When a small group of family and friends arrange a meal for sheva berakhot, may a woman say one of the berakhot, assuming that there is a minyan of men and panim hadashot at the meal? May women be the panim hadashot?
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1. Sheva berachot: We discuss the halachot of Sheva Berachot in depth here. Even following a meal, these berachot are only recited in the presence of a minyan (Ketubot 7b, Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-ezer 62:7). Their exact nature and relationship to the zimmun after the meal are debated.
Rambam (Laws of Berachot 2:9; discussing the “asher bara” beracha) and Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha-ezer 62:4) explicitly exclude minors and bondsmen from reciting sheva berachot, but do not explicitly exclude women. This raises the possibility that once a minyan is present, the berachot may be recited by a woman, especially if we view sheva berachot as connected to zimmun, given that women are considered obligated in zimmun when a minyan is present.
Along these lines, Rav Yehuda Gershuni argued in an article that a woman reciting sheva berachot following a meal could be permitted, and that the reasons barring women from leading zimmun don’t apply to sheva berachot. In a responsum (Benei Banim 3:27), Rav Henkin discussed this possibility and hinted at permitting a woman to recite the berachot at a meal. More recently, Rav David Bigman has permitted this in practice.
However, it is possible that the berachot are considered a distinct obligation of the minyan, and must be recited by someone who counts toward it. Rav Shaul Yisraeli explicitly applies this argument to women, ruling that women may not recite sheva berachot (Responsa Chavat Binyamin II:80).
Others, notably Rav Zalman Nechemya Goldberg (p. 185) and Rav Yaakov Ariel, rule against women reciting sheva berachot for a different reason–because they view the matter as communal and raising questions of kevod ha-tzibbur, tzeniut, and maintaining accepted practice in these areas. Both of these authorities consider and reject the claim that these concerns are mitigated at a more intimate meal.
In a communication to Deracheha, Rav Baruch Gigi, Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion, recognized that an argument could be made to permit a woman reciting the berachot, but noted that he does not personally permit it in practice. This is a common approach to your question among halachic authorities.
(When a minyan is not present, the beracha of “asher bara” is still recited. According to Rav Goldberg and Rav David Auerbach (quoted by Rav Henkin ad loc), this beracha is connected to zimmun, and thus could be recited by a woman if a women’s zimmun is made at the conclusion of the meal, though Rav Goldberg does not seem to permit this in practice.)
2. Panim Chadashot: Along with the presence of a minyan, a person or two (Ashkenazim often require one and Sefardim two) considered panim chadashot (literally, a new face) is necessary to allow for reciting the full sheva berachot at a meal after the wedding (Ketubot 8a). Two main reasons are given for this: either because the panim chadashot person has not yet heard the berachot, and thus the berachot are recited to give them an opportunity to hear them and participate in the simcha through them (Rambam Laws of Berachot 2:10), or because the panim chadashot person is considered an important person, whose joining the wedding party for the first time warrants increased rejoicing (Tosafot s.v. ve-hu).
Ritva (7b s.v Tanu Rabbanan) adds that a woman may not count as panim chadashot because she is not considered one of the ten for the minyan required for the berachot. Similar views appear in Pitchei Teshuva (EH 62:14). This is how Rav Ovadya Yosef rules (Yabia Omer 3 EH 11).
On the other hand, Chatam Sofer (Ketubot 7b) wrote that a woman could count as panim chadashot, since her presence could warrant increased rejoicing, and, more recently, Rav Elyashiv reportedly ruled this way in practice. Rav Gigi would rely on this view and count as panim chadashot a woman whose presence is considered significant for the simcha.
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