No one can deny the gravity of the situation of the Jews. Wherever they live in perceptible numbers, they are more or less persecuted. Their equality before the law, granted by statute, has become practically a dead letter. They are debarred from filling even moderately high positions, either in the army, or in any public or private capacity. And attempts are made to thrust them out of business also: “Don’t buy from Jews!”

Attacks in Parliaments, in assemblies, in the press, in the pulpit, in the street, on journeys—for example, their exclusion from certain hotels—even in places of recreation, become daily more numerous. The forms of persecutions varying according to the countries and social circles in which they occur. In Russia, imposts are levied on Jewish villages; in Rumania, a few persons are put to death; in Germany, they get a good beating occasionally; in Austria, Anti-Semites exercise terrorism over all public life; in Algeria, there are travelling agitators; in Paris, the Jews are shut out of the so-called best social circles and excluded from clubs. Shades of anti-Jewish feeling are innumerable. But this is not to be an attempt to make out a doleful category of Jewish hardships.

I do not intend to arouse sympathetic emotions on our behalf. That would be foolish, futile, and undignified proceeding. I shall content myself with putting the following questions to the Jews: Is it not true that, in countries where we live in perceptible numbers, the position of Jewish lawyers, doctors, technicians, teachers, and employees of all descriptions becomes daily more intolerable? Is it not true, [86]that the Jewish middle classes are seriously threatened? Is it not true, that the passions of the mob are incited against our wealthy people? Is it not true, that our poor endure greater sufferings than any other proletariat? I think that this external pressure makes itself felt everywhere. In our economically upper classes it causes discomfort, in our middle classes continual and grave anxieties, in our lower classes absolute despair.

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The departure of the Jews will involve no economic disturbances, no crises, no persecutions; in fact, the countries they abandon will revive to a new period of prosperity. There will be an inner migration of Christian citizens into the positions evacuated by Jews. The outgoing current will be gradual, without any disturbance, and its initial movement will put an end to Anti-Semitism. The Jews will leave as honored friends, and if some of them return, they will receive the same favorable welcome and treatment at the hands of civilized nations as is accorded to all foreign visitors. Their exodus will have no resemblance to a flight, for it will be a well-regulated movement under control of public opinion. The movement will not only be inaugurated with absolute conformity to law, but it cannot even be carried out without the friendly cooperation of interested Governments, who would derive considerable benefits from it.

Security for the integrity of the idea and the vigor of its execution will be found in the creation of a body corporate, or corporation. This corporation will be called “The Society of Jews.” In addition to it there will be a Jewish company, an economically productive body.

An individual who attempted even to undertake this huge task alone would be either an impostor or a madman. The personal character of the members of the corporation will guarantee its integrity, and the adequate capital of the Company will prove its stability.

These prefatory remarks are merely intended as a hasty reply to the mass of objections which the very words “Jewish State” are certain to arouse. Henceforth we shall proceed more slowly to meet further objections and to explain in detail what has been as yet only indicated; and we shall try in the interests of this pamphlet to avoid [84]making it a dull exposition. Short aphoristic chapters will therefore best answer the purpose.

If I wish to substitute a new building for an old one, I must demolish before I construct. I shall therefore keep to this natural sequence. In the first and general part I shall explain my ideas, remove all prejudices, determine essential political and economic conditions, and develop the plan.

In the special part, which is divided into three principal sections, I shall describe its execution. These three sections are: The Jewish Company, Local Groups, and the Society of Jews. The Society is to be created first, the Company last; but in this exposition the reverse order is preferable, because it is the financial soundness of the enterprise which will chiefly be called into question, and doubts on this score must be removed first.

In the conclusion, I shall try to meet every further objection that could possibly be made. My Jewish readers will, I hope, follow me patiently to the end. Some will naturally make their objections in an order of succession other than that chosen for their refutation. But whoever finds his doubts dispelled should give allegiance to the cause.

Although I speak of reason, I am fully aware that reason alone will not suffice. Old prisoners do not willingly leave their cells. We shall see whether the youth whom we need are at our command—the youth, who irresistibly draw on the old, carry them forward on strong arms, and transform rational motives into enthusiasm.

But the attempts at colonization made even by really benevolent men, interesting attempts though they were, have so far been unsuccessful. I do not think that this or that man took up the matter merely as an amusement, that they engaged in the emigration of poor Jews as one indulges in the racing of horses. The matter was too grave and tragic for such treatment. These attempts were interesting, in that they represented on a small scale the practical fore-runners of the idea of a Jewish State. They were even useful, for out of their mistakes may be gathered experience for carrying the idea out successfully on a larger scale. They have, of course, done harm also. The transportation of Anti-Semitism to new districts, which is the inevitable consequence of such artificial infiltration, seems to me to be the least of these evils. Far worse is the circumstance that unsatisfactory results tend to cast doubts on intelligent men. What is impractical or impossible to simple argument will remove this doubt from the minds of intelligent men. What is unpractical or impossible to [82]accomplish on a small scale, need not necessarily be so on a larger one. A small enterprise may result in loss under the same conditions which would make a large one pay. A rivulet cannot even be navigated by boats, the river into which it flows carries stately iron vessels.

