Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jewish Honeymoons?

[I did the kollel's two-minute parshah video this week; you can find it here.]

I felt like I was back in the rabbinate this morning: Daf shiur at 6 AM, then a bris, then a navi shiur, and then a 10 AM levayah.

And someone I had tried to help was angry at me . Like I said, felt like the rabbinate all over again. (Although, there is something to be said for attending a levayah as someone other than the mesader and the niftar.)

I’ve been thinking about Shanah Rishonah (literally "the first year") lately.

Shanah Rishonah is the practice of having a newly married couple remain at home, or go out together, every night during their first year of marriage. It is built on Devarim 24:5, which states that a newly married man does not go to the army for the first year after marriage; rather, “he shall be clean [of outside obligations] to be home for a year, and he shall gladden the wife he has taken.” In one example of Shanah Rishonah adherence, kollelim often tell their avreichim to stay home from night seder for their first year of marriage.

This practice is important, I think, in order to set a certain foundation and default setting for the marriage even beyond the shared experience that occurs during the first year. It is far more valuable than a honeymoon, to me. If a couple starts out with the assumption that they will spend time together, that the place they belong at night is with each other, then they become more apt to fulfill that going forward.

The Rebbetzin and I never had a “shanah rishonah.” We got married on August 17, signed the contract with our first shul during the week of sheva berachos, and started in that shul on August 31. My rebbetzin spent the next two years commuting to law school, and I was running the shul, teaching in a local high school, translating the Aruch haShulchan and transcribing tapes of Rav Soloveitchik’s Tisha b’Av shiurim. There was no break.

Thank Gd, we made it through and we’re doing fine almost fourteen years later, but we really should have taken some time that year, as a quasi-shanah rishonah. That we didn’t do this was a mistake.

On the other hand – shanah rishonah isn’t really an option for many couples. Jobs and school often require late nights in the workplace, or the library, and that’s just the way it is.

What was your Shanah Rishonah experience? Did you have it? No? Either way, what was the impact?


  1. My wife and I both worked locally (Central NJ) and had little business travel the first year. This worked out well.

    But does the premise of this article imply that a traveling salesman, commercial pilot or trucker, etc., can't get married? That goes too far.

  2. Our Shana was also rather hectic, but I remember when i was still single and in Yeshiva the Rosh Yeshiva would through any Shana Rishona guys out of the Beit midrash if they showed up for Night Seder,
    They wewr expected to be at home with their wife, not in the Beit Midrash.

  3. Our first kid was born before the first year was over. It was all about the kid(s)from then on.

  4. Bob, Anonymous-
    I hear.

    A good, thoughtful practice.

  5. I remember getting the advice that during the first year, we shouldn't invite any guests - we should accept invitations and go out on Shabbat when we felt like it. This was in Yerushalayim, where there was no lack of friends who would invite us.

    We didn't adhere strictly to that advice, but it took the pressure off of us and allowed us to adopt a normal policy about inviting. Otherwise, we might have overwhelmed ourselves while trying to be the perfect new household.

    I also recall well how one of the avrechim I learned and worked with told us that sheva b'rachot is only an obligation if we have the people and we are there. He insisted we consider taking a day off from sheva b'rachot as a legitimate option. Again, it was good advice that took some pressure off.

    Finally, I had to discuss the issue of shana rishona with Rav Mordechai Eliyahu. My reserve unit typically required/'requested' that we do active duty about twice what the law required. He said one had to be sensible about shalom bayit, but that it was certainly permitted to volunteer the extra time given that serving in the IDF is a mitzvah and milhemet mitzvah. So, I not only did reserve duty without requesting to be released; but I did indeed do the extra expected time like all the other guys. I have to say, that wasn't completely popular at home...