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Responsa: Remah: The Orphan Girl Print E-mail

ResponsaThe following is a responsum of the Remah, explaining his decision to perform a wedding late on Friday night long after Shabbat had begun. Although he rules that marriages should not take place on Shabbat, he holds that there are a few exceptional authorities such as Rabbeinu Tam and Rabbi Moshe of Coucy who permitted. “Although it is not the law that we may hold marriages on Shabbat we have these two exceptional opinions to rely upon in times of emergency; for great is the principle of protecting the honor of human beings, and at times the parties are unable to agree on the dowry until Friday night and the wedding is then held.”

 

“I heard behind me the sound of a great noise. Voices passed through the camp saying, Look at that man Moshe (Exodus 33:8).” It concerned the action taken by me recently when I arranged a wedding in the usual way. All knew the state of the bride as she entered under the wedding canopy. It was in the dark of night on Friday evening, an hour and a half after night had fallen. The circumstances which impelled me to this action are clear. It is known to all who live in our city and this is what happened:

There was a poor man in our land who had betrothed his elder daughter to a suitable mate. During the period of the betrothal, which was of considerable duration, the father went to his world and left life to all of Israel. The daughter was left bereaved, without father and mother, except for relatives who lived far from her. They shut their eyes to her plight, all except one relative, the brother of her mother, who brought her into his house, for she had no relatives closer than he.

Then, when the time came for her marriage and it was time to prepare for the feast and the requirements of the wedding canopy, she did not see anything of the dowry and the other needs which the relatives had promised her. But she was told to take her ritual bath and prepare herself for the marriage, and that the dowry would be forthcoming. This maiden then did as the women neighbors commanded her. They deck her with the veil on the sixth day, as virgins are decked. When the shadows of the evening began to fall and Shabbat was approaching, her relatives who were to give the dowry closed their fists and refused to give a sufficient amount, so that at least a third of the dowry was still lacking. Then the groom absolutely refused to marry her. He paid no attention to the pleas of the leaders of the city that he refrain from putting a daughter of Israel to shame for the sake of mere money. He refused to listen to them, “as a deaf serpent does not hear the voice of a charmer (Psalms 58:5).” Nor did the voice of the Rabbi move him.

Because of these quarrels, time drew on; as the saying goes, “There is no marriage settlement without dispute,” and the work of Satan prompted them until the time mentioned above came. Then they finally agreed and the groom consented to enter under the wedding canopy and no longer to shame a worthy daughter of Israel. Thereupon I arose and conducted the marriage at that hour.

Now, since people are complaining against me, I have come now to remove their complaints from me and to bring the proof and the reasons upon which I relied in this matter, saying: In this way beholden and sanctified.

Thus says Moshe, the son of my father and teacher, Israel of blessed memory, the one called

Moshe Isserles of Krakow

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