No human being is wealthy or powerful enough to transplant a nation from one habitation to another. An idea alone can achieve that and this idea of a State may have the requisite power to do so. The Jews have dreamt this kingly dream all through the long nights of their history. “Next year in Jerusalem” is our old phrase. It is now a question of showing that the dream can be converted into a living reality.

For this, many old, outgrown, confused and limited notions must first be entirely erased from the minds of men. Dull brains might, for instance, imagine that this exodus would be from civilized regions into the desert. That is not the case. It will be carried out in the midst of civilization. We shall not revert to a lower stage, we shall rise to a higher one. We shall not dwell in mud huts; we shall build new more beautiful and more modern houses, and possess them in safety. We shall not lose our acquired possessions; we shall realize them. We shall surrender our well earned rights only for better ones. We shall not sacrifice our beloved customs; we shall find them again. We shall not leave our old home before the new one is prepared for us. Those only will depart who are sure thereby to improve their position; those who are now desperate will go first, after them the poor; next the prosperous, and, last of all, the wealthy. Those who go in advance will raise themselves to a higher grade, equal to those whose representatives will shortly follow. Thus the exodus will be at the same time an ascent of the class.

This objection will be especially brought forward in France. It will probably also be made in other countries, but I shall answer only the French Jews beforehand, because these afford the most striking example of my point.

However much I may worship personality—powerful individual personality in statesmen, inventors, artists, philosophers, or leaders, as well as the collective personality of a historic group of human beings, which we call a nation—however much I may worship personality, I do not regret its disappearance. Whoever can, will, and must perish, let him perish. But the distinctive nationality of Jews neither can, will, nor must be destroyed. It cannot be destroyed, because external enemies consolidate it. It [80]will not be destroyed; this is shown during two thousand years of appalling suffering. It must not be destroyed, and that, as a descendant of numberless Jews who refused to despair, I am trying once more to prove in this pamphlet. Whole branches of Judaism may wither and fall, but the trunk will remain.

Hence, if all or any of the French Jews protest against this scheme on account of their own “assimilation,” my answer is simple: The whole thing does not concern them at all. They are Jewish Frenchmen, well and good! This is a private affair for the Jews alone.

The movement towards the organization of the State I am proposing would, of course, harm Jewish Frenchmen no more than it would harm the “assimilated” of other countries. It would, on the contrary, be distinctly to their advantage. For they would no longer be disturbed in their “chromatic function,” as Darwin puts it, but would be able to assimilate in peace, because the present Anti-Semitism would have been stopped for ever. They would certainly be credited with being assimilated to the very depths of their souls, if they stayed where they were after the new Jewish State, with its superior institutions, had become a reality.

The “assimilated” would profit even more than Christian citizens by the departure of faithful Jews; for they would be rid of the disquieting, incalculable, and unavoidable rivalry of a Jewish proletariat, driven by poverty and political pressure from place to place, from land to land. This floating proletariat would become stationary. Many Christian citizens—whom we call Anti-Semites—can now offer determined resistance to the immigration of foreign Jews. Jewish citizens cannot do this, although it affects them far more directly; for on them they feel first of all [81]the keen competition of individuals carrying on similar branches of industry, who, in addition, either introduce Anti-Semitism where it does not exist, or intensify it where it does. The “assimilated” give expression to this secret grievance in “philanthropic” undertakings. They organize emigration societies for wandering Jews. There is a reverse to the picture which would be comic, if it did not deal with human beings. For some of these charitable institutions are created not for, but against, persecuted Jews; they are created to despatch these poor creatures just as fast and far as possible. And thus, many an apparent friend of the Jews turns out, on careful inspection, to be nothing more than an Anti-Semite of Jewish origin, disguised as a philanthropist.

Those who really wished to see the Jews disappear through intermixture with other nations, can only hope to see it come about in one way. The Jews must previously acquire economic power sufficiently great to overcome the old social prejudice against them. The aristocracy may serve as an example of this, for in its ranks occur the proportionately largest numbers of mixed marriages. The Jewish families which regild the old nobility with their money become gradually absorbed. But what form would this phenomenon assume in the middle classes, where (the Jews being a bourgeois people) the Jewish question is mainly concentrated? A previous acquisition of power could be synonymous with that economic supremacy which Jews are already erroneously declared to possess. And if the power they now possess creates rage and indignation among the Anti-Semites, what outbreaks would such an increase of power create? Hence the first step towards absorption will never be taken, because this step would involve the subjection of the majority to a hitherto scorned minority, possessing neither military nor administrative power of its own. I think, therefore, that the absorption of Jews by means of their prosperity is unlikely to occur. In countries which now are Anti-Semitic my view will be approved. In others, where Jews now feel comfortable, it will probably be violently disputed by them. My happier co-religionists will not believe me till Jew-baiting teaches them the truth; for the longer Anti-Semitism lies in abeyance the more fiercely will it break out. The infiltration of immigrating Jews, attracted to a land by apparent security, and the ascent in the social scale of native Jews, combine powerfully to bring about a revolution. Nothing is plainer than this rational conclusion.

