JERUSALEM (VINnews) — Journalist Yisrael Shapira attended a recent Jerusalem wedding and rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he saw people hitting the Eidim, the witnesses to the betrothal, just moments before the wedding ceremony took place. Before calling the police, Yisrael asked the family if everything was in order. They responded that indeed there were no issues but it is an ancient custom to hit the Eidim before the Chupah.
Yisrael’s interest was piqued and he searched for a source for this unusual custom. On the Beinenu site he found a source for this in an article by Rabbi Yisrael Dendrowitz who writes that the minhag is to rouse the Eidim to repent before the Chupah takes place. The reason for this is so that they should not have any unrepented sins which might disqualify their testimony. Just as prior to Yom Kippur there are those who are accustomed to giving Malkos (lashes) in order to facilitate repentance before the holy day, the Eidim also receive lashes.
An early source for the custom is the rare book Kushyos l’Echad Min Ha’Rishonim (Questions by one of the early authorities) written in the 13th century by a student of Maharam Rottenburg (and republished in a new edition in 2007). The author suggests that since a wedding must always have some strife (as the gemara in Shabbos 130a says), we wish to prevent the strife from the happy couple and their families. Therefore the Eidim are hit by the assembled and this is considered as if the “strife” has been removed from the couple.