FUNERAL INTERRUPTING A WEDDING
A local couple went out of town to be married. On the day when the wedding was scheduled to take place, the father of the groom died. The local rabbi then said that the marriage must be postponed for thirty days of mourning after the funeral which would take place at once. What is the law in this situation? (Asked by H.C., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)
On the face of it, the decision by the local rabbi is contrary to the clear and unmistakable statement of the Talmud in such circumstances. The Talmud (Ketubot 3b) says that if all preparations for the wedding have been made and the father of the groom dies, or the mother of the bride dies, the body is removed into another room and the wedding proceeds. The bride and groom have their sexual relationship that day and the body is buried the next day. They celebrate the seven days of wedding feasting but have no more sexual relationship except the first one which consummates the marriage (be-ilat mitzvah). Of course, the body was buried after the wedding ceremony took place but no mourning is observed during the wedding week. Mourning begins after the seven days of the wedding festivities. This law is repeated in the Shulkhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 342) exactly as in the Talmud. So there seems to be no doubt of the state of the law.
The commentators ask just why does the Talmud specify the father of the groom and the mother of the bride. And the reason given is that it is the father of the groom who in those days especially provided for all the needs of the bridegroom and it was the mother of the bride who supplied the special needs of the bride. Therefore these two were deemed indispensable to the wedding. Yet in spite of that fact, the Talmud nevertheless calls for the delay of the funeral. Later commentators say that if there are other people in the family who could make all the necessary provision, then the funeral of the parents could take place and the wedding conducted later.
However, surprisingly enough, Greenwald in his Kol Bo, p. 63, gives a modification of this clear statement of the law. He, of course, accepts the law as stated, but only in the case of a poor family who would lose all the food (paragraph 2), etc., that was prepared for the wedding. But (and this Greenwald states in the first paragraph as generally applicable) in a family that can afford the loss, the funeral should take place first, seven days of mourning observed, and then the wedding may take place.
The reason for this distinction which is not clearly stated orreferred to in the Talmud or the Shulhan Arukh is based upon the factthat postponing the funeral is considered a concession on the part of theTalmud, but not as a firm direction to the couple and its family. Andsince the Talmud mentions the question of all the food spoiling, etc., thatwould open the door for not delaying the funeral whenever the familycan afford the loss. So the matter has many variations for this reason.
To the extent that custom (minhag) has weakened the strongpermission of the Talmud can be seen, for example, in the responsum ofMoses Sofer (Hatam Sofer Yoreh Deah 348, near the end of theresponsum). He says as follows: Our conclusion is that one who hasmade all preparations for the wedding (as the Talmud describes) thenaccording to Alfasi, the postponed burial applies to all close relatives, notmerely father or mother). The wedding takes place and then the funeral.However, continues Moses Sofer, we follow Asher ben Jehiel in thismatter and first bury the dead and then marry. Asher ben Jehiel believesthat we must wait after the thirty days of mourning before the weddingmay take place, but in this regard, we follow the Ramban, who says that he marries within the thirty days of mourning.
But the clearest discussion of this change as indicated by Greenwald is based upon the Hokhmat Adam of Abraham Danzig. (By the way, the Pis-hei Teshuvah to the Shulhan Arukh gives the wrong reference to the Hokhmat Adam. It gives #140 as the source, it should be 154.) Abraham Danzig says in paragraph two, that if it is possible to save the foodstuffs, etc., then the funeral should take place first. The family then sits shiva and after the seven days of mourning the wedding can take place.
Another form of the discussion is found in the Responsa of Jacob Reischer (d. in Metz, 1733). In his Shevut Ya-akov, Part II 102, Reischer speaks of a dying man who arranged for the wedding of his daughter. After the wedding was consummated, he died, and the question which Reischer discusses is whether or not the mourning should begin at once, or the wedding feasting continue. He says that in this case the wedding festivities should continue because the father himself by arranging for the wedding, though he was dying, clearly meant to excuse the family from mourning too much.
All in all, the talmudic law itself is clear, but custom has gradually whittled away that permission to hold the wedding at once. The opinion of the later authorities that the funeral should take place first (in spite of the talmudic permission to delay it) is admittedly based upon the modern minhag. Clearly, then, there is latitude in this situation. Among modern families, where the burial generally does not take place the first day of the death, they could follow the talmudic law, have the wedding and bury the next day, as they would do anyhow, since, also, the old custom of the seven-day wedding festivity is no longer widely observed. On the other hand, much would depend on the feeling of the couple and the family. It may be that they would feel that to delay the funeral would mar the wedding mood and, therefore, would rather delay the wedding. But it is clear from the original statement of the law that certainly a modern couple can decide this according to their family feeling. If the family mentioned in the question wanted to have the wedding as scheduled, then certainly the direct law in Talmud and Shulhan Arukh would permit them to do so.