Shana Rishona: The First Year of Marriage

Shana rishona, the first year of marriage, is a special time in the life of a married couple. This is true from both a halachic and emotional perspective. For example, during the shana rishona a man is exempt from having to serve in the army and he is required to "gladden the wife that he has married." As the Torah says, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid upon him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.”[1] The reason for this mitzva is in order to ensure that the relationship between the newlywed couple has a chance to blossom and their love for one another to grow.[2] 

In ancient times, a man could not be drafted to war during his shana rishona, nor could he even be asked to participate in any secondary or supporting military roles.[3] A couple does not even have to pay any type of security or defense tax during their shana rishona.[4] The exemption from having to serve in the army, however, does not apply to a milchemet mitzva.[5] A milchemet mitzva is generally defined as a defensive war, or a war that the Torah requires that we initiate (such as the mitzva to destroy Amalek).[6]

According to my sources in Tzahal, there is no official exemption from military service in Israel during one’s shana rishona, but an exemption is almost always granted to those who request it for this reason. From a Torah perspective, it would probably be worthwhile for such a military exemption to be formally legislated and become the official policy of Tzahal.[7] In fact, in a recently published article in Techumin Volume 34, Rav Shmuel Dvir, Director of Halacha at Yeshivat Bet Moriah in Beer Sheva, rules that a newly married groom is obligated to be home for the entire first year of marriage and, therefore, may not serve in the army. This is essentially true even if his wife agrees to allow her new husband to serve. As such, he rules that one must do everything possible to postpone getting married until after one's army service has been completed, or to get married before serving, but to ensure that one will not be required to serve for a year. Otherwise, one should serve in a non-combat unit that allows one to return home daily. Nevertheless, a convincing argument can be made that all of Tzahal’s activities and operations have the status of milchemet mitzva nowadays. Therefore, even a groom on his wedding day could theoretically be called up for service.

A number of authorities are of the opinion that the halachot of shana rishona no longer apply in our day. This is based on the view that the two components of shana rishona, the exemption from military service and the requirement to make one’s wife happy, are a single unit. According to this approach, since the classical exemption from the army no longer applies nowadays (since the army is not commanded by a king), the second component of shana rishona, to “gladden one’s wife,” no longer applies, either.[8]

According to most other authorities, however, the two components of shana rishona are independent of one another. According to this approach, even though the classical exemption from the army no longer applies, the component of “gladdening one’s wife” still does.[9] Normative halacha is in accordance with this view, and one is obligated to make one’s wife happy during the first year of marriage. The mitzva of shana rishona applies to all marriages with the exception of a divorced couple that remarries.[10]

The most prominent of the shana rishona customs is the ban against leaving one’s wife overnight.[11] According to many authorities, a man may not leave his wife alone overnight during the first year of marriage unless he obtains her explicit consent to do so.[12] This is true even if others are able to stay with her in one's absence. One is permitted to leave one's wife overnight for mitzva-related travel, such as to study Torah or earn a livelihood. This is true even if one’s wife objects.[13] One should certainly avoid leaving one’s wife for over a week at a time during the first year of marriage.[14] Although there is an opinion that a man may not leave his wife overnight for any reason at any time during the shana rishona, even for matters related to his employment,[15] the halacha is not in accordance with this view.[16]

In addition to the ban against leaving one’s wife alone overnight, one is also required to give her plenty of attention and affection during the first year of marriage. One also fulfills the mitzva of “gladdening one’s wife” by joining her in activities that she enjoys, and even by simply doing things that makes her happy.[17] A husband and wife may agree to terms, conditions, and exceptions to the rules of shana rishona before they get married, should they wish to do so.[18] There may be grounds to exempt a husband from sleeping in a sukka during shana rishona should his wife prefer that he sleep with her in the house.[19]

There are those of the opinion that a man should not enter a cemetery during the shana rishona[20], and a woman should preferably not do so, either.[21] Some authorities recommend extending this no-cemetery-visit policy to include the thirty days before the wedding.[22] Nevertheless, newlyweds are permitted to attend the funeral of a relative or other close loved one should they choose to do so.[23] However, they should not attend other memorial and eulogy-based events.[24] The shana rishona status lasts for twelve months even in a leap year in which a thirteenth month is added to the year.[25]

[1] Devarim 24:5.

[2] Chinuch 582.

[3] Devarim 24:5; Sota 44a; Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 7:10,11; Chinuch 581, 582.

[4] Chinuch 582.

[5] Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 7:7.

[6] Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:1,2.

[7] Halacha L’moshe, EH 7.

[8] Chatam Sofer, EH 2:155.

[9] Chinuch 581, 582; Minhag Yisrael Torah, EH 69:39.

[10] Chinuch 582.

[11] Chinuch 581, 582; Chochmat Adam 129:19; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 149:13.

[12] Chinuch 582; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 149:13; Chochmat Adam 129:19.

[13] B'tzel Hachachma 4:72:7; Chatam Sofer, EH 155.

[14] B'tzel Hachachma 4:72:7.

[15] Chinuch 582.

[16] Radbaz 1:238; Rav Pe’alim 3:9; Chatam Sofer, EH 155; Chaim Sha’al 1:93:5; Emek Halacha 1:71.

[17] Aruch Hashulchan, EH 64:4; Yereim 190. See also the Tur in the introduction to Even Ha'ezer.

[18] Aruch Hashulchan 64:4.

[19] Rivevot Ephraim 5:407.

[20] Sefer Kushot 276.

[21] See B’tzel Hachachma 2:44:10.

[22] Minhagei Vermeisa Vol 2 p.306.

[23] Aruch Hashulchan, YD 342:88; B’tzel Hachachma 2:44.

[24] Ha’elef Lecha Shlomo, OC 59.

[25] Tzitz Eliezer 19:41:13; Rivevot Ephraim 7:253:4.