Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
In the first perek of Kesuvos, there is a lengthy exposition on Sheva Brachos. What follows is some selected halachos regarding Sheva Brachos with a focus on the psakim of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. This article is not intended to issue practical rulings but to engender discussion. The Rema (EH 62:6) writes that the seven days of celebration start at the conclusion of the Sheva Brachos recited at the chuppah. However, Rav Moshe ruled that if the chuppah took place close to sunset and the wedding meal did not start until after sunset, the first day of Sheva Brachos is the Hebrew calendar day on which the wedding meal took place. Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, ruled that on the seventh day of Sheva Brachos, the Sheva Brachos should not be recited past sunset. Rav Elyashiv once related that the Klausenberger Rebbe invited him to the last Sheva Brachos meal being made in honor of his daughter (who married Rav Dov Weiss). He was to be honored with one of the Sheva Brachos. Rav Elyashiv politely declined, explaining that presumably the Sheva Brachos will be recited way after sunset in accordance with the chassidishe custom that halachic nighttime occurs 72 minutes after sunset. Rav Elyashiv felt that according to his custom, Sheva Brachos recited after sunset would be considered blessings in vain. The Klausenberger Rebbe assured him that the Sheva Brachos would conclude before sunset, and then Rav Elyashiv graciously accepted the invitation. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, ruled that (at least) in New York, Sheva Brachos may be recited on the 7th day until 40 minutes after sunset. There is a dispute among the Rishonim whether Sheva Brachos can be recited when only the chosson or the kallah is present. Rav Moshe ruled that they both must be present to recite Sheva Brachos. The Gerrer Rebbe, zt”l, only allowed someone to recite one of the Sheva Brachos if they ate bread and thereby joined the festive meal.
Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, ruled that someone may recite one of the Sheva Brachos even if he didn’t eat anything. It was reported that he himself followed this practice. Rav Moshe, zt”l, and Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt”l, both held that while one does not need to eat bread to recite Sheva Brachos, one should at least eat or drink something. On a weekday, Sheva Brachos are only recited if panim chadashos are present. This means that there should be someone new present at the meal to rejoice with the groom and bride, someone who was not present at the wedding. This new guest increases the joy of the chosson and kallah. A complete stranger does not qualify for panim chadashos. However, Rav Moshe ruled that if any of the parents of the chosson or kallah know the individual, then he qualifies. This guest indirectly increases the joy of the bride and the groom, when they see their parents rejoicing with this new guest. However, if the stranger is a Torah scholar, then, regardless, he qualifies as panim chadashos. The Torah scholar increases the joy of the chosson and kallah by making them feel honored to have a distinguished individual rejoice with them. There is a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema if the individual who qualifies as panim chadoshos has to actually eat something from the seudah. (EH 62:7) Although the Rema ruled that he does not have to eat, Rav Elyashiv said as a matter of practical halacha, he should preferably eat bread. An eminent scholar once joined a Sheva Brachos. He was supposed to be the panim chadoshos. However, since he only drank a soft drink, Rav Elyashiv said that he did not qualify as a new guest, although, if an individual ate food, even though he did not eat bread, Rav Elyashiv said that he would qualify. Likewise, Rav Moshe ruled that the individual being counted on for panim chadashos should eat something from the meal. (Some Sefardim are very meticulous about this halacha and require One should not leave a Sheva Brachos meal before bentching and the recitation of Sheva Brachos. two new individuals who ate bread.)
If a chosson and kallah are eating a meal in a hotel or restaurant, and most people are not there for the simcha, can Sheva Brachos be recited? Rav Moshe said they may be recited if it is made clear that the meal is in honor of the chosson and kallah. For example, the chosson and kallah should sit together at a head table. The Sefer Sovaya Simchos suggests that in this scenario, a special food should be added to the meal in honor of the chosson and kallah. There are opinions that all the Sheva Brachos should be recited by one individual. Rav Moshe pointed out, as is well known, the common custom is to distribute the blessings among different people. The custom is to use two cups of wine for Sheva Brachos: one for bentching and one for honorees to hold while reciting the Sheva Brachos. Rav Moshe held that both cups should hold a minimum of 3.3 ounces of wine. If no regular cups are available, Rav Moshe wrote in the Igros Moshe that one may use disposable plastic cups. Rav Moshe ruled that if wine or alcoholic drinks are unavailable, one can use tea. However, soda should not be used even if no other drink is available. In that case, the remaining six brachos should be recited without a cup. Under the chuppah, HaGefen is the first of the Sheva Brachos. When recited after a meal, HaGefen is the last of the Sheva Brachos. If one mistakenly recited HaGefen first, Rav Moshe said it is acceptable. They should then proceed to the rest of the Sheva Brachos and not repeat HaGefen at the end. One should not leave a Sheva Brachos meal before bentching and the recitation of Sheva Brachos. Rav Moshe noted that this applies to both men and women.
If one has to leave early, there is room to be lenient based upon the ruling of the Aruch HaShulchan. Still, there is the additional issue of leaving before zimun, which one can somewhat ameliorate by making a zimun with a group of three. However, if one knows that he will have to leave early, it is highly preferable that one adopt one of the following suggestions from the Sovaya Semachos: 1. One should join the meal without eating bread or a quantity of cake/crackers that would require one to bentch. 2. One should wash and start eating before others and finish and bentch before they finish their meal. 3. If the first two options are unavailable, one can rely on the opinion that when one starts the meal, one can have in mind not to halachically join with the others in the meal. (Rav Moshe mentions this idea.) 4. If one ate bread, started with everyone else, and didn’t have in mind not to halachically join the others, one should at least finish eating before the others and bentch before them. If the first four options did not work out, and he really must leave before the recitation of the Sheva Brachos, he can bentch with a zimun of three people and depart without Sheva Brachos (relying on the Aruch HaShulchan). This article is based upon an exposition written by Rabbi Gamliel HaCohen Rabbinowitz and Rabbi Yaakov Skotzilz that was printed in the Torah Journal “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov,” Volume 17. The Torah Journal is available for free as a PDF. Among other avenues, one can obtain a copy volume 17 by emailing the author of this article at the address below.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.