In a few weeks’ time I was supposed to officiate at a wedding in Israel for a couple whose bride’s family lives in North Italy. When the Corona virus was spreading rapidly in Italy, even before our lives here in Israel started to change, it became clear that the bride’s family would not be able to attend the wedding, and they consulted with me about postponing the wedding.
This situation is very challenging for them and for many other couples who are due to be married in the near future. It is a major emotional jolt for these couples and for the whole family after a long period of preparation and anticipation.
The traditional Minhag in Jewish communities is not to postpone a wedding under any circumstances. In fact, this Minhag does not have a clear source and it does not appear in any of the significant Halachic books. However, at times, a Minhag has a stronger status than Halakhah – our Sages say, “custom overrides the Halakhah” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Yevamot 12:1).
In one of the chapters of my new book “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge“, I review the power and validity of the Minhagim that Jewish communities have accepted upon ourselves throughout history. According to Rav Kook, the principle of “Kabbalat Ha’Umah” (acceptance by the nation) is the strongest foundation of Halakhah, and that is why the Minhagim have so much significance. Rav Kook explains:
“Know that we lovingly fulfill the customs of Israel that we know were not commanded by any prophet, all because of our affection for our people and its love and honor, that we cherish with supreme Divine sanctity. And likewise, all of the mitzvot of the Rabbis that we fulfill – their main foundation is the acceptance of ‘the entire nation’ which is the honor of the nation…and anyone who excludes themselves from the community denies the core principle [of Judaism].” (Eder HaYakar, pp. 38-39)
The Rabbis have always attempted to maintain customs even when there was no real justification for their existence, because of the significance of community Minhagim. Therefore, in principle, it is important to make any possible effort not to postpone a wedding.
However, our situation today is radically different. It is not an individual case or a crisis in a certain family. It is a world-wide crisis and the life of every community has shifted upside-down. In such times of emergency, when weddings cannot be held normally because of restrictions on large gatherings, we need to consider the enormous stress and emotional pain of the bride, the groom and their families, including the grandparents who would not be able to attend the wedding, and more. Especially since this Minhag is not anchored in Halakhah (as opposed to most other Minhagim), and considering the extreme conditions that Coronavirus outbreak is imposing on our communities, I advised them to postpone the wedding to calmer times. In light of the deteriorating public health situation, this is what I would recommend to any couple who consults with me, and I am sure many families are struggling with this challenge.
I hope that we will soon be able to celebrate many weddings together in safety and happiness. With blessings for B’sorot Tovot, peace and good health to all the people of Israel and to the entire world!