"MOVIN' ON UP!" THE LAWS OF AUFRUF

 

There is a fairly universal practice, at least in the Ashkenazi world, that on the Shabbat before his wedding, a groom is called up to the Torah. Known as an "aufruf" (German for "calling up"), this ritual has a few laws connected to it, and many customs. As with the Chaburas of the previous weeks, our goal here will be simply to bring to light some of the reasons for what is done.

First, where does the practice come from? Several sources cite Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer Chapter 17, which states that Shlomo HaMelech realized that acts of kindness were very pleasing to Hashem. Thus, when he built the Temple, he built into its structure a way that Jews could express outpourings of various kindnesses towards their fellow man. He built two gates near each other, one for grooms and one for mourners and people who had been excommunicated. Every Shabbat, Jews would gather in the area between the two gates. If someone entered through the gate of mourners, they were recognized as such as were comforted by the masses. Similarly, if someone entered through the gate of grooms, he was also recognized for his position in life, and he was greeted with much rejoicing and blessings. Now that the Temple no longer stands, we retain remnants of this practice. Mourners on the first Shabbat of their shiva period enter the synagogue while being comforted by the congregation, and grooms right before their weddings enter the synagogue amid much rejoicing.

As the name would imply, the aufruf itself is the receiving of an aliyah by the groom. Although the wedding has yet to come and the groom does not yet seem to have any official status (such as after the wedding when his presence at a minyan will prevent the congregation from saying tachanun), he nevertheless has some halachic status on this Shabbat. The Bikkurei Yaakov cites the Eliyahu Rabba who claims that the status of king that a groom receives on his wedding day actually begins before that day. Although he does not say when exactly it does begin, there are those who suggest that it may already begin on this Shabbat.

What sort of priority does the groom have on this Shabbat? After giving the first two aliyot to a Kohein and a Levi, there are two factors that guide who gets the remaining aliyot. One is the fact that some aliyot (such as the third and the sixth) are considered to be of greater importance, and thus they are often given to people of greater stature in a community (these distinctions are often not made these days, and thus one should not feel slighted if he is called up for the fourth or fifth aliyot). The second factor is that if a person has a particular celebration, he takes priority. A father whose son is to receive his Brit Mila that day takes priority over most other people, as does a boy who has just turned thirteen. A groom also fits into this category, and the issue then becomes the priority within this select group of individuals who take precedence over the rest of the congregation. The Bi'ur Halacha, citing Magen Avraham and Levush, writes that a groom will take priority over anyone else. However, the Levush notes that this law (and the laws that we are about to cite) applies only to a boy who has never been married before who is marrying a girl who has also never been married before, since such situations engender the greatest level of happiness (and thus they have sheva berachot for seven days after their wedding, whereas divorcees and widows celebrate for only three).

We should note briefly at this point that it is crucial to realize that many of the laws pertaining to a groom derive from the happiness that he is experiencing with his bride. While it is the wedding itself that generates this joy, that happiness extends both forwards and backwards, beginning with the aufruf and culminating with sheva berachot (and even for the entire first year of marriage). Clearly, this happiness is not merely drunken revelry, but is happiness of an order that it has an effect in the realm of halacha. Such rejoicing can only occur when done with the mindset that one is rejoicing not only in front of the bride and groom, but in front of Hashem, and that He is not merely the source of all happiness, but that He desires that we celebrate at the proper times and in the proper manner.

Returning to the laws of the priority of the groom to get an aliyah, the Bi'ur Halacha goes on to note that this precedence exists not merely on the Shabbat immediately preceding the wedding. If the groom is getting married in a place other than his hometown, and thus pushes his aufruf a week or more earlier, that Shabbat has the same status as the Shabbat right before the wedding Thus, the groom would have priority for receiving an aliyah on that Shabbat. On the other side of the coin, if the wedding had to be pushed off for some reason, there can be a second aufruf, and the groom would once again get priority for aliyot.

The Levush notes that if one gets married anytime during the week from Wednesday on, the Shabbat when he takes precedence is actually the Shabbat after the wedding, and not before. While I have never heard of someone having their aufruf after their wedding, the Magen Avraham does note the practice of giving a groom an aliyah on both the Shabbat before and the Shabbat after his wedding. The Medrash Talpiyot explains that this practice is based on the comparison between a groom and a king. Just as a king has a requirement to write two Sifrei Torah for himself, so too we call a groom up to the Torah twice.

Finally, we come to perhaps the most popular aspect of the aufruf, the throwing of candy at the groom. The gemara in Berachot 50b discusses the practice of throwing various foodstuffs, such as wheat kernels and seeds, at the bride and groom at the wedding as a sign of good luck and blessing. The fact that this custom appears nowadays at the aufruf as well may be merely an outgrowth of the original Talmudic custom. While candy seems to be the projectile of choice, I have yet to find any source that mentions candy specifically. The Sefer Ta'amei HaMinhagim mentions that three things are thrown: nuts, almonds, and raisins. Nuts are thrown since the numerical value of "egoz" (nut) in Hebrew is equal to that of "cheit" (sin), and thus it is done as a sign that all of the groom's sins are forgiven (granted, the numerology is off by one and I am unsure how well the logic flows, but I don't write 'em, I just report 'em). Almonds are generally the first fruit to blossom in the new year, and thus they are thrown as a blessing that the new couple should produce children. Finally, raisins are thrown because they are dried grapes that lack too much moisture. There is a debate in the gemara as to what was the forbidden fruit that Chava gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden, and one opinion was that it was grapes. Thus, we throw raisins to signify that a man's wife will not lead him into sin as Chava led Adam, as the object of the sin is represented as being dried out and inferior.


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