[79]Because I have drawn this conclusion with complete indifference to everything but the quest of truth, I shall probably be contradicted and opposed by Jews who are in easy circumstances. Insofar as private interests alone are held by their anxious or timid possessors to be in danger, they can safely be ignored, for the concerns of the poor and oppressed are of greater importance than theirs. But I wish from the outset to prevent any misconception from arising, particularly the mistaken notion that my project, if realized, would in the least degree injure property now held by Jews. I shall therefore explain everything connected with rights of property very fully. Whereas, if my plan never becomes anything more than a piece of literature, things will merely remain as they are. It might more reasonably be objected that I am giving a handle to Anti-Semitism when I say we are a people—one people; that I am hindering the assimilation of Jews where it is about to be consummated, and endangering it where it is an accomplished fact, insofar as it is possible for a solitary writer to hinder or endanger anything.

Oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us. No nation on earth has survived such struggles and sufferings as we have gone through. Jew-baiting has merely stripped off our weaklings; the strong among us were invariably true to their race when persecution broke out against them. This attitude was most clearly apparent in the period immediately following the emancipation of the Jews. Those Jews who were advanced intellectually and materially entirely lost the feeling of belonging to their race. Wherever our political well-being has lasted for any length of time, we have assimilated with our surroundings. I think this is not discreditable. Hence, the statesman who would wish to see a Jewish strain in his nation would have to provide for the duration of our political well-being; and even a Bismarck could not do that.

For old prejudices against us still lie deep in the hearts of the people. He who would have proofs of this need only listen to the people where they speak with frankness and simplicity: proverb and fairy-tale are both Anti-Semitic. A nation is everywhere a great child, which can certainly be educated; but its education would, even in most favorable circumstances, occupy such a vast amount of time that we could, as already mentioned, remove our own difficulties by other means long before the process was accomplished.

Assimilation, by which I understood not only external conformity in dress, habits, customs, and language, but also identity of feeling and manner—assimilation of Jews could be effected only by intermarriage. But the need for mixed marriages would have to be felt by the majority; their mere recognition by law would certainly not suffice.

The Hungarian Liberals, who have just given legal sanction to mixed marriages, have made a remarkable mistake which one of the earliest cases clearly illustrates; a baptized Jew married a Jewess. At the same time the struggle to obtain the present form of marriage accentuated distinctions between Jews and Christians, thus hindering [78]rather than aiding the fusion of races.

This century has given the world a wonderful renaissance by means of its technical achievements; but at the same time its miraculous improvements have not been employed in the service of humanity. Distance has ceased to be an obstacle, yet we complain of insufficient space. Our great steamships carry us swiftly and surely over hitherto unvisited seas. Our railways carry us safely into a mountain-world hitherto tremblingly scaled on foot. Events occurring in countries undiscovered when Europe [75]confined the Jews in Ghettos are known to us in the course of an hour. Hence the misery of the Jews is an anachronism—not because there was a period of enlightenment one hundred years ago, for that enlightenment reached in reality only the choicest spirits.

I believe that electric light was not invented for the purpose of illuminating the drawing-rooms of a few snobs, but rather for the purpose of throwing light on some of the dark problems of humanity. One of these problems, and not the least of them, is the Jewish question. In solving it we are working not only for ourselves, but also for many other over-burdened and oppressed beings.

The Jewish question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. It is a remnant of the Middle Ages, which civilized nations do not even yet seem able to shake off, try as they will. They certainly showed a generous desire to do so when they emancipated us. The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized—for instance, France—until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.

I believe that I understand Anti-Semitism, which is really a highly complex movement. I consider it from a Jewish standpoint, yet without fear or hatred. I believe that I can see what elements there are in it of vulgar sport, of common trade jealousy, of inherited prejudice, of religious intolerance, and also of pretended self-defence. I think the Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, which can only be solved by making it a political world-question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.

We are a people—one people.

We have honestly endeavored everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and to preserve the faith of our fathers. We are not permitted to do so. In vain are we loyal patriots, our loyalty in some places running to extremes; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow-citizens; in vain do we strive to increase the fame of our native land in science and art, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In countries where we have lived for centuries we are still cried down as strangers, and often by those whose ancestors were not yet domiciled in the land where Jews had already had experience of suffering. The majority may decide which are the strangers; for this, as indeed every point which arises in the relations between nations, is a question of might. I do not here surrender any portion of our prescriptive right, when I make this statement merely in my own name as an individual. In the world as it now is and for an indefinite period will probably remain, might precedes right. It is useless, therefore, for us to be loyal patriots, as were the Huguenots who were forced to emigrate. If we could only be left in peace….

