There is an ancient custom for a bride and groom to fast on their wedding day. There are many reasons cited for this custom, some practical, and others more spiritual in nature. For example, one of the explanations offered for the fast is to ensure that the groom does not become drunk in the course of the pre-wedding ceremony celebrations. Not only is an intoxicated groom unbecoming, but it also calls into question the legitimacy of the entire ceremony. If the groom is drunk during the ceremony, there would be grounds to suggest that he was not fully aware of what he was doing, which may render the ceremony invalid.
Like many religions, fasting is an important part of Jewish tradition, most notably on Yom Kippur. By depriving the body of food on this day, Jews demonstrate repentance for the sins of the past year, which are then wiped away by God. The bride and groom often fast on their wedding day, because, as mentioned earlier, all their previous individual sins are forgiven when they become man and wife. Luckily, the fasting only lasts from dawn until the conclusion of the ceremony, so the hungry couple is free to feast on anything they like at the reception.
Why do Jews fast?
Although early authorities cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen Avraham and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):
To avoid inebriation
Some explain that the practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind but also sometimes intoxicating.
To achieve atonement
Since a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos 63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).
One allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of Parshas Tolados, the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that although her name was Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).
The Spiritual Dimension Assists the Physical Dimension
However, the soul’s actions do not only benefit and profit the spiritual and internal dimension of man, but they also radiate to and assist the physical and bodily aspect of the individual. Therefore, fasting is permitted, for by fasting and strengthening the soul, one will ultimately benefit the body as well.
How is this so?
As explained later in the section entitled “Tranquility in the Home” in Volume II, it is very difficult for husband and wife to continuously dwell together in true and complete “love, harmony, peace and camaraderie.”14 Although they have built a physical home and family together, still, as two distinct individuals, their passions, desires and goals will seemingly differ, regardless of their strong bonds of attachment. Ultimately, they are two separate individuals, possessing individual minds, hearts and personalities, who naturally aspire to, and strive for, different things in life.
By contrast, the unity, fusion, harmony and camaraderie resulting from the merger of their two soul-halves are absolute and enduring. The souls of husband and wife meld completely, truly becoming one spiritual entity, one soul. In this condition, their mutual lives are entirely compatible, as they have truly become “one” and are not two distinct entities at all.
The effect of the soul’s oneness is not limited to the spiritual dimension, but shines into and illuminates man’s external and physical aspects as well (explained more fully in the section “Tranquility in the Home”). This leads to a genuine feeling of “one flesh”15 with regard to the couple’s material aspects. The couple then leads a completely harmonious and peaceful life not only spiritually, but in all physical aspects as well.
It is therefore permissible for bride and groom to fast and afflict their bodies, for in the merit of their fasting prior to their wedding, whereby their spiritual dimension overwhelms their human selves, their very physical lives will be improved and enhanced. As a result, they will live a life replete with joy and bliss.
It Is Forbidden to Cause the Body Pain
That which has been stated above — that fasting and afflicting the body is for the sake of the soul — seemingly contradicts the clear and unambiguous ruling in Shulchan Aruch that one may not cause his body pain. Not only is it forbidden to cause pain to another, but self-inflicted pain is also prohibited.
So writes the Alter Rebbe in Shulchan Aruch:12 “A person has no dominion over his body, neither to smite it, nor to embarrass it, nor to cause it any sort of pain, even if it involves withholding any type of food and drink, unless this pain is for his benefit, for instance, to save his life. …”
The reasons 13 is that the entire world, including the person’s own body, belongs to G‑d. G‑d merely entrusted man with his body — like an article that is left in a person’s care and trust — so that man may exist in this world. Therefore, in certain regards, man’s relationship to another and his own self are the same: both the body of another and his own body do not belong to him, and he, therefore, has no right to cause them harm.
Our Sages teach us, however, that when causing the body pain has a beneficial effect on the body — for example, a person fasts because eating food would be dangerous to his health — then it is permitted to cause the body pain, for that pain benefits the body itself.
Notwithstanding the above, we must understand why it is permissible to fast on the wedding day when this torments the body:
Here the body does not derive any direct benefit from the fast. On the contrary, the purpose of the fast is to weaken the body to benefit the soul. We must thus understand what right a person has to inflict pain on his body, which is not his but an “article” that G‑d entrusted to him.
