A Wedding Day of Yesteryear
The customs of the Jewish wedding are of the most ancient pedigree. Rabbi Moshe Mes, the author of the classic work Mateh Moshe, quotes the Tashbatz who states that all of the customs involving a chosson and kallah are derived from the event of the Giving of the Torah, where Hashem had the role, so to speak, of chosson, and Klal Yisroel assumed the role of the kallah. It would thus be a most enlightening experience to take a journey back to the days of yore with a visit to Worms, one of the outstanding ancient German-Jewish communities, whose inhabitants adhered meticulously to the customs of their ancestors.
The Tri-City of the Rhineland
The mere mention of the name of the town Worms draws us back to nearly a millennium ago, to the German Rhineland and the tri-city region encompassing Speyer, Worms and Mayence [Mainz]. It is from these flourishing communities, the cradle of Ashkenazic Jewry, that the light of Torah and Ashkenazic customs spread across the entire Europe. Some of our most outstanding Torah leaders lived in Worms, including Rashi and members of his illustrious family, who later became known as the Baalei Tosafos, whose words of wisdom we drink with thirst daily.
The Beis Yosef Versus the Rama
Rav Moshe Issserles of Cracow, Poland, known by the acronym Rama, was the most foremost Ashkenazic authority in halachah. He invested great effort to ensure that the customs of Ashkenazic Jewry would remain intact.
Rav Yosef Karo of Tzfas wrote a commentary called Beis Yosef on the Tur, a code of halachah authored by Rav Yaakov, son of the Rosh. The rulings of the Beis Yosef are based largely on three earlier authorities: the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh. Since only one of these three great poskim, the Rosh, drew heavily upon Ashkenazic sources, the Rama felt the need to write a work called Darkei Moshe, consisting of glosses on the Beis Yosef, which provide the Ashkenazic halachic positions.
The final rulings of the Beis Yosef and Darkei Moshe were, in turn, the foundation for the subsequent compendium of final decisions they jointly created, with the Beis Yosef writing the Shulchan Aruch, or “Set Table,” and the Rama writing the Mapa, or “Tablecloth.” Together, these two works became the font from whence, ever since, the entire Jewish people, Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities alike, have drawn life-giving waters.
The effect of the Darkei Moshe and the Mapa was to perpetuate the rulings of a host of great Ashkenazic sages such as the Maharil (known as “the father of Ashkenazic customs”), R’ Mordechai, Smag, Smak, Maharam of Rothenburg, Ohr Zarua, and many more, whose rulings were in turn, based on the analysis and decisions of the Baalei Tosafos of Germany and France. The Rama writes regarding these sages that “we are their children’s children,” their spiritual progeny.
With that introduction to the efforts made to perpetuate the rulings on law and custom of the great poskim of Ashkenaz, we turn with new appreciation to examine the minhagim of Worms in regard to weddings.
R’ Yosef Joseph of Worms
The following discussion is based primarily on the writings of one of the most famous shamoshim of Worms, R’ Yosef Joseph Mantzepach, more widely known as R’ Joseph Shamash. He authored a book titled “The Minhagim of Varmeisa (Worms),” which contains, not only customs but also the glosses of famous poskim such as the Chavos Yair, who served as rav of Worms. Some of the minhagim that appear in this work, are also to be found in the works of the Maharil, Rokeach, and other Ashkenazic gedolim who lived in that era.
Names of Occasions
At the outset, it is important to acquaint ourselves with the terminology of the time. Certain words and phrases that were then in use, are still quite familiar to us, such as Tenaim, Shabbos Aufruf, Chuppah, and Shabbos Sheva Brachos. We will also be introduced to some unfamiliar words, including the following: the Knas Meal, Shabbos Shpinholtz, R’ Manis’ Meal, Sivlonos Day, Main, Liferung, Family Meal, Shabbos Bruiloft, Shenk Wine, and Fish Meal.
The Tenaim and “Knas Meal”
Today, we use the term tenaim to denote the occasion that is essentially an engagement party. The word tenaim means conditions, and the main event at the tenaim is the drawing up, signing, and public reading of a contract, setting forth the conditions agreed to by the parties of a forthcoming marriage. As well as the penalty fine (in Hebrew – knas) if, for whatever reason the contract is broken.
