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Marriage: Hakhnasat Kallah

HAKHNASAT KALLAH (Heb. הַכְנָסַת כַּלָּה; "bringing in the bride," i.e., under the wedding canopy), a rabbinic commandment to provide a dowry for brides and to rejoice at their weddings (Maim. Yad., Avelim 14:1). The term is popularly applied to the provision of dowry for the poor brides. The precept is of such importance that it is permissible to interrupt even the (public) study of Torah in order to fulfill it (Meg. 3b and Tos. ad loc.). It is reckoned in the prayer book as among those deeds "for which a man enjoys the fruits in this world, while the stock remains for him for the world to come." (Hertz, Prayer, 17, version of Pe'ah 1:1 and Shab. 127a). A man who raises an orphan and enables her to marry is considered as continually doing acts of righteousness and justice (Ps. 106:3; Ket. 50a).

Communal charity collectors are permitted to use the funds they collected for other purposes for the dowry of poor brides (Sh. Ar., YD 249:15, and Siftei Kohen ad loc.). The Mishnah specified the minimum sum of 50 zuz to be given to a bride, but "if there was more in the poor funds they should provide for her according to the honor due to her" (Ket. 6:5). This minimal sum of "50 zuz" must be reassessed in every generation in accordance with its own economic conditions (Turei Zahav to Sh. Ar. YD 250:2). As in other aspects of communal Jewish charity, specific organizations were formed to supervise the collection and distribution of funds for the dowries and trousseaux of poor girls and orphans. These groups were often called Hakhnasat Kallah societies. In the ghetto of Rome, during the 17th century, for example such a society functioned actively (Roth, Italy, 364). Samuel Portaleone, an Italian preacher, in his description of seven charity boxes which existed in Mantua, Italy, in 1630, lists among them hakhnasat kallah (JQR, 5 (1893), 510). Hakhnasat Kallah societies have continued to function throughout the Jewish world.

In addition to aiding poor brides, the precept also demands that a person attend and rejoice at the marriage of any bride. It was considered meritorious to accompany the bride from her father's home to where the wedding ceremony was to take place (Rashi to Meg. 29a). This aspect of hakhnasat kallah may also be fulfilled by accompanying the bridegroom to the bedekin ("covering" the face) of the bride (Beit Shemu'el to Sh. Ar. EH 65:1). While it is also customary to dance before the bride and to praise her, Bet Shammai held that the virtues of the bride are not to be exaggerated, and that she is only to be praised "as she truly is." Bet Hillel, on the other hand, ruled that every bride should be regarded and praised as "beautiful and graceful" (Ket. 16b–17a).

The fulfillment of the precept of hakhnasat kallah should be performed humbly, modestly and in privacy, thus complying with the dictum "to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8; Suk. 49b).

Sources:ET, 9 (1959), 136–43; Baron, Community, 1 (1942), 362ff., 2 (1942), 332f., 3 (1942), 212f.; I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (1920), 326; I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia (1943), 252; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), index.

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.