Found In: Weddings & Commitment Ceremonies
The traditional Birkat Erusin says:
You abound in blessing, Adonai, our God, sovereign of the universe, that has
sanctified us by Your commandments and commanded us concerning [forbidden]
intimate relationships and forbidden to us those women who are [only] betrothed
with erusin, but permitted to us those women who are married to us by Huppah
and Kiddushin. We praise You, Adonai, that sanctifies the people Israel (by huppah and kiddushin).
The traditional berachah presents several problems for many of us:
"עריות/Forbidden intimate relationships” is a category deriving from Leviticus 18 which can easily be understood to include same-sex unions, as it does in Leviticus.
The berachah is stated in terms of the sexual availability of women for men, who are the normative “we” referred to in the berachah.
The prohibition of sex in the period between erusin/kiddushin and nisuin/huppah that is the halachic focus of this berachah stopped making sense about 700 years ago when the two ceremonies were combined into the present single wedding ceremony. It makes even less sense in the context of contemporary sexual practices, in which most couples have been intimate before the wedding.
Nonetheless, the berachah expresses several ideas I think worth expressing at the wedding ceremony. These ideas are elucidated well in Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage.” They are (in my words, not Lamm’s):
1. The term עריות literally means “nakednesses” and rightly points to the vulnerability that is involved in sexual relationships and that demands particular ethical attention.
2. Committed relationships involve contractual rights and obligations, but are more than mere contracts. The traditional berachah expresses this by stating the necessity, but insufficiencey of erusin/kiddushin, the contractual part of the wedding.
3. The ritual affirmation of the commitments of our relationships is one way in which Jews bring holiness into our lives.
In order to address the problems, but maintain those three teachings, I’ve composed the following version of the berachah, whose sources will be explained below:
You abound in blessing, Adonai, our God, sovereign of the universe, who has forbidden us to distress others through intimacy and has commanded us concerning the consecration of kiddushin, and who accompanies consecrated couples to the wedding canopy. We praise You, Adonai, that sanctifies the people Israel.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר אָֽסַר לָֽנוּ לִצְרֹר לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָה וְצִוָּנוּ עַל הַקִּדּוּשִׁין ,
וּמַכְנִיס אֶת הַמְּקֻדַּשׁוֹת וְהַמְּקֻדַּשִׁים לְחֻפַּת הַנִּישוּאִין. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְקַדֵּשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל.
The phrase “to distress others through intimacy / לצרר לגלות ערוה” is based on Leviticus 18:18, which prohibits marriage to two sisters. The phrase is used here to affirm a prohibition of using sex to another’s distress, while avoiding the hurtful aspects of the category עריות in the traditional berachah.
The second sentence expresses the necessity of the contractual (kiddushin) aspect of marriage by affirming God’s having commanded it, but also expresses its insufficiency through the image of God bringing couples to the huppah, symbol of the “other part” of marriage. That image draws on a midrash (Qohelet Rabbah 7:7, Talmud Berachot 61a, Eruvin 18b) depicting God as the “shushvin” at the wedding of Adam and Eve.