If you’ve been to what we often refer to as a ‘traditional Jewish wedding’, you will know that the ceremony begins with the ‘Birkat Eirusin’ – whose text is presented and discussed in today’s daf (Ketubot 7b); that it is immediately followed by the giving of a ring when the groom makes a declaration to his prospective bride, and that this is then followed by the ‘Sheva Brachot’ – whose text is presented and discussed in tomorrow’s daf (Ketubot 8a).
In terms of the ‘Birkat Eirusin’, we are taught in today’s daf that according to Rav Yehuda (as transmitted by Ravin and Rabbah bar Rav Adda), the text that should be said is: ‘Blessed are You, Lord, King of the Universe, who has made us holy through his commandments, and who has commanded us concerning forbidden unions, forbidden us those who are betrothed, permitting us those who are wedded to us through the rite of chuppah and kiddushin’. However, Rav Acha the son of Rava then quotes a tradition that he received from Rav Yehudah that the bracha doesn’t end there and, instead, it concludes with: ‘Blessed are You, Lord, who sanctifies His people Israel by the rite of chuppah and kiddushin’. And though some of the commentaries debate the absolute necessity of one or two of these words, broadly speaking this is the formula which can be found in traditional siddurim and which is recited in traditional Jewish weddings.
However, there is one exception – namely the Beta Israel community who lived in total isolation from the rest of the Jewish world for around 2,500 years.
Interestingly, there are elements of the Beta Israel wedding ceremony which more closely proximate the wedding practices described in Massechet Ketubot than all other modern traditions. Still, though the ‘keshera’ ceremony practiced by the Beta Israel involves a prayer, it is not as the blessing as found in today’s daf (which was formulated approximately 500 years after the Beta Israel arrived in Ethiopia). Instead, the kess proclaims: ‘Praise and thanks to the Lord of Lords, and praise to the guardian angels, for granting us life and bringing us to this day, and not forgetting us to this day. Who has seen such joy, and who has enjoyed such years of life? We have no King but You, You are His merciful Name’ (1), while the conclusion of the wedding ceremony ends with a blessing to, ‘Be fruitful and multiply like the sycamore tree and always remain as fresh and as green as the tzivhah. May the God of Israel grant you the blessing with which our forefathers Avraham, Isaac and Jacob and our foremothers Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Leah were blessed.’ (2)
When the Beta Israel community arrived in Israel in the 80’s and 90’s, their wedding ceremony was not recognized by the rabbanut as being ‘halachic’ since it did not include what is generally understood to be the essential words and practices of a ‘traditional Jewish wedding’ as found in our daf (3). What this means is that while the members of the Beta Israel community were practicing their ancient Jewish practices, these were not recognized to be valid as they did not include the key words which define, according to the rest of the Jewish world, what makes a Jewish wedding.
For decades, this lack of recognition has upset and angered members of the Beta Israel, and while individuals like Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom, a dear friend and a leading voice from within the Beta Israel community, have attempted to find practical halachic solutions to overcome this and similar deadlocks, until recently there was still too greater gap between the traditional rabbinic practices, and the traditions of the Beta Israel community, with neither feeling that they could or should concede for the sake of the other.
Two years ago Rabbi ‘Shai’ (Shimon Yehuda) Witzman – a friend of R’ Shalom – attempted to resolve this problem, and in his responsa volume titled ‘Minchat Shai’ is a 40-page halachic essay (4) which attempts to find a way of ensuring that the Beta Israel wedding ceremony is recognized by the rabbanut, as well as identifying those particular aspects of what is know as a ‘traditional wedding ceremony’ – such as the bracha found in today’s daf – which he feels needs to be included in the Beta Israel ceremony for it to be recognized. Significantly, Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch wrote an endorsement to Rabbi Witzman’s recommendations which speaks of his admiration for the efforts invested by this Torah scholar to forge greater understanding and achieve greater unity in the Jewish world.
We are blessed to live in a time where the words of the prophets about the ingathering of Jews from the four corners of the earth are being realized. And like every coming together of two or more people, this reunion of the Jewish people has generated significant questions. Of course, it is very easy for different groups to think that only they have the answer, while striving for peace often requires compromises. Still, and as I recently explained in my commentary to Yevamot 122 (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/yevamot-122/), ‘when scholars – with different halachic views – come together and learn from each other, they can “increase peace in the world”’, and I believe that this is exactly what Rabbi Shalom and Rabbi Witzman have strived to achieve.
(1) Sharon Shalom, From Sinai to Ethiopia, pp. 194-195
(2) Michael Corinaldi, Jewish Identity: The Case of Ethiopian Jewry, p. 85
(3) To watch a video clip (in Hebrew) about the Beta Israel wedding ceremony, and the fight of a couple for their traditional Ethiopian wedding to be recognised in the Modern State of Israel, see Episode 2 of ‘Yerusalem’ (https://youtu.be/1ahW0_McSvQ) and the clips at 8 mins 30 seconds, and 50 mins 30 seconds.
(4) Minchat Shai, Even HaEzer Siman 2