RRR 167-170

Wedding on Saturday Before Dark

A wedding was arranged for Saturday night. As the date approached for the marriage, it became clear that it would not be quite dark at the hour when the marriage was scheduled to take place. Is it improper to officiate on Saturday night before it is quite dark? (From Rabbi Philip Bernstein, Rochester, New York)

Every now and then this question arises, and usually about a summer wedding. A summer wedding is arranged, elaborate preparations have all been made, and then the rabbi realizes that he had overlooked the fact that it is daylight saving time, and that while the Jewish calendar which he consulted gave the hour of sunset as being well before the time set for the wedding, actually the wedding is scheduled to take place an hour earlier by daylight time and it will still be light. Must it be completely dark before the marriage takes place?

The law seems definite enough that no marriage should take place on the Sabbath. In the Shulchan Aruch, Even Hoezer 63, it is stated that since the marriage is a legal kinyon (a “taking possession”), and therefore is of the nature of a contract, it is forbidden on the Sabbath (see especially 63 : 4). In the discussion of the Sabbath laws in Orah Hayyim 339 : 4, Joseph Caro states definitely that on the Sabbath we do not hold court sessions and we do not officiate at marriages.

With the law apparently so clear, the note of Isserles to the law in Orah Hayyim 339 : 4 is rather remarkable. He says that under certain circumstances “there are those who permit it.”

Who could possibly be “those who permit it” when the law seems so clear that since marriage partakes of the nature of a contract it cannot be performed on the Sabbath? The one who permits it is perhaps the greatest authority in all European Jewish law, Jacob ben Meir, the grandson of Rashi. In his “Sefer Hayashar” (Berlin, 1898, p. 101,10) he said: “I have permitted the marriage of a woman on the Sabbath to a man who had no children from a previous marriage.” Rabbenu Tarn said he permitted this marriage “b’di aoad” that is to say, after it occurred he declared it valid. B’di avad is in contrast to I’chatchillo. The latter means to take the initiative in permitting it, or to permit it if consulted before its occurrence. Then Rabbenu Tam, having said that he permitted the marriage after the event (b’di avad), continues: “Even l’ chatchillo [even when consulted beforehand], I permitted it if there was some special need to do so.”

There could hardly be a greater authority, certainly for Ashkenazic Jews, than Rabbenu Tam. In fact, Moses Isserles leaned upon this authority in a case in which he himself was involved. He was to officiate at the marriage of an orphan girl on Friday afternoon. However, disputes as to the dowry delayed the wedding. The disputes were not settled until it was completely dark. The Sabbath had well begun and the people were already returning from the synagogues to their homes. Moses Isserles did not wish to shame this orphan girl. Therefore, in spite of the fact that the Sabbath had long ago begun, he had the canopy set up and performed the marriage. Clearly, he relied upon Rabbenu Tam in this case in which he considered “there was need for it.” (Cf. Isserles’ Responsa 125.) Therefore Isserles, in the note to the Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 339 : 4, says: “While this is not the law (to marry on the Sabbath) we rely upon this permission for cases of emergency.”

It is interesting to note that there is just as strong objection to weddings on Sunday, which is nowadays the favorite wedding day among American Jews. The Shulchan Aruch, in Even Hoezer 64 : 3, says definitely that it is contrary to custom to marry on Sunday. And the “Pis-che Teshuva,” paragraph 4, is quite clear that it is wrong to marry on Sunday. See Maimonides, Yad, “Hilchos Ishus” X : 14. See also Wolf Leiter in his responsa, “Bes David,” end of responsum 80. The objection seems to be based upon the danger of violating the Sabbath in preparation for a Sunday wedding.

With regard to the Sabbath marriage late on Saturday when it is almost dark, one could say with Rabbenu Tarn that if “there is need for it,” since all the elaborate preparations have been made, the sin of officiating would not be so very great. However, officiating before it is dark would surely create antagonism, particularly from Orthodox rabbis. So it is wiser to avoid officiating before it is dark on Saturday night, simply on the legal principle that it looks bad, or creates a bad impression (mipne maris ayin).

Therefore, on the rare occasion in which, due to an error with daylight saving time, it is not quite dark when the hour set for the marriage comes, it would be wise to delay as long as is possible. Then, if it is not absolutely dark when we officiate, it is not too great a crime. Our conscience rests with Rabbenu Tam and Moses Isserles.