mordekhai, Pesahim, no. 539, and Hagahot Maimoniyot, Ishut 3:23, without explicitly identifying the nature of the b’rakhah state the two rulings which are consistent with the position of birkat ha’shevah or birkat Kiddush: it is recited, or can be recited, after the kiddushin, and the blessing is not the groom’s obligation.

5

[5] Ramban, Ketubot 7b, s.v. vi’tzivanu in combination with Pesahim 7b s.v. vi’ha di’amar and Ritva, Ketubot 7b, s.v. vi’nahagu. See also Rashba, Ketubot 7b, s.v. barukh and Ran, Ketubot 2a in Rif, s.v. vi’assar. This seems to be the position of Rosh. In one place, Rosh explicitly defines this as a birkat ha’shevah (Ketubot 1:12) and states that it therefore can come after the kiddushin. However, in a teshuvah (26:1), he states that it comes before the kiddushin and one who says it afterwards is in error. Aharonim have labored to explain how Rosh can rule both ways. It seems that this seeming contradiction can be resolved if we assume that Rosh is adopting the hybrid approach — it is a birkat ha’shevah that functions as a birkat ha’mitsvah, and thus should come beforehand. However, since it is, at its core, a birkat ha’shevah, it is also valid if it comes afterwards, at least bi’di’avad.

6

[6] This is not inconsistent with the kiddush role that Ramban and Ritva have assigned this b’rakhah. The function it serves as a birkat ha’mitsvah — to frame the act being performed as a mitsvah-act, is similar to the function it serves as a type of kiddush — to frame the act and institution of marriage as one of sanctity.

7

[7] Ramban and Ritva hold a similar hybrid position regarding the first brakhah of birkat Kriat Shema. See Ramban B’rakhot 13a, s.v. haya korei, and Ritva, B’rakhot 13a, s.v. haya korei. Another highly relevant example is birkat haTorah. Although Shulhan Arukh rules that women do not recite a b’rakhah on mitsvot that they are exempt from, he also rules that they do recite a b’rakhah before birkot ha’Torah (Orah Hayyim 47:14). The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzhak Zev Ha’Levi Soloveitchik, quotes his father, Rav Chaim of Brisk, who states that the reason for this is that birkot ha’Torah are not standard birkot ha’mitsvah which focus on the commanded state of the one performing it, but they are b’rakhot that relate to the heftzah of Torah. In his words (Hiddushei Ha’Griz al ha’Rambam, B’rakhot 11:16):

Rather, it is the Torah itself that requires a b’rakhah. And women are only exempt from the mitsvah of learning Torah, but they are not excluded from the very “object” of Torah learning, and their learning is in the category of talmud Torah, and it is appropriate that they recite a b’rakhah over their Torah learning.

Just as women are connected to the reality of Torah learning, and can — and must — recite a b’rakhah over the heftzah of Torah, the same can be said for marriage. Whether or not women are commanded in marriage, they are very much a part of the institution of marriage! Thus, according to the model that Birkat Eirusin is a birkat ha’shevah, which also serves as a birkat ha’mitsvah to frame the institution of marriage, it is very much a b’rakhah that can be said by women as well as men.

8

[8] See Tosefta B’rakhot 6:9-10.

9

[9] Even in its function as a b’rakhah of Kiddush, it can be said before the kiddushin begins. While we normally recite Kiddush after Shabbat has begun, there are times when we recite it beforehand, i.e., when we say it before sunset. According to Rambam, this is not because Shabbat has already begun by virtue of tosefet Shabbat, but rather because we can sanctify or designate a day even before it has already begun (Hilkhot Shabbat 29:11). Similarly, this b’rakhah can sanctify the kiddushin whether it comes before or after the act of kiddushin, and may even be better suited to do so when it comes beforehand, as this is the more appropriate time to frame the mitsvah.

10

[10] See Ritva, Ketubot 7b, s.v. vi’nahagu.

11

[11] See Gra, E.H. 34:9 and Helkat Mehokek, E.H. 34:3, who state that Rema’s ruling that one can recite the b’rakhah at the time of the nissuin is more easily consistent with the birkat ha’shevah model but can also fit with the birkat ha’mitsvah model. See also Pri Meggadim, Introduction to B’rakhot, no. 14. Against this, many poskim rule that according to Rema the b’rakhah can be recited after the kiddushin was complete, even not at the time of nissuin (see Beit Shmuel, E.H. 34:3 and Helkhat Mehokek, E.H. 34:3). This position is only consistent with the birkat ha’shevah model.

12

[12] See Mordechai, Ketubot 131 in the name of Rabbi Sar Shalom Ga’on, and Beit Shmuel, E.H. 34:2.

13

[13] Ittur, Birkat Hatanim, p. 62d; Ritva, Ketubot 7b, s.v. man; and Ra’ah, Ketubot 7b, s.v. birkat.

14

[14] See also Rambam, Hilkhot B’rakhot 11:10 who writes: “Whether one who is doing a mitsvah for himself, or whether one is doing it for someone else, he recites a blessing before its performance.”

15

[15] Elsewhere in the teshuvah he is less certain.