Weddings: Who Gets to Officiate?

Among the many decisions, compromises, and negotiations that must be made in the course of planning a wedding is which side gets to choose who will serve as the mesader kiddushin -- the officiating rabbi. Does the groom and his family get to choose the mesader kiddushin or is it the bride and her family?

Nowadays, the one appointed as mesader kiddushin recites the first two blessings under the chuppa. In ancient times, however, this was not always the case, and even ordinary wedding guests were honored with reciting these blessings. Indeed, as the title of the officiating rabbi implies, he is the one who arranges ("mesader") the marriage ("kiddushin"). Hence, the mesader kiddushin’s job is to ensure that all halachic requirements of the wedding are met. There is no obligation for him to recite any specific blessing.

Since the mesader kiddushin is the one who recites these blessings nowadays, it appears from the Rambam that it is the groom who gets to choose who will officiate at the wedding. As the Rambam writes, "Whenever one marries a woman…the wedding blessings must be recited by the groom or his agent…as all blessings are customarily recited before performing a mitzva."[1] Indeed, in ancient times it was often the groom himself who recited these blessings under the chuppa! This practice, however, was discontinued many years ago so as not to embarrass a groom who wasn’t proficient enough in Hebrew, or in the order of prayers, to do so.[2] Nevertheless, the blessings rightfully belong to the groom, and as the Rambam writes – the groom is entitled to appoint an agent to recite them.

Other authorities disagree, however, and argue that the blessings recited under the chuppa are not birchot hamitzva, blessings recited for the mitzva of marriage, as the Rambam asserts. According to this approach, the blessings recited under the chuppa are considered to be birchot hashevach, blessings of praise, which cannot necessarily be claimed by either the groom or the bride.[3] There are also grounds to suggest that when the wedding takes place in the bride's city, with the groom and his guests arriving from out-of-town, it is the bride who is entitled to select the mesader kiddushin. Indeed, this was the common practice in pre-war Europe.[4] There is also an opinion that the decision on who should serve as mesader kiddushin should be made according to whom one’s wedding guests would prefer to see officiate![5]

Common custom today is to allow the groom to appoint the mesader kiddushin in almost all circumstances.[6] As with all issues and compromises in life, one should make extensive efforts to ensure that this one does not turn into a machloket.

See also “The Mesader Kiddushin” in Rabbi Enkin's sefer Ramat Hashulchan.

[1] Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 3:23.

[2] Beit Shmuel, EH 34:1; Taz, EH 34:1.

[3] Ritva, Rosh, Ketubot 7b; B’tzel Hachachma 2:72.

[4] Btzel Hachachma 2:72.

[5] B'ikvei Hatzon 39.

[6] EH 34:1; Btzel Hachachma 2:72; Chelkat Yaakov 2:115; Minhag Yisrael Torah, EH 49:11.