There is a widespread custom in Ashkenazi communities for a bride and groom not to meet or otherwise see each other for a week prior to their wedding. In most such communities, speaking by phone and letter writing is permitted though there are those who forbid even this. As we will see, although there may be some advantages and benefits to this practice, it ultimately has no solid source in halachic literature.
Rabbi Binyomin Forst in his popular English sefer, The Laws of Niddah, writes: “The custom has developed that a chasan and kallah do not see each other during the week preceding the wedding. This custom has no source in earlier halachic literature simply because, a chasan and kallah hardly met one another before the wedding anyway. The reason for this custom seems to be the concern that meeting the chasan during the shiva nekiyim may cause dam chimud, which will invalidate the shiva nekiyim. Although this custom is not a halacha and has no early source in the poskim, it is a good custom because it gives the chasan and kallah an opportunity to be alone and reflect upon the profound changes that are about to take place in their lives.”
In other words, the custom for a bride and groom not to see each other for a week before the wedding is due to the concern that the bride might discharge blood as a result of her excitement of being with her groom. Should this happen, the bride would become impure and, as a result, they would be unable to consummate their marriage on their wedding night, or to even be left alone, which would be unfortunate. A number of other sources attribute the custom for essentially the same reason, as well.1
As one will have noted, the term used above for the blood that could possibly be discharged if a bride were to see her groom in the week before the wedding is referred to as “dam chimud.” Although this term is widely used for the concern of seeing blood during the week before the wedding, it is actually an inaccurate use of the term. There is indeed a halacha that once a wedding date is set (or marriage is proposed), a woman must observe seven “clean days” due to the concern that she may see blood due to the excitement of setting a wedding date. It is this blood that is truly dam chimud, which can be translated as “blood resulting from excitement [or affection].”2 There isn’t anything in halacha about the week before the wedding or a concern that seeing the groom might cause the bride to discharge blood. Indeed, Rabbi Forst later says in the footnotes, “Nevertheless, the hypothesis that the custom is based upon the chance of dam chimud is difficult to accept.” Furthermore, if there really is an excitement that causes a bride to discharge blood when she is with her groom, we should worry that this might happen when they see each other for the first time in over a week under the chuppah. Of course, there is no such concern.
Nevertheless, a number of explanations have been given in favor of observing this custom. Some say that the custom is worth following because “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and therefore makes the wedding day that much more emotional and special. Others explain that it helps ensure that the bride and groom don’t get into any fights so close to their wedding, which is a period of stress, anxiety, and excitement all in one. There is also an opinion that the custom helps prevent any possible pre-marital relations. Indeed, bride and groom might be more tempted to engage in pre-marital relations once the bride immerses in a mikvah which usually takes place four or so days before the wedding. The heightened concern for temptation at this point is because having relations with a woman who immersed in a mikvah is “less bad” than relations before she immerses. Other reasons are offered, as well.
Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky tells the story of my rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt, who was a close student of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.3 A few days before Rabbi Greenblatt’s oldest son was to be married, Rabbi Greenblatt went with his wife, his son, and the bride’s parents to see Reb Moshe. Reb Moshe gave them a blessing in honor of the upcoming wedding and asked why the bride wasn’t present as well. Rabbi Greenblatt explained that since they are now in the week before the wedding, the bride and groom were not seeing each other as per the custom. Reb Moshe told them that there is no source for this custom and that the next time a child of his gets married he should bring the bride as well, even if it should be during the week before the wedding. And so it was with future children.
Indeed, there seems to have been an ancient custom in Jerusalem for a bride and groom to go together during the week before their wedding to famous rabbis for a blessing.4 There was also a custom, ostensibly still observed nowadays in some circles, for the bride and groom to have dinner together on the evening before the wedding. In fact, it may have even been the first time that the bride and groom actually saw each other!5
Rabbi Zivotofsky also reports from Rabbi Ari Kahn that when he was engaged, his rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, told him that although there is a custom for the bride and groom not to see each other during the week before the wedding that is not “our custom.” Rabbi Soloveitchik even encouraged Rabbi Kahn’s kallah to attend the aufruf.
While the custom of not seeing each other during the week before the wedding has become normative and, therefore, should be observed, a number of authorities have been known to counsel waiving the custom when observing it will prove to be overly inconvenient. For example, Rabbi Zivitofksy reports that Reb Moshe allowed a bride and groom to take pictures before the wedding ceremony if so desired. Rabbi Herschel Schachter is also said to allow it.6 We see that guests are often made to wait excessively long to greet the bride and groom or for the meal or dancing to begin because the bride and groom are still taking pictures. It is also reported that Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik advised a groom to pick up his bride on the way to the wedding when she had no other way to get to the hall.
- See for example Made in Heaven, p. 67.
- Niddah 66a; YD 192:1-3; EH 192:3.
- Cited at: https://outorah.org/p/5678/
- Nitei Gavriel, Nisuin 4:6.
- Nitei Gavriel, Nisuin 4:2.
- Cited at: https://parsha.blogspot.com/2007/05/