Briefly, the contract is an agreement to consummate the marriage at a time already agreed upon or that will be agreed upon at a later point. Both parties also state that they will pay their share, equal or otherwise, towards the wedding expenses. They also both say that in the period preceding the wedding they will contribute to clothing the groom and bride in a respectable way.
Although nowadays the need for such a contract may seem less pressing, in earlier historical times, when shidduchim were usually arranged at a very young age, this sort of binding agreement was of great importance. Given the difficult circumstances under which Jews so often lived, communal life was prone to sudden disruption and upheaval caused by war, persecution, plague, and other vicissitudes, making it necessary to put the respective obligations of the parties to a marriage, into a legal binding contract. Typically, the contract was drawn up in the home of the town’s rav, and they would lift up a handkerchief as a form of consummation of their agreement, after which, a vessel was smashed. This is the origin of the custom that continues in some communities to this day, to break a plate to mark the parties’ entrance into the tenaim agreement. The mechutanim would then proceed to the homes of the chosson and kallah to wish them mazel tov.
The next day, the mechutanim would hold something known as a “Knas Meal,” where they would distribute cake to those in attendance.
Between the Tenaim and the Chasunah
There were several customs observed during the period leading up to the wedding. On the Shabbos following his engagement, the chosson would receive an aliyah to the Torah, following which he would pledge the amount of a half gulden to Hekdesh. Following davening, the chosson would distribute schnapps to his friends.
During the period preceding the chasunah and continuing on for some time afterwards, the chosson and the kallah would both refrain from visiting a cemetery for an entire year after their chasunah, except in the event of a death in the family. Even in that tragic circumstance, the kallah would not, don a shtortz,- a garment worn by mourners, as was the custom.
Shabbos Aufruf, or Shabbos Shpinholtz
The Shabbos preceding the wedding itself is known nowadays as Shabbos Aufruf, reflecting the fact that on that Shabbos the chosson is called up to the Torah. Earlier in history, however, it was known as Shabbos Shpinholtz. Rav Joseph of Worms writes that he is uncertain about the meaning of that name, but speculates that it may be related to, or derived from the French term for this event, which is shabi noce, meaning “wedding Shabbos” (since noces means wedding in French). Rabbi Yisroel of Brüna [Brno, Czech] uses the term Shabbos Forshpiel. Today, there is an event on this Shabbos, which is still referred to, in Chassidic courts as Forshpiel.
In preparation for Shabbos Shpinholtz, the chosson would don a new set of clothing befitting a married man, including the sarbel – a silk coat, and the matron – a pointed soft hat.
In honor of the occasion, the chazzan would sing parts of the Friday evening Maariv prayer with a special tune. After the Shabbos meal, the chazzan would circulate around town, inviting the community to the house of the chosson, where the chosson and the father, each attired in his sarbel, would graciously receive the guests. Fruit and other sweet and light food, along with wine, would be served. The friends of the chosson would also join in the simchah and enhance the celebration with their singing.
On Shabbos morning, the chosson would arrive at shul in his new sarbel and matron. Unlike the contemporary custom, the chosson would not receive an aliyah. The chazzan would sing parts of the kaddish following Mussaf to the well-known “chosson-kallah” tune. After davening there was a kiddush featuring schnapps and cake at the home of the chosson for his friends only.
It was at the Mincha prayers, later that afternoon, that the chosson received his long-awaited aliyah, and a Mi Shebeirach was recited. The chosson would leave the shul following Kedushah so that the congregation could say Tzidkascha. The seudah shlishis would take place in the home of the chosson.
From the next day, Sunday, until the wedding day, the chosson wears the clothing he always wore as a bachur, besides for the following occasions.
Two days prior to the wedding, a small meal known as the “R’ Manis’ Meal” would be served. The origin of that name remains unknown. The next day, one day before the wedding day, was designated as Sivlonos Day – gifts day (Sivlonos in Aramaic means gifts). Although in Poland weddings traditionally took place on a Friday, weddings in Worms typically were held on a Wednesday. Thus, the “R’Manis’ Meal” was served on Monday and Sivlonos Day was on Tuesday.
On the morning of the Sivlonos Day, the chosson would come to shul wearing his new Shabbos sarbel. That afternoon, a short meal of fish and dairy products (hence called the “Fish Meal”), would be served to the bachurim and younger boys, lasting an hour at most. After the meal, the father of the chosson would bring presents for the kallah to the home of the town’s rav, who would then accompany the fathers of the chosson and the kallah to the latter’s home. The rav would present her with the gifts, saying, “This is a present for you from the chosson for after the chuppah and beyond.” The chosson would wear the new sarbel and matron at that day’s Mincha as well, and he would excuse himself to enable the congregation to recite the Tachanun prayer in his absence.