But I think we shall not be left in peace.

It is astonishing how little insight into the science of economics many of the men who move in the midst of active life possess. Hence it is that even Jews faithfully repeat the cry of the Anti-Semites: “We depend for sustenance on the nations who are our hosts, and if we had no hosts to support us we should die of starvation.” This is a point that shows how unjust accusations may weaken our self-knowledge. But what are the true grounds for this statement concerning the nations that act as “hosts”? Where it is not based on limited physiocratic views it is founded on the childish error that commodities pass from hand to hand in continuous rotation. We need not wake from long slumber, like Rip van Winkle, to realize that the world is considerably altered by the production of new commodities. The technical progress made during this wonderful era enables even a man of most limited intelligence to note with his short-sighted eyes the appearance of new commodities all around him. The spirit of enterprise has created them.

Labor without enterprise is the stationary labor of ancient days; and typical of it is the work of the husbandman, who stands now just where his progenitors stood a thousand years ago. All our material welfare has been brought about by men of enterprise. I feel almost ashamed of writing down so trite a remark. Even if we were a nation of entrepreneurs—such as absurdly exaggerated accounts make us out to be—we should not require another nation to live on. We do not depend on the circulation of old commodities, because we produce new ones.

[74]The world possesses slaves of extraordinary capacity for work, whose appearance has been fatal to the production of handmade goods: these slaves are the machines. It is true that workmen are required to set machinery in motion; but for this we have men in plenty, in super-abundance. Only those who are ignorant of the conditions of Jews in many countries of Eastern Europe would venture to assert that Jews are either unfit or unwilling to perform manual labor.

But I do not wish to take up the cudgels for the Jews in this pamphlet. It would be useless. Everything rational and everything sentimental that can possibly be said in their defence has been said already. If one’s hearers are incapable of comprehending them, one is a preacher in a desert. And if one’s hearers are broad and high-minded enough to have grasped them already, then the sermon is superfluous. I believe in the ascent of man to higher and yet higher grades of civilization; but I consider this ascent to be desperately slow. Were we to wait till average humanity had become as charitably inclined as was Lessing when he wrote “Nathan the Wise,” we should wait beyond our day, beyond the days of our children, of our grandchildren, and of our great-grandchildren. But the world’s spirit comes to our aid in another way.

Part 2/2:

I shall not be lavish in artistically elaborated descriptions of my project, for fear of incurring the suspicion of painting a Utopia. I anticipate, in any case, that thoughtless scoffers will caricature my sketch and thus try to weaken its effect. A Jew, intelligent in other respects, to whom I explained my plan, was of the opinion that “a Utopia was a project whose future details were represented as already extant.” This is a fallacy. Every Chancellor of the Exchequer calculates in his Budget estimates with assumed figures, and not only with such as are based on the average returns of past years, or on previous revenues in other States, but sometimes with figures for which there is no precedent whatever; as for example, in instituting a new tax. Everybody who studies a Budget knows that this is the case. But even if it were known that the estimates would not be rigidly adhered to, would such a financial draft be considered Utopian?

But I am expecting more of my readers. I ask the cultivated men whom I am addressing to set many preconceived ideas entirely aside. I shall even go so far as to ask those Jews who have most earnestly tried to solve the Jewish Question to look upon their previous attempts as mistaken and futile.

I must guard against a danger in setting forth my idea. If I describe future circumstances with too much caution I shall appear to doubt their possibility. If, on the other hand, I announce their realization with too much assurance I shall appear to be describing a chimera.

I shall therefore clearly and emphatically state that I believe in the practical outcome of my scheme, though without professing to have discovered the shape it may [72]ultimately take. The Jewish State is essential to the world; it will therefore be created.

The plan would, of course, seem absurd if a single individual attempted to do it; but if worked by a number of Jews in co-operation it would appear perfectly rational, and its accomplishment would present no difficulties worth mentioning. The idea depends only on the number of its supporters. Perhaps our ambitious young men, to whom every road of progress is now closed, seeing in this Jewish State a bright prospect of freedom, happiness and honors opening to them, will ensure the propagation of the idea.

I feel that with the publication of this pamphlet my task is done. I shall not again take up the pen, unless the attacks of noteworthy antagonists drive me to do so, or it becomes necessary to meet unforeseen objections and to remove errors.

Am I stating what is not yet the case? Am I before my time? Are the sufferings of the Jews not yet grave enough? We shall see.

It depends on the Jews themselves whether this political pamphlet remains for the present a political romance. If the present generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, finer and a better generation will arise to understand it. The Jews who wish for a State shall have it, and they will deserve to have it.

Part 1/2:

The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish State.

The world resounds with outcries against the Jews, and these outcries have awakened the slumbering idea.

