Question: The custom in our community is that when a young woman reaches the age of Bat Mitzvah, she performs the Mitzvah of separating Challah for the first time and before doing so, she recites the blessing of “Shehecheyanu” as well upon performing this Mitzvah for the first time. Is this custom halachically correct?
Answer: The Sefer Ha’Roke’ach (Chapter 371) writes that before performing any Mitzvah which one is obligated to perform, one must recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing before performing it. The Sefer Challat Lechem (Chapter 7) writes that the women in his place had the custom that a new bride would recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing before separating Challah for the first time. This custom is quoted by several other Acharonim. Based on this custom it would seem that the same applies to any other Mitzvah one performs for the first time in one’s life that one should recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing before doing so. Similarly, a Ba’al Teshuva (newly Torah-observant individual) would recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing before performing any of the Mitzvot for the first time in his life.
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia-Terumot U’Ma’asrot, page 189) that this custom is not halachically correct, for the Rambam writes in a response that that one who separates Challah or Terumot U’Ma’asrot (tithes) for the first time in one’s life should not recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing. Indeed, the aforementioned opinion of the Roke’ach is contested by other great Rishonim.
Likewise, the Geonim write in their Responsa that the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is only recited on something which brings the body joy and enjoyment, such as a new garment or a new fruit. Similarly, the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is recited on those Mitzvot which are performed once a year. However, the “Shehecheyanu” blessing is not recited on a Mitzvah which is not performed during a specific time of the year or upon something which does not bring the body joy or enjoyment, such as a Mitzvah one performs for the very first time in one’s life.
He quotes several great Acharonim who concur and rule that a woman should not recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing the first time she separates Challah. Similarly, one should not recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing the first time one performs any Mitzvah.
Based on the above, a new bride who immerses in a Mikveh for the first time before her wedding day should not recite a “Shehecheyanu” blessing upon doing so, for this constitutes a blessing in vain according to most Poskim; even in a place where new brides customarily recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing, it is proper to discontinue this custom. (See Taharat Ha’Bayit, Volume 2, page 534)