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Parashat Ki Teze 5758/1998
Understanding the Betrothal Benediction
Dr. Jacob Gartner
Department of Talmud
The verse in this week's reading, "A man takes a wife( ki yiqah ish isha)..." (Deut. 24:1), has been interpreted by some who have compiled lists of the commandments in the Torah as indicating that the Torah commands us to betroth a woman before marrying her. In accordance with this view we can understand the custom of reciting the following blessing before betrothal or kiddushin: "Blessed art thou,..., who hast hallowed us by thy commandments and commanded us concerning forbidden marriages; who has disallowed unto us those that are betrothed (ha-arusot), but hast sanctioned unto us such as are wedded to us (ha-nesuot lanu) by the rite of the nuptial canopy and the sacred covenant of wedlock." This is a benediction belonging to the class of those recited prior to performing a commandment, like the benedictions said before laying tefillin or eating in the Sukkah.
The formulation of this benediction raised several questions among the early halakhic authorities (Rishonim). For example, Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (Rosh), 1250-1327, asked (Ketubbot 12):
Rosh therefore concludes, "This benediction is not a Birkhat ha-Mitzvot, on performing a commandment, since being fruitful and multiplying [and not the marriage] is the fulfillment of the commandment... This benediction was made to praise the Lord [Birkhat Shevah ve-Hodaya] for sanctifying us by His commandments and setting us apart from other peoples, commanding us to marry those women who are permitted to us and not those who are forbidden us." Since it is difficult to understand the full intent of Rosh in these brief remarks, we shall supplement them with the comments of R. Menahem ha-Meiri in his novellae on Tractate Ketubbot:
This explains the purpose and content of the blessing, but its conclusion remains perplexing. Why does it mention huppah, the bridal canopy, before kiddushin, contrary to the order of the rites in taking a wife? This was discussed by Rosh and ha-Meiri, but before we get to their comments it should be mentioned that the original conclusion of the benediction, according to the practice in the land of Israel, appears to have been simply "who hallowest thy people Israel," without the added words, "by the rite of the nuptial canopy and the covenant of wedlock." But even in our text, the formulation of the betrothal blessing should not pose a problem, since the Talmud itself says (Ketubbot 7b), " who hallowest his people Israel by huppah and kiddushin."
It is not quite so simple, however. The full complexity of the problem can be seen from the response of Rav Hai Gaon to the question whether the conclusion of the betrothal blessing is simply "who hallowest Israel" or "who hallowest Israel by huppah and kiddushin"? Rav Hai answered this question as follows (Ginzei Kedem, 4, p. 47):
We see from here that according to the Rosh, the Talmud did not read as it does in our versions-- it had the closing "who hallowest Israel" and no more!
The conclusion of the benediction posed a problem not only for the person who addressed the query, but also for R. Isaac Alfasi (Rif, a great halakhic authority of the 11th century). Nahmanides notes in his insights on Tractate Ketubbot: "In the rulings of Rif I found the formulation 'who hallowest Israel by huppah and kiddushin.' But in his own handwriting, the Rif erased the words huppah and kiddushin and this is the true version."
Indeed, there is evidence that this was the accepted formulation in Spain. The French talmudic scholar R. Moses of Coucy notes (SeMaG mitzva 48), "In western cities the concluding formulation is none other than, 'who hallowest Israel.'" About fifty year later R. Aharon ha-Cohen wrote in Orhot Hayyim (p. 64), "It is the practice (to conclude with 'who hallowest Israel') in all the provinces of Catalonia." All this attests to the version in Spanish manuscripts on the question in Tractate Ketubbot dealing with the betrothal blessing.
Light is shed on the conflict between this Spanish version and the version we have in Tractate Ketubbot ("who hallowest Israel by huppah and kiddushin) by an interesting passage in R. Menahem ha-Meiri's Magen Avot. This book was written to defend certain practices in Provence against criticism by Nahmanides' disciples. Ha-Meiri wrote there as follows ( Y. Cohen ed., p. 69):
The version, "who hallowest Israel by huppah and kiddushin," which Ha-Meiri preferred was the accepted formulation in France and Ashkenaz in the time of the rishonim (early halakhic authorities), and this is the formulation given by R. Moses Isserles in the Shulhan Arukh.
Now we return to the explanation given by those who accepted the version, "who hallowest Israel by huppah and kiddushin," as to the order of the words huppah and kiddushin. Would not kiddushin and huppah match the order in which these rites are performed?
Rosh, continuing the remarks we cited above, addressed this q: "It mentions forbidding us the betrothed and permitting us those wed by huppah and kiddushin, so that a person not make the mistake of saying that the blessing of kiddushin was instituted to make her permissible to him. Therefore huppah is mentioned to say that it is precisely the benediction [of nissuin] under the bridal canopy that makes her permitted to him as a bride.
"For this very same reason, huppah is mentioned before kiddushin, to indicate that we are permitted those who are wed to us by the rite of huppah, which comes after the benediction of kiddushin." According to Rosh, after the Sages saw fit to establish a benediction of praise to the Almighty about the sanctity of kiddushin before the act of betrothal, there was the danger that the public in general, including the bride and groom, might think that betrothal benediction alone was a Birkhat Ha-Mitzva and sufficed to permit the couple to live together as man and wife; but this contradicts the ruling of the Sages that huppah and the seven blessings recited under the bridal canopy are what permit married life. To avoid this pitfall, the benediction notes, "who has disallowed unto us those that are betrothed," and adds the words, "hast sanctioned unto us such as are wedded to us by the rite of the nuptial canopy and the sacred covenant of wedlock," to emphasize that only the rite of the nuptial canopy allows us to live in matrimony. That is why the word huppah comes before kiddushin, indicating that we are permitted the betrothed by means of the nuptial canopy, which comes after kiddushin.
 Cf. Maimonides, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, 213; Sefer ha-Hinukh, 552; SeMaG, Mitzvat Aseh, 48; SeMaK, 183; Rashbatz, Zohar ha-Rakia, Aseh 210. For the opposing view, that betrothal is not commanded in the Torah, cf. Yeruham Perlov, Perush le-Sefer ha-Mitzvot le-Rav Sa'adiah Gaon, Aseh 69.
 Erusin, or "betrothal," in the Halakhah is not the same as modern-day "engagement." Rather, it is the first stage in taking a wife, namely kiddushin, consecrating the woman in one of three ways of taking a wife and reciting the formulation, "Behold, you are consecrated unto me." Sometimes the word kiddushin is used instead of erusin.
 In the Talmudic era betrothal (kiddushin or erusin) was not performed together with marriage under the bridal canopy (huppah), as we do today, rather the two ceremonies were held several months apart.
 Cf. S. Assaf, "Halifat She'elot u-Teshuvot ben Sepharad u-ven Tzarfat ve-Ashkenaz," Tarbiz 8 (1937), pp. 162-170. The origins of this version need further investigation.