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What is the basis for celebrating an aufruf, and what does the word mean?
My wedding is God willing in a few weeks, and I know that on the Shabbat beforehand I am called to the Torah for my “aufruf”. Why is a celebration held in honor of the groom the Shabbat before his wedding? And what kind of word is “aufruf”?
Mazal tov on your upcoming wedding first of all! May you and your fiancé merit to build a wonderful Jewish home.
The Shabbat before a man marries, a celebration is held in his honor knows as the “aufruf”. This is a Yiddish term, meaning “calling up” – referring to the fact that the groom is called to the Torah on this Shabbat.
This is primarily a custom among Ashkenazi Jews (and is likewise generally referred to by its Yiddish name). According to Sephardic custom, a groom is honored on the Shabbat after his wedding, and this is known as the “Shabbat Chatan” – the groom’s Shabbat.
When the groom is called to the Torah, the congregation sings in his honor. As part of the festivities, bags containing fruits, nuts, and candy are thrown at him when the reading is complete. There are many symbolisms behind this custom – such as that their marriage will be sweet and fruitful. Nuts additionally intimate that their sins will be forgiven (as the Hebrew word for nut – egoz – has the same numerical value as chet – sin, and of tov – good).
After services, the family invites the community to a Kiddush (a blessing is said on wine and a light meal is served).
If the groom will be away the Shabbat immediately preceding his wedding, the aufruf is celebrated the final Shabbat he is at home.
Since in many communities the bride and groom do not see each other for the week before the wedding, the bride is generally not present at an aufruf, although sometimes her family members do attend.
The source for this custom is a Midrash that in the Temple, King Solomon made a special entrance for grooms, so that when one would enter, everyone present would give him a blessing to have worthy children. After the Temple's destruction, this practice continued by calling the chatan to the Torah, at which time everyone present gives him a blessing.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains further that calling a person to the Torah reflects that he is now becoming a greater, more complete person – and so his obligation in Torah and mitzvot is likewise greater. Similarly, the Sages compare a groom to a king, and just as a Jewish king has a special obligation to carry a Torah wherever he goes and fully devote himself to it, so too the groom devotes himself fully to God’s service (Made in Heaven, pp. 68-69).
(Sources: Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 17, Ta’amei HaMinhagim 939-40, Made in Heaven pp. 67-72.)