I wish it to be clearly understood from the outset that no portion of my argument is based on a new discovery. I have discovered neither the historic condition of the Jews nor the means to improve it. In fact, every man will see for himself that the materials of the structure I am designing are not only in existence, but actually already in hand. If, therefore, this attempt to solve the Jewish Question is to be designated by a single word, let it be said to be the result of an inescapable conclusion rather than that of a flighty imagination.

I must, in the first place, guard my scheme from being treated as Utopian by superficial critics who might commit this error of judgment if I did not warn them. I should obviously have done nothing to be ashamed of if I had described a Utopia on philanthropic lines; and I should also, in all probability, have obtained literary success more easily if I had set forth my plan in the irresponsible guise of a romantic tale. But this Utopia is far less attractive than any one of those portrayed by Sir Thomas More and his numerous forerunners and successors. And I believe that the situation of the Jews in many countries is grave enough to make such preliminary trifling superfluous.

An interesting book, “Freiland,” by Dr. Theodor Hertzka, which appeared a few years ago, may serve to mark the distinction I draw between my conception and [70]a Utopia. His is the ingenious invention of a modern mind thoroughly schooled in the principles of political economy, it is as remote from actuality as the Equatorial mountain on which his dream State lies. “Freiland” is a complicated piece of mechanism with numerous cogged wheels fitting into each other; but there is nothing to prove that they can be set in motion. Even supposing “Freiland societies” were to come into existence, I should look on the whole thing as a joke.

The present scheme, on the other hand, includes the employment of an existent propelling force. In consideration of my own inadequacy, I shall content myself with indicating the cogs and wheels of the machine to be constructed, and I shall rely on more skilled mechanicians than myself to put them together.

Everything depends on our propelling force. And what is that force? The misery of the Jews.

Who would venture to deny its existence? We shall discuss it fully in the chapter on the causes of Anti-Semitism.

Everybody is familiar with the phenomenon of steam-power, generated by boiling water, which lifts the kettle-lid. Such tea-kettle phenomena are the attempts of Zionist and kindred associations to check Anti-Semitism.

I believe that this power, if rightly employed, is powerful enough to propel a large engine and to move passengers and goods: the engine having whatever form men may choose to give it.

I am absolutely convinced that I am right, though I doubt whether I shall live to see myself proved to be so. Those who are the first to inaugurate this movement will scarcely live to see its glorious close. But the inauguration [71]of it is enough to give them a feeling of pride and the joy of spiritual freedom.

We shall post some parts (if not all) of the everlasting book: “The Jewish State”, by Theodor Herzl.

Also, we will try to make some sort of disussion about some parts of this important book.

Thanks to Gutenberg project and this Jewish Judaica Store

The workmen’s dwellings (which include the dwellings of all operatives) will be erected at the Company’s own risk and expense. They will resemble neither those melancholy workmen’s barracks of European towns, not those miserable rows of shanties which surround factories; they will certainly present a uniform appearance, because the Company must build cheaply where it provides the building materials to a great extent; but the detached houses in little gardens will be united into attractive groups in each locality. The natural conformation of the land will rouse the ingenuity of our young architects, whose ideas have not yet been cramped by routine; and even if the people do not grasp the whole import of the plan, they will at any rate feel at ease in their loose clusters. The Temple will be visible from long distances, for it is only our ancient faith that has kept us together. There will be light, attractive, healthy schools for children, conducted on the most approved modern systems. There will be continuation-schools for workmen, which will educate them in greater technical knowledge and enable them to become intimate with the working of machinery. There will be places of amusement for the proper conduct of which the Society of Jews will be responsible.

We are, however, speaking merely of the buildings at present, and not of what may take place inside of them.

I said that the Company would build workmen’s dwellings cheaply. And cheaply, not only because of the proximity of abundant building materials, not only because of the Company’s proprietorship of the sites, but also because of the non-payment of workmen.

American farmers work on the system of mutual assistance in the construction of houses. This childishly amicable system, which is as clumsy as the block-houses erected, can be developed on much finer lines.

As we have discovered over the course of the past several Chaburas, a typical Jewish wedding is composed of a wonderfully complex collection of laws and customs, rife with symbolism and significance. Having discussed much of the peripheral and more custom-oriented aspects of the procedures, we will now be covering the ceremony itself.

Before beginning with our study of the evolution of our current practices, a quick rundown of the terminology involved and the basic “game plan” of a Jewish marriage ceremony as it is commonly practiced in Ashkenazic circles today. The “mesader kiddushin” takes a cup of wine and says a “borei pri ha-gafen” on it. Before anyone drinks from the cup, he then says the birchat erusin (blessing of betrothal – this week’s focus), and then both the groom and bride are given the cup to take a sip. The groom then turns to the bride, and, in the presence of two valid witnesses, says “behold you are betrothed to me with this ring as per the law of Moses and Israel.” He then slips the ring onto her finger, and the erusin (or kiddushin) segment is concluded.

