When Rivka took leave of her family, joining Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, on the journey to Yitzchak, the Torah describes how her family blessed her (Bereishis 24:61): “They blessed Rivka and told her: Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gate of their enemies.”
Chazal (Maseches Kallah, Chap. 1) use the blessing to derive the concept of Birkas Chasanim, commonly known as the Sheva Berachos: “What is the Torah source of Birkas Chasanim? – as it says, ‘they blessed Rivka.'”
This article will focus on a particular halachah of Sheva Berachos: the halachah of panim chadashos, the ‘New Face’ that is required for Sheva Berachos to be recited. What are the parameters of this halachah? When, if at all, can Sheva Berachos be recited in the absence of panim chadashos? Can children serve as panim chadashos? We will seek to clarify the issue, beginning from the basic definitions and working our way towards practical conclusions.
Opinion 1: Increasing Joy
The Gemara (Kesubos 7b) cites the teaching of a baraisa: “Sheva Berachos are recited with a quorum (ten men) for all seven days. Rav said: On condition that there are panim chadashos.” The Gemara continues to explain that on the first day, Sheva Berachos are always recited, but on the remaining days, their recitation—with the exception of the final berachah, which is always recited—is contingent on the presence of panim chadashos.
Tosafos (loc. cit.) explain the basic definition of panim chadashos: “Panim chadashos are only people for whom the joy is augmented.” The principle of panim chadashos, according to Tosafos, is that their presence caused extra joy, over which the Sheva Berachos are recited.
This explanation is likewise given by the Rosh (Kesubos 1:13), who adds that panim chadashos are classified as people who have not eaten yet at one of the wedding feasts, even if they were present at the chupah. The additional joy, according to this opinion, depends on the presence of the panim chadashos at the meal (though it is possible that they don’t actually have to eat; see Bach, Even Ha’ezer 62), and panim chadashos are therefore defined as people who had hitherto not been present at a wedding meal.
Based on this definition, it follows that panim chadashos are specifically “important people, for whom the food and drink at a meal is augmented” (Bach; Aruch Hashulchan 62:26). As the Bach adds (see also Beis Shmuel 62:10), there is no actual need for an increase in the quantity or quality of the food, but only that the people should be worthy of such an increase.
Opinion 2: The Joy of the Chasan
Whereas Tosafos underscore the joy of the wedding feast, the Ramban and the Ran emphasize the “joy of the groom’s heart,” for which the berachos were enacted (Ran on Rif 2a).
According to these rishonim, there is no obligation to make the berachos specifically during the meal (an opinion mentioned by the Rosh), and they can also be recited before the wedding feast, as the rishonim cite from Maseches Sofrim (19:11). The Ran (3a) explains that people used to gather at the groom’s house to cheer the chasan and kallah, and the berachos would be recited even without a meal.
Predictably, the Rosh (for whom the joy of panim chadashos relates to the meal) frowns on this practice, citing from Rav Hai that the custom is “not worthy.”
According to this opinion, it follows that there is no need for the panim chadashos to be present at the meal, as the Ran writes: “Provided the panim chadashos come and are present, even if they do not eat, Sheva Berachos are recited.” Furthermore, it follows that somebody who had already participated in the joy of the wedding cannot qualify as panim chadashos, even if he had not yet participated in a celebratory feast, and “had not entered throughout the days of celebration” (Rashba, Kesubos 7b).
It also emerges that there is no need for panim chadashos that are especially important or honored people (for whom extra food is served), and the main point is that the panim chadashos bring joy to the chasan and kallah (Beis Shmuel 62:10). It is better, according to this opinion, to have panim chadashos who know the chasan personally, and whose presence bring him (and/or the kallah) joy, than to have an objectively ‘important’ person who does not bring the chasan joy.
Opinion 3: Fulfilling the Panim Chadashos’ Obligation
A third definition of emerges from the rulings of the Rambam.
