Question: May an elderly rabbi who is confined to a wheelchair (and thus cannot stand up) serve as an eid kiddushin – a witness to the marriage ceremony?
Short Answer: Many Acharonim require the witnesses to the marriage ceremony to be standing. However, there are authorities who allow the witnesses to sit if need be.
I. Sugya in Z’vachim
The Gemara in Z’vachim (16a) states that a witness must stand when he testifies. Rashi (ibid) learns this halachah from the pasuk in Parshas Shoftim “v’amdu shnei ha’anashim.”
Tosafos (ibid) notes that we see from this Gemara the importance of not ruling on any judgment where the witnesses testified while sitting. Indeed, Tosafos adds that witnesses to a divorce must be especially careful to only testify while standing.
II. Which Testimony?
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita (Chashukei Chemed, Z’vachim ibid) cites the Mishmar HaLevi (p. 94) who queries which testimony Tosafos is referring to by the divorce document (get). He suggests three possibilities: (i) the signatories on the get, (ii) the witnesses on the delivery of the get, or (iii) the witnesses who testify that a woman is divorced in front of beis din where the get is challenged. Rav Zilberstein (ibid) cites the opinion of the Beis HaLevi that Tosafos is referring to the witnesses on the delivery of the get. But, the Beis HaLevi concludes that this opinion of Tosafos is an outlier.
Likewise, Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l (siman 125) initially held that witnesses on a chalitzah ceremony must stand, implying that Tosafos was referring to the witnesses on the delivery of the get, the analogous ceremony by divorce. However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Y’vamos 104) ultimately retracted and held that only witnesses who are testifying in beis din need to stand while testifying, because that is the context of the pasuk cited by Rashi above.
Notably, the Chelkas Yoav (Even HaEzer 6) challenges Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s final opinion based on the above Tosafos. The Chelkas Yoav understood Tosafos as referring to the witnesses on the delivery of the get, implying that even witnesses on a chalitzah ceremony must stand.
III. Application to a Wedding
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Y’vamos ibid) concludes that since only witnesses who are testifying in beis din need to stand while testifying, witnesses at a wedding under the chupah do not need to stand. Indeed, the Be’er Moshe (8:117) and the Tzitz Eliezer (16:1:5) follow this Rabbi Akiva Eiger and rule that witnesses to the wedding under the chupah do not need to stand. See also the opinion of the Avi Ezri (cited in Mishmar HaLevi)
Others, however, follow the Chelkas Yoav – that Tosafos requires witnesses on the delivery of the get to stand – and thus rule that the analogous case of witnesses to the wedding under the chupah also need to stand. See Minchas Shimon (p. 133-134); Yisrael B’Maamadam (p. 825); Sheivet HaLevi (4:177); Nit’ei Gavriel (Nisuin, 20:9).
IV. Wheelchair Scenario
Based on the above dispute, Rav Zilberstein holds that if the chasan wants to have a wheelchair-bound witness, he should designate a second set of witnesses on t’nai (stipulation). In other words, the chasan should stipulate that if we follow the opinion that a witness may sit by a wedding, then the wheelchair-bound individual should serve as the witness; but if we rule the opposite way, then the other set of witnesses should serve as the witnesses.
Rav Zilberstein adds that we are inclined to be lenient in this situation, because according to everyone, sitting witnesses are fine b’dieved. However, Rav Zilberstein concludes that he is not sure if such a t’nai works here. See also Rav Yehuda Aryeh Dinner (Kol HaTorah Journal, No. 71, p. 304) who notes that the answer to this question depends on who we follow above.
Next Week’s Topic: Should the one who makes the birkas Eirusin under the chupah drink from the cup, or should he just give it directly to the chasan and kallah to drink?