I received the following question from a colleague:
A real life couple would like me to officiate at their wedding on Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot in October of 2014. They are Jewish farmers who will celebrate Sukkot at most on days 1 and 2 of the chag.
They are interested in that weekend because it is the Columbus Day weekend. Officiating in mid October, would also give us more time to prepare as the groom is converting to Judaism.
I looked at Bar Ilan Responsa Project, and I think I understand the notion of “Ein M’arvin Simcha be Simcha”.
I am not sure this principle applies to them. Might you offer your thoughts?
(The couple are living together but not legally married.)
There is no question that classical sources prohibit weddings from taking place on Chol HaMo’ed. In A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (p. 137), Isaac Klein writes: “No weddings should take place during the Intermediate Days because אין מערבין שמחה בשמחה, (rejoicing may not be mingled with other rejoicing).” He cites the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayyim 546:1, “אין נושאין נשים במועד לא בתולות ולא אלמנות ולא מיבמין” all weddings are forbidden on Chol HaMo’ed, whether it is a first marriage or a second. Further, Klein cites the commentary B’er Haytayv who gives, as the reason, that we don’t mingle one type of rejoicing with another and a wedding without a celebratory feast is clearly forbidden. The Tur uses almost the same language to forbid weddings during Chol HaMo’ed.
In his commentary to the Tur, Karo notes the Talmudic source (Mo’ed Kattan 8b) where, he says, several reasons are given including that the groom will focus on the joy of the wedding and overlook that of the holiday, which in turn is the reason the Rambam gives (Hilchot Sh’vitut Yom Tov 7:16).
It is also clear that the use of the word mo’ed, which we might translate as the holiday itself, refers to cholo shel mo’ed or, as the Talmudic tractate is called, Mo’ed Kattan. The relevant Mishnah says that there are no weddings on Chol HaMo’ed because “it is a joy for him.” The G’mara then asks what the problem is: shouldn’t it be a joy? Isn’t it a mitzvah to be happy on a holiday? And they answer that each joy should be distinct and so we don’t want the two kinds of joy to intermingle.
While this is the place where the codes have stopped, the G’mara itself offers other possible reasons for the prohibition. These include that the groom will neglect the joy of the holiday in favour of his personal happiness and that of his new wife, that the effort of putting on a wedding feast will impede preparations for the holiday itself (presumably the last day) and, finally, if weddings are permitted during a holiday when there are already feasts planned, that people will postpone their marriages until chol hamo’ed in order to save money and therefore neglect fulfilling the mitzvah of procreation during the year preceding.
The G’mara now continues with another question: We know that it is permitted, even from the outset, to have a wedding on the day before a holiday begins. Since a wedding feast normally extends for seven days, wouldn’t that be a challenge to all four of the reasons given for not having a wedding during Chol HaMo’ed? The answer that fits all four reasons is that the wedding joy is essentially confined to one day and so will not interfere with the holiday itself.
Now let’s examine the particular situation raised by our colleague in light of the more complex discussion in the Talmud itself plus one other caveat which continues to be expressed in the later sources.
The couple involved might observe the first day of the Sukkot holiday, but we know that they are unlikely to observe, and therefore have to prepare for Sh’mini Atzeret. And, whether the wedding takes place on either the Sunday or Monday of that weekend, there is at least 48 hours between the wedding dinner and the start of yom tov. Given that they are already living together and can be considered married, it is also unlikely that they would be distracted by their own personal joy to prepare for yom tov if they chose to.
Further, the caveat that continues to appear is as follows: It is universally agreed that betrothal, which is called either kiddushin or erusin, is permitted on chol hamo’ed. In addition, and more significantly, so is a party provided that it does not take place in the home of the bride’s parents where it is presumed she still lives. (Karo cites R. Yitzchak bar Sheshet in 14th century Spain as well R. Hai and the Ri’ag). And if the party takes place on a different day, then it can even happen in the bride’s home.
If, then, this couple had asked me if I would officiate at their wedding during chol hamo’ed, I would say yes for the following reasons:
1. Since yichud has already taken place, they are really putting a contractual base underneath an existing relationship rather completing a previous betrothal with first time intimacy. Thus the wedding is more like erusin which is permitted on chol hamo’ed and, as long as the party does not take place in the home of the bride’s parents, it is also permitted.
2. There is no worry that the joy of the wedding will overlap the joy of the closing days of the holiday, even if the couple chooses to observe Sh’mini Atzeret.
3. The fact that it is a secular holiday deals with the concern that people will try and save money by scheduling on an existing yom tov. It is common in our culture to schedule family events on holiday weekends not to save money, but to make wider attendance possible. This actually has the effect of increasing the cost of the wedding.
4. Decisions on when to conceive are rarely left to chance in our days and therefore the concern that this mitzvah may be neglected in order to have more conveniently scheduled weddings is also no longer an issue.
There is a real concern that preparations for the wedding will be done on Shabbat. I would therefore urge the couple to complete preparations by Erev Sukkot and to observe Shabbat as a day of rest. In addition, the wedding should take place as late on Sunday as is possible or even on Monday, in order to minimize the possibility of preparing on Shabbat.
As a further limitation, I would also add that agreement to officiate in this case has at least as much to do with the confluence of Sukkot with the Columbus Day weekend (or as it would happen this year, Thanksgiving Day weekend in Canada) and should not be taken as a blanket acceptance of weddings on chol hamo’ed.
Lastly, I think that the status of the conversion process is not relevant except insofar as the groom intends to become Jewish and that this should happen prior to the wedding.
Daniel Siegel, Hornby Island, BC 19 Adar I, 5774