BRIDEGROOMS OF THE LAW (Heb., sing., חֲתַן תּוֹרָה, ḥatan Torah), honorary titles bestowed on those who are called up to the reading of certain sections of the law during the morning service of
(which coincides, in Israel, with Shemini Aẓeret), when the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah is concluded and a new one begun. "Bridegroom of the Law" is, strictly, the title reserved for the person called up to read the last portion of the Pentateuch (Deut. 33:27–34:12). The person called up to the reading of the first chapter of Genesis, immediately afterward, is called the "bridegroom of the beginning" (ḥatan Bereshit (Genesis) or ḥatan matḥil). The Yemenite and Egyptian rites have only one bridegroom, who completes the reading of Deuteronomy, and commences that of Genesis. Other Oriental communities have three: ḥatan Torah, ḥatan Bereshit, and ḥatan me'onah (the first word of the passage). Where the passage is further subdivided, the second part begins with Deuteronomy 34:1, and the bridegroom is known as ḥatan va-ya'al. Some Ashkenazi congregations
have four "bridegrooms," with the title of ḥatan maftir given to the person called up to read the haftarah, and ḥatan kol hane'arim ("bridegroom of all the lads") to the person for whom Deuteronomy 33:22–26 is read. The latter term derives from the fact that the person called up is joined in his aliyah to the Torah by children under
In both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi rites, the bridegrooms of the law are summoned to the Torah reading by special piyyutim. These vary in the different rites, but all emphasize, with much poetic hyperbole, the privilege of concluding and beginning the reading of the Torah, and they laud and bless the honored ḥatanim.
According to the Maḥzor Vitry (ed. by S. Hurwitz (19232), 458), the term ḥatan Bereshit was already known to the disciples of Rashi in the 12th century. The kabbalistic elaboration of the ancient rabbinic image of the Torah as the "betrothed of Israel" (an aggadic interpretation of Deuteronomy 33:4 associates morashah, "heritage," with me'urasah, "betrothed") may have helped to popularize the custom.
The honor of ḥatan Torah was usually given to the rabbi of the congregation or a scholar; and ḥatan Bereshit, the president, or a distinguished lay member of the congregation. In some Sephardi and Oriental communities, it was customary to so honor actual bridegrooms of the past year.
In some Oriental rites, candy is showered on the ḥatanim as they ascend or descend to and from the reading (cf. Ber. 50b). In medieval Europe, ḥatanim made generous donations to charity and threw sweets to the children in the synagogue. In some communities it was customary to erect a baldachin (as for real bridegrooms) on the bimah for Simḥat Torah, to decorate the synagogue walls with carpets, and to provide special seats of honor for the bridegrooms. In many congregations it is customary for the ḥatanim to entertain the members of the congregation after the service or on the afternoon of Simḥat Torah.
During the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly in North America, it gradually became customary to include women in the Simḥat Torah honors. It began with women joining in the hakkafot (processions with the Torah) and then with their carrying and dancing with the Torah. In some Modern Orthodox circles, women danced separately with a Torah on one side of the meḥiẓah (partition separating the sexes) or in a separate room. In Conservative synagogues, the honors of ḥatan Torah and ḥatan Bere shit were made available to women who had served the community and the congregation. In Siddur Sim Shalom, published by the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the medieval piyyutim are given in two versions: the traditional one in the masculine form and a rephrased version for a Kallat ha-Torah (bride of the Torah) and a Kallat Bereshit (bride of Genesis).