The Sheva Berakhot

Abundant blessings for the bride and groom.

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Today the sheva berakhot festive meals are still an important custom, though observed more regularly in traditional circles. Some couples postpone their honeymoon trips so that they can celebrate with their community first and then celebrate their marriage together later. Other Jewish couples are choosing to engage in the custom for some of their first week of marriage or will even celebrate a week of sheva berakhot when they return from their honeymoons.

Some Debate

Traditionally, only Jewish men are counted in a minyan and only Jewish men can recite the sheva berakhot, both under the huppah and during the festive meals following the wedding. In liberal Jewish communities, both men and women are welcomed and encouraged to recite the sheva berakhot. Some Orthodox feminists have challenged the halakha (Jewish law) surrounding this debate, but have largely not made ground in changing this tradition. Other Orthodox and some Conservative women, though, in a desire not to challenge the halakha but to still include women friends and family members in their wedding honors have created a new tradition: the sheva shevahot, or seven praises. These seven praises are recited before, rather than after, the wedding meal, and emphasize the psalms and poems which celebrate the accomplishments of Biblical women. The seventh praise is often the shehecheyanu blessing.

Rabbi Dov Linzer, a modern Orthodox rabbi, has written largely about another halakhic compromise: calling both men and women up to huppah in pairs for a sheva brakhot honor, with the man reciting the blessing in Hebrew and the woman reading an English translation. Rabbi Linzer also notes that in terms of halakha, the reciting of the sheva brakhot after the meal at the wedding celebration is the obligation of the community, rather than the groom himself, and so since women are part of the community, they may participate in sharing those honors in Hebrew.

The Tradition Continues…

As with so many Jewish rituals, the expression of the sheva berakhot has evolved over time, but their place and importance as the central celebratory liturgy in a Jewish wedding ceremony holds fast.

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Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is a freelance writer and educator based in Philadelphia. She is the author of two books of plays for children: The Magic Tanach and Other Short Plays and Extraordinary Jews: Staging Their Lives as well as The Creative Jewish Wedding Book.