It has become virtually a universal practice to have a break at this point to separate between the erusin and the nisu’in. This is generally accomplished with the reading of the ketubah (marriage contract) and possibly a speech. Neither of these procedures is necessary to effect the marriage, although it has become the custom for the groom to hand the ketubah to the bride (see J. David Bleich’s article in Tradition 31:2 for more on this topic). The nisu’in, or formal marriage procedures, then occur. Seven blessings (sheva berachot – next week’s topic), beginning with borei pri ha-gafen on another cup of wine, are recited. After the final blessing is recited, the groom and bride are once again given the cup to sip from. This drinking marks the formal end of the ceremony, although it is generally followed the breaking of a glass as a memorial for the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.

BIRCHAT ERUSIN

As noted above, our focus this week will be the first half of the ceremony, known as the erusin, or betrothal. In the times of the Talmud, this took place roughly a year before the nisu’in and functioned a manner somewhat similar to our engagements. However, the couple was considered to be married to some degree, although the continued to live separately. Today, both the erusin and nisu’in are done together, an arrangement which, as we will see, will help to smooth over some of the trickier aspects of the blessing that is recited.

The gemara in Ketubot 7b cites a braita which states that “birchat chatanim (a.k.a. sheva berachot) are recited in the groom’s house, and birchat erusin in the place of the erusin.” The gemara then asks what the blessing recited by erusin is and responds with the following formulation: “Blessed are You…who made us holy and commanded us in the forbidden relations, and forbade to us betrothed women, and permitted to us married women via chupah and kiddushin.” The gemara then relates a view that the blessing should be concluded with “Blessed are You…who sanctifies Israel via chupah and kiddushin.” However, the gemara notes that it was not the universal practice to conclude with a second formulation of “Blessed are You.”

This last point is crucial to our understanding of the blessing. The gemara says that one who does add such a closing formulation does so in a manner similar to kiddush on Shabbat, which ends with a second blessing. As Rashi notes, as both kiddush and kiddushin discuss the sanctification of the Jewish people, they are viewed in similar ways and the blessings are affected accordingly. However, one who omits this ending places the birchat erusin on par with a regular blessing, such as the ones made on fruit or on the performance of a mitzva, such as putting on tefillin. Rashi explains that since there is one singular thanks being given here to Hashem, no second blessing is needed.

This issue gets to the heart and soul of our topic. What kind of blessing are we dealing with here? In general, blessings are divided up into three categories: those said before performing certain mitzvot, those said in praise of Hashem, and those said before deriving pleasure from something such as food. Where does the birchat erusin fit in? This question is raised by Rosh, who assumes at first that we are dealing with a blessing on a mitzvah. However, if that is the case, he asks, then why do we make a blessing on something that has been forbidden to us? Furthermore, why do we mention the chupah at this point, if the chupah is not really a factor until the nisu’in (the fact that it all occurs under the chupah nowadays is merely a result of the fact that everything is done at once)? Rosh answers that this is not really a blessing on a mitzva, since the mitzva that is involved here is really that of procreation, which is not occurring at this moment and is not one for which a formal marriage is needed (since one could fulfill his obligation in this regard via a concubine when they were permitted). Instead, what we are dealing with here is a blessing of praise for Hashem for separating us from the other nations by commanding us to marry only certain women who are not deemed to be forbidden to us, and furthermore to only marry them via the process of chupah and kiddushin (this links to Rashi’s statement at the beginning of Vayikra 19 that the term “kedusha” means being separate from forbidden relationships).

Mordechai approaches this issue from a slightly different angle. He raises the question of why we do not simply bless “who commanded us to betroth the woman,” similar to the formulation used by lighting Chanukah candles and reading the Megilla on Purim? He answers that since the betrothal is not the conclusion of the mitzva, there is thus no regular birchat ha-mitzva recited on it. What is notable here is the fact that Mordechai seems to assume that the appropriate blessing here would be of the category of blessings said upon performing commandments. Rashba adds that even though this is not actually the mitzva, since marriage is a concept that has its roots in the Torah, it is considered to be important enough to merit its own blessing. Ritva offers two perspectives on this point. He suggests, like Rosh, that there is no birchat ha-mitzva to be said here. Alternatively, he cites Ramban who says that there should be a birchat ha-mitzva here but since this is not the conclusion of the mitzva it is not said. He also cites Rabbeinu Yonah, who rules that the birchat ha-mitzva is left out since the completion of this act depends on both parties, and since the one making the blessing cannot be sure that both will carry through with the betrothal until it is done, no birchat ha-mitzva is said (a similar logic is employed to explain why there is no blessing said on the giving of tzedaka).