The Tosafos Rid (Kesubos 7b) writes that panim chadashos are those “who have not yet heard the berachos.” The emphasis on hearing the berachos indicates that attendees at the wedding celebrations have an obligation of reciting (or hearing) the berachos. When panim chadashos are present, who have not yet fulfilled their obligation, Sheva Berachos are recited on their account.
This rationale is implied by the Rambam (Berachos 2:10), who writes that in the presence of panim chadashos, who have not yet heard the berachos, Sheva Berachos are recited “on their behalf.” It thus appears, according to the Rambam, that the principle of panim chadashos is the presence of those who have not yet been party to reciting the berachos, and for whom the berachos are therefore recited anew.
The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) explains the opinion of the Rambam along similar lines, writing that the Sheva Berachos mean to bless the newlywed couple, and each is obligated to give his blessing. Therefore, when somebody who had not yet given his blessing is present, the blessings are recited again (the panim chadashos can hear the blessing, and thereby fulfill their obligation).
Sheva Berachos on Shabbos
In line with his definition, the Rambam makes no distinction between Shabbos and the rest of the week. If the concept of panim chadashos refers to people who have not yet fulfilled their obligation, it is clear that the day of Shabbos cannot serve as an alternative to panim chadashos.
The Tosafos, however, who explain that Sheva Berachos are made on account of the extra joy of the panim chadashos, cite from the Midrash that Shabbos is also considered panim chadashos. Tosafos explain that “here, too, there is an increase in celebration and feasting in honor of the Shabbos.” The Rosh writes similarly that “it is the way to increase in joy and portions on Shabbos.”
According to their opinion, whereby the berachos are not related to the meal but rather to the personal joy of the parties, the Rambam and the Ran explain the virtue of Shabbos differently: “But on Friday and Shabbos, because the groom comes out of shul, and the bride is taken out of her room and they enter the chupah, the berachos are recited before the meal, for this is an intense celebration and the people cheer them” (Ramban, Kesubos 8a). The berachos, as they explain, are not on account of the augmented feast, but for the joy of the chasan.
The Ramban adds that Sheva Berachos are recited even on the day of Shabbos (and not only on Friday night), because “there is certainly somebody present who was not there yesterday.” Alternatively, the Ramban (and others) explains that the presence of panim chadashos determines a full day of joy, which includes the night and the day that follows.
A practical implication of the dispute concerns the third Shabbos meal. According to the Tosafos and the Rosh, it stands to reason that Sheva Berachos are not recited in Se’udah Shlishis, because the special nature of Shabbos meals is generally limited to the first two meals (Ateres Paz, cited in Otzar Ha-Poskim p. 73). According to the Ran and the Ramban, however, the joy of panim chadashos applies to the entire day, and Sheva Berachos should be recited even in all meals.
All three opinions are mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema (Even Ha’ezer 62).
The Shulchan Aruch (7) cites the ruling of the Rambam, and adds, as a second opinion, the ruling of the Rosh: “Some say that even if they were present at the chupah and heard the berachos, if until now they did not eat at a meal, they are considered as panim chadashos and Sheva Berachos are recited after benching.” The Shulchan Aruch adds that this is the common custom, adding (8), in line with the Rosh, that panim chadashos refers to people for whom the celebration is magnified.
The Rema adds the opinion of the Ran and the Ramban: “Some say that if there are panim chadashos, even if they do not eat there, the blessings are recited night and day.”
The practical ramification of se’udah shlishis is mention in the following halachah (62:8), where the Shulchan Aruch rules that “some state Shabbos and Yom Tov are considered as panim chadashos, but only in the night and day meals, and not in the third meal. This is the common custom.” This ruling is in line with the reasoning of the Rosh, as ruled by the Shulchan Aruch in the previous halachah.
The Rema, however, adds that the custom is to recite the blessings even during se’udah shlishis: “Nowadays, the custom in our places is to recite Sheva Brachos even in the third meal.” As the Aruch Hashulchan (62:29-30) notes, this ruling matches the opinion of the Ran and the Ramban, which the Rema quotes in the previous halachah.