Afflicting the Body to Strengthen the Soul
Let us delve more deeply into the essential character of this fast according to the first reason — that the fast is similar to Yom Kippur, a day when sins are forgiven.8
The Rambam writes in Hilchos Taanis9 that the purpose of fasting is: “To rouse the hearts; to open the pathways of repentance. …” When an individual fast and afflicts his body, his physical passions and desires are lessened, and his body’s corporeality is weakened. It is then far easier to reveal within oneself and strengthen one’s soulful and spiritual qualities, and to truly repent.10
The spiritual needs to overwhelm the physical on one’s wedding day:
The most important and unique aspect of a Jewish wedding is the fusion and union of husband and wife; that they become one soul. Thus, as a preparation for this spiritual soul union, there is particular significance in fasting — weakening the physical and arousing and strengthening the spiritual.11
I am sure you are already asking why I said that the chosson fasts on his wedding day, and omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:
Are there any halachic differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1: Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins since the kallah is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573).
However, if the reason for the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too, should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.
On the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this approach, the kallah should also fast, even if we are not concerned about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1). This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after Mincha on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with children who bring great credit to themselves and Hashem (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21).
Sheryl can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.
How long must one fast?
There are other halachic differences that result from the two reasons quoted above. If one fasts to ensure that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly, if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham Butchach 573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not followed.
When Does the Fast End?
[If the marriage ceremony takes place during the day, there are practical differences between these reasons with regard to concluding the fast:
Once the marriage ceremony has concluded, are the bride and groom permitted to eat immediately even though it is still daylight, or must they fast until nightfall?
According to the first reason (that their fast is similar to Yom Kippur), they are forbidden to eat and must continue fasting until nightfall, just like all other fasts which conclude only at nightfall. However, according to the second and third reasons (that they have not become intoxicated, or that they do not eat before performing a cherished mitzvah), they may eat even though it is still daylight. Since the marriage ceremony has already taken place, there is no reason for them to continue fasting.
A similar question arises in the opposite situation: What if the marriage ceremony takes place late at night, much later than nightfall?
May the bride and groom eat immediately after nightfall although the marriage ceremony has yet to take place, or must they wait until after the ceremony?
According to the first reason, they may eat as soon as it becomes night, for all fasts that are connected to repentance conclude at nightfall. However, according to the other two reasons, they are prohibited from eating until after the marriage ceremony, for prior to the ceremony we fear that they may become intoxicated, and so, too, they have yet to perform the cherished mitzvah.]7
How do we rule?
The Chachmas Adam (129:2) concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However, one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch Hashulchan disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas Adam.
What about the opposite situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach Chayim 562 at the end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to fast until nightfall, even though the chuppah and the yichud room! However, the accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony, even when it takes place before nightfall.
Do Sefardim fast?
Most sources citing the custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not Sefardim fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel were not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2; Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because weddings were always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby argue that when the Sefardim marries in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic practice and fast.
Nevertheless, the common practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast. Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not have the practice are not permitted to fast.
What are the other reasons mentioned for the fast?
One early source states that the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah, commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465). What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. The Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash. Perhaps this is why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic ramifications that result from it.
This is a beautiful reason to observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate it.
To avoid rift
Here is another, significant reason mentioned for the fast, although the later authorities largely ignore it: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.
The king gets judged daily
Others explain that the origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin 2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do Teshuvah and fast.
To appreciate the mitzvah
The anthology, as mentioned above, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions yet another reason, which he attributes to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot even eat!
Do they say Aneinu?
Do the chosson and kallah say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the day ends?
The Rama (562:2) rules that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom Tzom Taaneiseinu, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).
Accepting the fast
Usually, someone intending to have a voluntary fast must state at the end of Mincha on the day before that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept the fast during Mincha on the day before?
The halachic authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this declaration during Mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony. Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12). If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah should daven Mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu, since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah Berurah 562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.
Are there days when they do not fast?
Indeed, a chosson and kallah must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen Avraham (573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.
But maybe they will get intoxicated?
I understand that they are not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 573:1). Observing this precaution is a fulfilment of the custom to fast.
What about Lag BeOmer?
Technically speaking, there is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to fast. This also applies during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan, even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1, 2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas Shivah). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient practice (hameikil lo hifsid).
What about a second marriage?
Does someone marry for a second time fast on his wedding day?
According to the rationale that the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast. Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married Basmas/Machalas, he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even subsequent marriage stones and someone marrying for a second or third time should fast on the day.
What if they are not feeling well?
At this point we can address the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I do?”
We should be aware that on the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course, specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.
The Ashkenazic practise of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not forsake the laws of your mother, and that one is obligated to observe them.
May the fasts of our chasanim and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.