Mazal Tov! They’re Engaged! Now What?

By Bracha Cohen

It’s official! Meet our newest couple; Chaya and Moishy who have been seriously dating for the last short while. At the advice of the veteran shadchan, an expert negotiator between the two sides, Moishy has been prepped to propose. All set with a single red rose, against a scenic country backdrop; he finally musters up the courage to pop the question. Without missing a beat, Chaya immediately agrees, mazel tov – it’s a match!

They savor the specialness of the moment together, and ask a bystander to capture a snapshot to show future generations b’ezras Hashem.

Hot of the press! After spreading the special news to family and friends, the latest couple heads back to Chaya’s house to celebrate a “l’chaim”.
L’chaim in Hebrew literally means a toast “to life”. When a couple becomes engaged, they get together with friends and family to celebrate. Since they drink a l’chaim (a wine or whiskey toast), the celebration is formally called a “l’chaim”.

Vort / Engagement
Several days or weeks later, Chaya and Moishy’s families decide to hold a formal engagement party in a small local hall. In Yiddish, this party is called a “vort”, which means a “word.” At the vort, the man and woman traditionally give their “word” and formally commit to marry. In some circumstances, the baalei simcha may combine the l’chaim and vort parties into one, in order to save on expenses or depending on the locality of the families.

After several heartwarming speeches and much merriment, often the two future mothers-in-law take hold of either a ceramic plate or china dish and smash it to pieces. Mazel Tov! This is to symbolize Moishy and Chaya’s serious commitment to one another: Just as breaking the plate is final, so too, the engagement is final and not easily terminated. The breaking of the plate tempers the intense joy of the occasion, similar to the glass which is broken under the chuppah. It also reminds us that the Beis Hamikdash is not yet rebuilt. Some postpone this custom until the wedding, just before the chuppah (see below).

Tena’im: Conditions of Marriage
After World War Two, it became the custom to make formal “tena’im” (conditions) before the wedding to prevent such difficulties which were commonplace in the post-war confusion. Thus, the tena’im ceremony was shifted to right before the wedding to prevent it being broken. Chaya and Moishy and their families will fulfill this duty right before the chuppah, representing a clear direction of the chosson to carry out his promise to marry the kallah.

Although, in some Chassidishe circles, it is still more common to sign the tena’im document at the actual vort. This is because according to tradition, standard tena’im should be spelled out clearly, before the marriage ceremony, in a written document by the groom and bride and their respective parents. Since, even if the chosson and kallah later reconcile, the breaking of a formal tena’im contract is very shameful.

Time flies when you are having fun! Chaya and Moishy’s engagement has simply flown by and it’s already the Shabbos right before the wedding. It is important to note that engagements may be shorter or longer depending on personal family circumstances.

This is known as the “aufruf,” where in Ashkenazic circles, Moishy will be called to the Torah for an aliyah. This impresses upon the couple the importance of looking to the Torah as their guide in married life. The chosson is called upon to read the letters of the Torah, which contain the ten utterances of creation; as the chosson and kallah together will ultimately maintain the world by raising children who will busy themselves in Torah study. After his aliyah, some shul congregations have the custom to shower the chosson with raisins and nuts, symbolic of their wishes for a sweet and fruitful marriage blessed with many children. Meanwhile, on the same Shabbos, the kallah’s family and friends arrange a party (forshpiel or Shabbos Kallah) for her, expressing their same wishes for her.

In contrast, a Sephardic groom’s aufruf is held on the Shabbos following the wedding rather than the one preceding it and is known as a Shabbat Chattan or Avram Siz. This is because the passage in Bereishis where Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a suitable mate for his son, Yitzchak is read. The paragraph starts with the words, Avram Siz, which is Aramaic for “Avram was old.”

As is customary, during the week before the wedding, Chaya and Moishy will not see each other until the actual chasuna. Some couples also have the custom not to appear publicly without an escort from a few days before until a week after the wedding, as the couple is considered royalty during this time.