It is noteworthy that the Rema mentions alternative reasons for why Sheva Berachos are recited even during se’udah shlishis. One possible reason is that new guests are invited, and another is that the special Torah lectures delivered during this meal are considered as a substitute for panim chadashos.
The Aruch Hashulchan points out that in his time, no new guests were customarily invited, and nobody gave special sermons, yet the custom remained to recite Sheva Berachos. The reason he suggests for this is that extra and new foods are served during the meal; where this is not the case, one should ensure that there is some Torah lecture (preferably one that brings joy to listeners!).
The Status of Women and Children
According to the Rambam, as interpreted above, it is clear that a child cannot be considered panim chadashos: a child is not obligated in reciting the blessings, and therefore his presence cannot justify their recitation.
It is possible that this is the rationale behind the ruling of the Ritva (Kesubos 7b), who writes that a woman cannot be considered panim chadashos, “because only somebody who can join the minyan of birkas chasanim (Sheva Berachos) qualifies as panim chadashos.” However, we have already noted that the rulings of the Ritva (concerning Sheva Berachos on Shabbos) do not concur with the opinion of the Rambam. In addition, women are possibly obligated in the berachos, and cannot be compared to children. It therefore seems that the Ritva refers to a different principle; indeed, the explanation he gives suggests a new principle.
According to the opinion of Tosafos and the Rosh, it follows that a woman and a child can be considered panim chadashos, provided their presence is a cause for extra celebration. Of course, this is rare for a child, but is certainly possible for a woman (see Kehilas Yaakov, Kesubos no. 6).
Although the ruling of the Ritva is cited by a number of authorities (see Pischei Teshuvah 62:14, and see Otzar Ha-Poskim), the Chasam Sofer (Kesubos 7b, s.v. bemakheilos) rules that women and children can act as panim chadashos, and this is the general consensus of contemporary authorities (see Yismach Lev no. 339).
Additional Laws Concerning Panim Chadashos
- Defining Panim chadashos: The custom is that even somebody who was present at the chupah, yet was not present for the festive meal, qualifies (in later Sheva Berachos occasions) as panim chadashos (Shulchan Aruch 62:7). Although some write that one should be stringent in this matter where possible, the Ezer Mi-Kodesh (62:8) writes that since this is the custom, one should not be stringent in this.
- Important people: Rav Shraya Deblitzky (Sova Semachos Chap. 1, note 36) writes that the custom is not to be particular about the presence of ‘important’ panim chadashos, who warrants special additions to the meal, and to rely on any new participant. He adds, however, in the name of the Chazon Ish, that one should try to be particular in this matter. See also Teshuvos Vehanhagos (Vol. 2, no. 645), who suggests a reason for the customary leniency in this matter.
- Defining an important person: In defining who is considered an ‘important person,’ Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita has ruled that this is defined as somebody who would be served special food as a guest.
- Does a waiter/charity collector qualify: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that a waiter, who is asked to sit down at the end of the meal, does not qualify as a panim chadashos. In thus ruling he cited an anecdote concerning the Chazon Ish, who was once present at a Sheva Berachos meal in which no panim chadashos were participated. When a pauper knocked on the door, the Chazon Ish ruled that he cannot serve as panim chadashos, because his presence will not warrant increased festivity at the meal. Later, when Rav Yaakov Neiman knocked on the door, the Chazon Ish said that after his arrival, Sheva Berachos can certainly be recited.
- Participation of panim chadashos in meal: According to many authorities, there is no need for the panim chadashos to actually participate in the meal (Rema 62:7; Chelkas Mechokek 11; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 149:5). However, some write that based on the opinion of Tosafos and the Rosh, one should ensure that the panim chadashos participates in the meal (Maharit Tzalhon 71).
- Presence at Sheva Berachos: The panim chadashon should be present at the time of making the berachos—certainly if they were not present during the meal (Chelkas Mechokek 62:11). Some rule that if the panim chadashos are not present at the time of the Sheva Berachos, the blessings cannot be recited (Shut Shenos Chayim 105).