Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reading the Kesubah at a Wedding

Is there is any problem with a woman reading a Kesubah at a wedding? I have never seen nor heard of any Orthodox wedding where this has taken place. Not even in the most extreme left wing of Orthodoxy.

Just to be clear, I am not Paskning - issuing a Halachic ruling. Nor do I advocate anyone trying this. But from a purely academic standpoint, I don't see why it shouldn’t be permitted. The only purpose for reading a Kesubah is to separate the Kedushin from the Nisuin. These are the two basic components required in a Jewish marriage ceremony.

First there is the Kedushin – also called Erusin in the Gemarah. It is the betrothal and first part of the ceremony. The Chasan gives the Kallah a ring valued at least a Sheva Perutah – a halachicly minimal required value. He places it on her index finger and says to her the words in Hebrew, ‘Harei At Mekudeshes Li B’ Taba’as Zu K’Daas Moseh V’Yisroel’ – ‘You are hereby sanctified to me with this ring – according to the laws of Moses and Israel’. This binds the couple together as husband and wife. But it does not allow for conjugal relations.

The second component of the wedding ceremony which allows the newly married couple conjugal relations is called Nisuin. This is when the Brichas Nisuin – the Sheva Brachos or 7 blessings – are made under the Chupah.

It is the established practice in all segments of Halachic Judaism to separate these two components of the ceremony – the Kidushin and Nisuin - by reading the Kesubah – the marriage contract. However, there is no real Halachic purpose for doing so.

Ironically the honor of reading a Kesubah is usually given to a prominent Rabbi. I suppose that’s because it is a very difficult document to read. It is written in un-vowelized Aramaic. And I suppose that since it is early in the ceremony right after the betrothal - and also a somewhat lengthy honor - it is given to a distinguished guest. But in point of fact the reading of this document is perhaps the least important feature of the entire wedding ceremony – having no bearing at all on the validity of the marriage.

That said, I could see how there would be major objections. For people who are not used to seeing women doing these kinds of things - it can be pretty shocking. There would probably be quite an uproar if this were to be done at any Orthodox wedding.

But I see no Halachic problem with it at all. It would seem to be no different than a woman addressing a mixed audience at a banquet. And while there are plenty of Charedi organizations that do not allow that, there are plenty of other Orthodox organizations that do - and they are attended by the very same Charedi Rabbis that do not allow it at their own organization's banquets. And to the best of my knowledge there has never been any protest of any kind by them - Halachic or otherwise - against organizations that allow women to speak.

Let us go a step further and ask whether women may make the actual Birchas Nisuin or Sheva Brachos. The wedding is not valid until these blessings are made. Is the marriage only valid if men make those Brachos? I would think not. Since both men and women are obligated in the Birchas Nisuin, a woman can be Motzie (fulfill the obligation of) a man just like a man is Motzie a woman.

I am willing to bet that this will never happen though. Nor will we ever even see a woman reading a Kesubah. But I don’t see why not.