Having reviewed the major opinions as to what a “chupah” is, what are we to do in practice? This issue is solved largely by the Bach. Thus, in his time, when weddings were often done on Fridays before Shabbat, the head of the bride would be covered after Shacharit (thus fulfilling Tosafot in Yoma 13a, which says that chupah is when the bride leaves her house with her hair adorned). It seems that the basic assumption was that this would be done by her father or by the Rabbi, and thus the Bach notes that the groom should either do this by himself or at least have a part in doing so. Then, when the blessings were to be made, a canopy would be placed on poles and held over the bride and the groom. After the blessings were complete, the bride and groom would retreat to their house and eat in a secluded place, which was considered to be the main fulfillment of chupah.

Our practice is basically the same. Before what we call the chupah is the “bedeken” (from the German meaning “to cover”; not from the Hebrew for “to check”), where the groom brings the veil down over the face of the bride. While there are several reasons for this practice, the fact that it may constitute chupah has led some poskim to require that two witnesses be designated for this part of the ceremony as well as for everything that follows. We follow the bedeken with what is known as the chupah, where the bride and groom stand under the canopy (or tallit, or both) and the blessings are recited. Finally, they retire to the “yichud room,” where they share a meal together. As those who claim that yichud constitutes chupah speak of the groom bringing the bride into his domicile, there are those (Mishna Berura and others) who require that the groom “own” the yichud room, usually done by making a mainly nominal deal with the owner of the catering hall or hotel. Again, as yichud may be the actual chupah, witnesses are designated and stand guard outside the room.

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As we have already noted, the view of Rambam, if only due to its stringencies, is not the one that is popularly followed these days. That being the case, what do we consider to be the chupah? The Beit Yoseif, after citing Rambam and the dissension of Ran against him, goes on to rule that chupah occurs when the groom brings the wife from her father’s house into his house. This view seems to make perfect sense with the various verses in the Torah that refer to an unmarried girl as still being in her “father’s house.” (e.g. Vayikra 22:13, Bamidbar 30:4) This view also makes sense in light of a statement of the Perisha. He notes that the word “chupah” stems from the word “chofeh,” meaning to cover or protect. It is used here to indicate the fact that once the woman enters into the domain of her husband, he then accepts upon himself the responsibility of caring for and protecting her (we will see that this statement of the Perisha can work for other views as well).

The Beit Yoseif also brings down two more views as to what chupah is. He cites the Orchot Chaim, speaking in the name of the Ittur, who claims that Jewish wedding –  chupah occurs when the father of the bride hands over his daughter to her groom and they together enter into a house (or some structure) that has something new done to it and they are alone together there. As an example, he notes that some people fulfilled this by making a booth out of roses, which sounds somewhat similar to what we refer to today as a chupah. The Beit Yoseif also notes a view that says that a chupah is when a cloth is spread over the heads of the bride and groom when the blessings are made for them. While he rejects this view, we will see that it is a practice which has survived and is part of our “chupah” today.

Having reviewed the major opinions as to what a “chupah” is, what are we to do in practice? This issue is solved largely by the Bach. Thus, in his time, when weddings were often done on Fridays before Shabbat, the head of the bride would be covered after Shacharit (thus fulfilling Tosafot in Yoma 13a, which says that chupah is when the bride leaves her house with her hair adorned). It seems that the basic assumption was that this would be done by her father or by the Rabbi, and thus the Bach notes that the groom should either do this by himself or at least have a part in doing so. Then, when the blessings were to be made, a canopy would be placed on poles and held over the bride and the groom. After the blessings were complete, the bride and groom would retreat to their house and eat in a secluded place, which was considered to be the main fulfillment of chupah.

Our practice is basically the same. Before what we call the chupah is the “bedeken” (from the German meaning “to cover”; not from the Hebrew for “to check”), where the groom brings the veil down over the face of the bride. While there are several reasons for this practice, the fact that it may constitute chupah has led some poskim to require that two witnesses be designated for this part of the ceremony as well as for everything that follows. We follow the bedeken with what is known as the chupah, where the bride and groom stand under the canopy (or tallit, or both) and the blessings are recited. Finally, they retire to the “yichud room,” where they share a meal together. As those who claim that yichud constitutes chupah speak of the groom bringing the bride into his domicile, there are those (Mishna Berura and others) who require that the groom “own” the yichud room, usually done by making a mainly nominal deal with the owner of the catering hall or hotel. Again, as yichud may be the actual chupah, witnesses are designated and stand guard outside the room. Judaica articles.

One of the most serious areas of law that is involved here concerns the laws of yichud. A man is not allowed to be alone in a closed room (or any place where they do not fear being disturbed) with a woman, with very few exceptions. One such exception is his wife, and this topic will lead us directly into the first of the opinions on chupah, that of Rambam.

Assuming one of the strictest views on what chupah is, Rambam writes (Hil. Ishut 10:1) that  Jewish wedding chupah occurs when the man brings the woman into his house and has yichud with her. At this point she is considered to be a “nesu’ah” (married woman) and is considered to be his wife for all areas of halacha. He concludes by noting that this seclusion accomplishes the goal of cementing the marriage even if the couple had not yet had relations with each other, so long as they could have done so (“chupah ha-re’uyah l’bi’a“).