After Mincha, the shamash would invite those designated to partake in the Sivlonos Meal, which would take place in a local hall. Before birkas hamazon, the guests would chant the poem Nodeh L’shimcha which we recite at the Seudas Bris. Following birkas hamazon, the guests would escort the chosson to the “Braut House” (see further on), while holding aloft flaming torches and chanting Yigdal. Once there, spirited dancing would take place.
Wednesday – Chuppah Day
Before rousing the community for the morning prayer, the shamash would call “Tzu Der Main – to the main”. The chosson would walk ahead of the crowd with his matron hat on his shoulders. A hat usually worn by mourners. The rav and the mechutanim would follow immediately behind him. The crowd would walk on ahead of the entourage bearing torches, even in the bright summer mornings. Musicians would lead the way, as they played lively tunes. The procession would make its way to the Braut House where the wedding would take place, and they would seat the chosson in his place.
The kallah would then be brought to the door of the hall escorted by Shoshvinos – bridesmaids. The rav then guided the chosson to approach and lead the kallah to their place. As they walked together, the crowd would toss wheat above their heads, as they wished them Peru U’Revu, to merit bearing many children.
The two women who had brought the kallah to the hall would briefly take their seats on either side of the chosson and kallah. They would then arise and leave the hall along with the kallah. The chosson would then go to shul for the morning prayers. This ceremony was referred to as The Main.
The chosson would be seated at the front of the shul, next to a shtender with twelve candles. The Chavos Yair mentions the custom that when the congregation recited Ashrei and U’vo L’tzion, the children would snatch the candles.
The prayers would then commence, although the chosson would not join in, nor would he rise for Kaddish or Barchu. The chosson would only don his tallis after Kedushah, and would not wear tefillin at all.
Both Tachanun and Lamenatzeach were omitted. If, however, it was a Monday or Thursday, Kel Erech Apayim was recited, and the chosson would receive an aliyah.
The Lifering — Delivery
After davening, a small meal was prepared in the home of the rav, where both parties gave the dowry they had promised to a third party, often the rav himself. Chazal observe that ”there is no wedding without some sort of disagreement,” and thus it was prudent for the rav to serve as guardian of the dowry in case a problem arose between the parties.
Finally, it was time to go to the chuppah. Two officers from the Dalberger family (see next page) were called in to protect the ceremony from unruly gentiles, who might otherwise seek to disrupt the celebration, one guarding the chosson and the other, the kallah. The shamash would then announce the forthcoming event with a shout of “Tzu Di Bracha – to the Brachah!” and the crowd would then make their way to the home of the chosson.
The chosson went ahead. In front of him went the klezmer band, and ahead of them went the Dalberger officer. The rav went behind the chosson and the crowd followed on. They made their way to the Braut House where the chosson sat in the same place he’d sat that morning at the Main. The kallah (in the same manner as the chosson) was brought to the place where the chuppah will take place, this time escorted by the mothers of the bride and groom. At the doorway of the chuppah hall, it was the rav who showed her to the place where the chuppah would be held. Then the rav brought the chosson and placed him to the left of the kallah, with both of them facing south.
The prevailing Ashkenazic minhag of those times seems not to include the kallah circling the chosson, as is customary nowadays. There was no chuppah canopy. The chosson would tilt the tall tip of his matron hat, called a tzippel, onto the kallah, and this would serve as the chuppah.
The shamash would bring a tallis and prepare a glass beaker of wine. The rav would don the tallis, stand facing east, and commence the Siddur Kiddushin. The chosson and kallah were served some of the wine.
The shamash would then invite two prominent men to serve as witnesses to the Kiddushin. The rav would show them the ring that the chosson would use to perform the kiddushin of the kallah, pointing out that its worth was at least a prutah. The Maharil writes that the rav would ascertain whether the kallah was a bas mitzvah (12 years old) capable of receiving the kiddushin herself. The fact that this question had to be asked indicates the very young age at which girls married in those times.
The rav would say the words “Harei At Mekudeshes,” with the chosson repeating them after him. Only the chosson, however, would say the word “Li.” As the chosson said “Li,” he would place the ring on the thumb of the kallah. In the Maharil it is recorded, however, that the ring was placed on the finger near the thumb (pointer), which is the commonly observed minhag nowadays as well.
