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In many Orthodox Jewish weddings I have attended, there is a short ceremony at the groom's table called "tana'im". This site explains:

These are conditions agreed upon by the couple; both parties accept several conditions related to the partnership of bride, groom and their families. They consist of the agreed wedding date, as well as the financial liabilities of the two parties. The contract is binding on both parties, in case of a breach of conditions the offender must pay compensation. This contract is signed by two witnesses.

It also states:

the parents undertake to provide financial support until the wedding and to make sure the children have the clothing articles they need. It ends by stating a date for the wedding ceremony.

I have several questions regarding the document and the ceremony itself:

  • Why is this document necessary, esp. if it is first signed on the day of the wedding? Is it the equivalence of nissuin in any way?
  • It says that the parent's agree to financial support. In most families, the parents are already supporting their child, or the child is self-supporting, anyway and may not need or isn't relying on parent's support. What does this support mean or involve?
  • In terms of financial support, IIRC, the ketubah places that obligation on the husband. Practically, then, if the chuppah will occur shortly thereafter, why even mention this part of parental support in the tana'im?
  • Among some Hassidim, the tana'im is done a few months earlier at a "vort" ceremony. (A vort is a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the couple's engagement announcement.) Is there any reason why they do it earlier vs. on the wedding day?
  • Does this document need to be read in public? If not, why do they do it? And why is this done in the groom's room only? If the bride is involved in this, shouldn't they repeat the reading in the bride's room?

NOTE - A link at the bottom of the site allows you to download a copy of the tana'im text.

  • Note there are various versions of "tanaim" documents floating around today so don't expect everyone who signs one is signing the same one. (Not all sign one, of course.) – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 20:04
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The tanaim is actually a legal contract between the parents of the bride and groom. It specifies the financial and other arrangements that both sets of parents have agreed to. Originally, this was done well before the actual wedding in order to formalize the contractual requirements. This could include details such as which seat in shul would be given to the groom, how much each family would provide the couple, who would pay for what part of the wedding, where the couple would live, what kind of support would be provided, how long the groom would be allowed to learn, what he would do to support his family, ...

Most of your questions come up because we no longer have the full necessity of the financial agreements that were required originally. Some references date tena'im tback to the 13th century when marriages were much more like commercial contracts that were similar to the merger of two companies or the creation of a spin-off corporation.

The reason that it is done in the groom's room and read aloud is so that the fathers (who are the principals) will have agreed before witnesses that this is the contract that they are agreeing to. It is not the same as the kesuvah nor is it the same as the nissuin.

An Old Ceremony

From the 12th to the early 19th century, tenaim announced that two families had come to terms on a match between their children. The document setting out their agreement, also called tenaim, would include the dowry and other financial arrangements, the date and time of the huppah [the actual wedding ceremony], and a knas, or penalty, if either party backed out of the deal.

Nowadays it is much less required, but it is used before the wedding in order to certify that there are no remaining disagreements that could cause the wedding to fall through. A standard for used by Chabad can be found at Tena'im Text The Engagement Contract

One possible explanation as to why we continue to do it today, even though we no longer require the full set of agreements, is to show that the two families have agreed and have settled all conditions that might have arisen. This prevents someone from getting up and claiming that some condition has not been fulfilled and that the kiddushin is therefore null and void.

One explanation of this document can be found at Tnai'm -- Engagement Agreements which first explains the current chabad custom (at the engagement) and then the non-chasidic custom (just before the wedding)

  • Good summary. I'll try to view the last link you provided, later. I still have questions about why this is necessary or even done, today. Perhaps, that link will offer some better context. – DanF Mar 30 '16 at 20:15
  • @DanF I added a little more that could explain why we still do it. – sabbahillel Mar 30 '16 at 20:23
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    " it is used before the wedding in order to certify that there are no remaining disagreements that could cause the wedding to fall through" What? Who needs that to be certified? "This prevents someone from getting up and claiming that some condition has not been fulfilled and that the kiddushin is therefore null and void." How would the Kiddushin be nullified by the parents financial arrangements? – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 21:00
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    @DanF The reason some people do it is because they don't know any better, their rabbi insisted on it because he thought it was a binding (!) custom, the mothers are excited to break a plate (excited to mourn the Temple!?), or they want to give out extra honors (why signing a meaningless document is an honor is not clear to me). In reality it's just a waste of time. – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 21:03
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    @sabbahillel Indeed. (You are thinking of the Rama he.wikisource.org/wiki/…) For people who have specific financial concerns they should codify them in writing. That's just not the case in nearly all weddings today. I'm not saying Tanaim was always stupid. Only in the vast majority of modern cases. – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 21:27

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