This last comment of Rambam is crucial to his overall view. As the Derisha notes, Rambam’s position is based on the perspective that the entire point of the chupah is the relations that will follow. Thus, even if the relations do not occur, as long as it is possible that they could have, the chupah is valid. This becomes an issue in an area that we will only mention briefly here, namely the case of a “chupat nidda,” when the woman is menstruating at the time of the Jewish wedding chupah. Since she is forbidden to any man at that time, there is no possibility for relations to occur, and the two are not fully married and may not be alone with each other until such time as she is pure and they can consummate their marriage (we should note that this is not the view that is followed today).

The Kesef Mishna cites Ran, who is shocked at the view of Rambam. He brings in the gemara in Yevamot 57b, which states clearly that women who are unfit for marriage for whatever reason can still have a valid chupah. Rosh (Ketubot 5:6) also objects to the view of Rambam. He first cites Rabbeinu Channanel and Rif, who agree with Rambam, and then cites Rambam himself. However, he notes that throughout the gemara, whenever the issue of chupah is involved with the ramifications being whether or not a non-kohein woman who is marrying a kohein will be able to eat from terumah (food given to the priests that only they may eat), the question of a chupat nidda is never raised. Thus, says Rosh, there is clearly an assumption that a chupat nidda is valid. To deal more directly with the concerns of Rambam, Rosh notes that so long as the groom enters the chupah with the intentions to consummate the marriage, the chupah is valid even if his wife is then found to be impure (the Magid Mishna agrees with this opinion). Perhaps concerned with the view of Rambam, the Hagahot Ashri notes in the name of the Mordechai that there was the practice to inform the groom before the chupah if his wife was impure. While he does not specify whose view he is following, if he were to be following the view of Rambam, then the chupah would clearly not be valid if the woman were to be impure.

Part 2 of 7

In the good old days, a man and a woman would enter into a state of “erusin” (engagement) a significant time before they actually got married. Unlike modern-day engagements, which have no real halachic status, this stage was a kind of a partial-married state. However, while this stage meant that the man and women were designated for each other, there is a slew of laws regarding husband and wife that do not kick in until the marriage has been completed, which Rambam and Tur agree happens with the chupah.

Bamidbar 30 speaks about the laws of taking vows. A woman who lives in her father’s house can have her vows canceled by her father if he hears them on the day that she makes them. Once she is married, however, the husband assumes this privilege, and can negate the vows taken by his wife. Only once chupah has happened does the husband acquire the power to do such a thing. Until that point, the girl is still considered to be in her father’s house. Similarly, if a woman were to pass away unmarried, any possessions that she owns would go to her relatives. Once she is married, her husband assumes the position of prominence among her heirs. Once again, only once chupah has happened does he achieve this status.

part 1 of 7

It is fairly standard today for Jewish wedding invitations to list two times at which the affair will begin. The first time is for the reception/cocktails, and the second time is for the “chupah.” While there are certainly those who feel that the former is more important, there is no doubt that it is the latter that is the religious high point of the wedding. It is with the commencement of the “chupah” (or perhaps its conclusion) that the man and wife become officially married to one another, ready to begin their new lives together. However, there is much debate among the Rishonim and poskim as to what is meant by the term “chupah.”

Why should it matter? In fact, what we consider to be the chupah has tremendous ramifications for various areas of Jewish law. We will use this introduction to note a few of these areas as background, and will then investigate some of the various opinions concerning this practice.

In the good old days, a man and a woman would enter into a state of “erusin” a significant time before they actually got married. Unlike modern-day engagements, which have no real halachic status, this stage was a kind of a partial-married state. However, while this stage meant that the man and women were designated for each other, there is a slew of laws regarding husband and wife that do not kick in until the marriage has been completed, which Rambam and Tur agree happens with the chupah.

Bamidbar 30 speaks about the laws of taking vows. A woman who lives in her father’s house can have her vows cancelled by her father if he hears them on the day that she makes them. Once she is married, however, the husband assumes this privilege, and can negate the vows taken by his wife. Only once chupah has happened does the husband acquire the power to do such a thing. Until that point, the girl is still considered to be in her father’s house. Similarly, if a woman were to pass away unmarried, any possessions that she owns would go to her relatives. Once she is married, her husband assumes the position of prominence among her heirs. Once again, only once chupah has happened does he achieve this status.

One of the most serious areas of law that is involved here concerns the laws of yichud. A man is not allowed to be alone in a closed room (or any place where they do not fear being disturbed) with a woman, with very few exceptions. One such exception is his wife, and this topic will lead us directly into the first of the opinions on chupah, that of Rambam.

Why should it matter? In fact, what we consider to be the chupah has tremendous ramifications for various areas of Jewish law. We will use this introduction to note a few of these areas as background, and will then investigate some of the various opinions concerning this practice.

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