Two bachurim were then called up to serve as witnesses for the kesubah. A handkerchief was raised by both parties to make a kinyan and the kesubah was signed and read. The rav would then remove the tallis he was wearing and pass it to the father of the chosson or those given the honor of reciting the various Sheva Brachos. The shamash would whisper each of the Sheva Brachos blessings quietly in case any of the people reciting them out loud might mispronounce them and be publicly embarrassed. The shamash would do so even prior to the rav’s recitation of the bracha on the kiddushin. The chosson and kallah were then given some of the wine.
The chosson’s matron hat was then straightened out, and he was handed a glass which he proceeded to smash on a sculpture of an open-mouthed lion which stood in the Braut House.
After the chuppah, the young couple made their way to the home of the kallah where the chosson and kallah would wash for bread. He would distribute bread to his kallah and the assembled guests. Then a whole cooked hen, was set down before him. He was asked, “Do you want to redeem it?” To which he would reply, “Yes!” He then cut off a drumstick and placed it back on the tray, for all the guests to grab for themselves a privileged morsel of it. Then came birkas hamazon and Sheva Brachos, and the chosson and the kallah would then enter the yichud room.
The Wedding Meal
Later on in the evening, the shamash would summon those who had been invited to take part in the wedding meal. The chosson would give a drashah (which, more often than not, the crowd would interrupt with singing), and then the mechutanim would give him a gift called a “Drash Fingerlein.” Drash means a speech, and Fingerlein refers to a ring for the finger. Before the chosson delivered his drashah, the shamash would make the rounds to collect money to be distributed by the chosson to the poor. The Chavos Yair states that this money would go to needy residents of Eretz Yisroel, in fulfillment of the pasuk that calls for remembering Yerushalayim’s lowly state at the time of a simchah. When the time came for birkas hamazon, the kallah was brought in and seated opposite the chosson. After Sheva Brachos, the guests made their way back to the Braut House for dancing.
Thursday – Family Meal
On the day after the wedding, there would be a small Sheva Brachos meal attended only by the family and neighbors.
The Shabbos following the wedding was known by many names: “Bruiloft,” “Shenk Wine” and “Kallah Fuhren,” each referring to a different aspect of that Shabbos.
“Kallah Fuhren,” – leading the kallah, took place on Friday night, when the kallah would come to shul for the first time.
Shabbos morning, was called oShenk wine. When the chazzan would reach the words “Mi Yidmeh Loch” in the Nishmas prayer, the davening would pause. The rav would go to the “chosson door” and bring in the chosson. He would be led to the front of the shul. The chazzan would then continue davening. In honor of shabbos bruiloft (bruiloft means a wedding in Dutch) a special song “Yachdov BeShir Hama’alos” was chanted before Barchu. Also, two piyutim were added into the Yotzer prayer, Ahavah (in Ahavah Rabah) and Geulah (before Go’al Yisroel).
The chosson would be called up to the third aliyah (Shlishi) with a “Reshus” introduction, similar to that which is done on qah. Both when the chosson went up to the Torah and when he returned to his seat afterwards, he was followed by an entourage. The regular Haftorah was replaced with the Haftorah of “Sos Osis,” which compares Hashem and Klal Yisrael at the time of the future redemption to a chosson and kallah. Before Yehallelu is recited upon returning the sefer Torah to the aron, a special piyut, “Asnai Shevachai,” was recited.
The Shabbos morning meal was known as “Shenk Wine” due to the custom of people sending wine and schnapps for the guests at that meal. The name “Bruiloft” seems to be the general name of the Shabbos, which we would call Shabbos Sheva Brachos.
The contemporary custom that the chosson recites Havdalah following the Shabbos Sheva Brachos seems to have been the minhag in Worms as well. They also had a special name for the dancing which took place following Havdalah, known as “Mitzvah Rei’ah” which probably would be translated as Mitzvah Queue. The sefer Yosef Ometz calls it “Machol shel Mitzvah”, which translates as “Mitzvah Dance”.
Sunday Night – The Fish Meal
On the Sunday following the wedding, the chosson would purchase fish and prepare it for serving at a meal that evening, to which he would invite the mechutanim, his friends, and other guests. Hence, this became known as the “Fish Meal.”