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Saturday, November 18, 2017

The dining room table set for sheva brachot. (Credit: Bracha Schwartz)

The wedding is over, the couple is beaming and the parents are exhaling. But if you volunteered to make sheva brachot, your job is just beginning.

Making sheva brachot is like planning a big anniversary or birthday party, only with some specific requirements. You need a minyan to recite Sheva Brachot, and that means at least 10 men who will mostly be married. So you have a minimum guest list of about 20. At least one has to be someone who was not at the wedding, a panim chadashot, or new face. At least seven men have to have eaten bread to make the Sheva Brachot, so bread must be included in the meal, usually a roll at each place. And the meal must be made in the couple’s honor. You can’t have a social gathering and spontaneously say, “Hey, Shlomie just got married, let’s say Sheva Brachot.” Some authorities say that because these meals are considered seudot mitzvah, it is preferable to include meat and wine, but not required.

I recently made sheva brachot with a friend at her home. Ours was the first sheva brachot, Monday night after a Sunday wedding, so we had to be well organized. Two weeks in advance, we planned the menu and made a list of what we were each buying and making. The week before the wedding, we bought wine, paper goods and beverages. With so much food prep to do in a short amount of time, all non-perishable items had to be purchased in advance. We used nice disposables so there would be a limited amount of clean-up from our 24 guests.

We planned a buffet with a variety of salads, meats, sides and desserts. Our menu: terra chip salad, caesar salad, pepper steak with broccoli, chicken scallopini, roast cauliflower, mixed snow peas and carrots, roast potatoes, rice pilaf and sweet and sour beets. Desserts included watermelon wedges, blondies, brownies, raspberry coffee cake and a vanilla cake with chocolate mousse layers, decorated with purple pareve buttercream flowers and an inscription to match the colors of the wedding. (Thank you, Butterflake.) We made and froze some of the desserts in advance. I pre-ordered the beef to be picked up Sunday morning and got a great tip from Michelle Berger of Best Glatt. She suggested marinating the meat overnight in soy sauce with a little baking soda to tenderize it even more. It worked.

After a beautiful wedding, when the new couple was settling in and the parents were kvelling, my co-host and I went into full production mode on Monday. We chopped, sautéed, mixed, baked and roasted, feverishly counting down to our 7 p.m. start time. And then it was our turn to kvell as we showered food, joy and blessings on the newlyweds at the start of their life together.

If you don’t have a dining room that can seat 20 plus guests, sheva brachot at a restaurant or shul is a great option; coordinate with a few families to share costs. I have been invited to sheva brachot at pizza places, Chinese eateries, grills and upscale New York City restaurants. If you are hosting in a shul, check the food policy. Some will only allow approved caterers while others will let you bring in items with an approved hechsher from a variety of sources.

A new venue for dairy sheva brachot is Teaneck’s Lazy Bean Café. Available for private parties at night, Operations Director Dani Secemski said the hours, 6:30 p.m.—9 p.m., are perfect for a more relaxed sheva brachot. The host pays a flat fee for the room and the final tab for guests ordering from Lazy Bean’s usual selection of light fare, baked goods and specialty drinks. The flexible “open bar” style takes the pressure off people rushing from work; they can arrive late and still be able to order and eat before the Sheva Brachot are recited.

If you are holding Shabbos sheva brachot, be aware that there is a dispute over seudah shlishit. If the wedding took place on a Sunday, and the first sheva brachot was that night, Shabbos would be the last day. Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of kashrut at the Orthodox Union and mara d’atra of Englewood’s Congregation Shomrei Emunah, said there are opinions that you must say Sheva Brachot before shkia (sunset) or you are into the eighth day. That’s the view of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l. Others, such as Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, say that if you wash before shkia, it’s the same meal and you can say Sheva Brachot after shkia, but that is only for Shabbos, not any other last day.

Although sheva brachot meals every day for seven days following a wedding are not halachically required, the practice has become standard in Orthodox circles. It is a beautiful way for friends and family to make the bride and groom happy, which is an obligation. And that’s what we pray for when we recite the last bracha:

“Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, Who created joy and happiness, groom and bride, gladness, jubilation, cheer and delight, love, friendship, harmony and fellowship. Hashem, let there speedily be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride, the sound of exultation of grooms from under their chuppah, and youths from their joyous banquets. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gladdens the groom with the bride.”

Mazel tov!

By Bracha Schwartz