Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jewish Wedding Customs

A Jewish marriage requires that the groom signs the Ketuba
the marriage contract which legally binds him to provide
physical, emotional, and spiritual support to his bride.

To the Jewish people, marriage is a mystical act of atonement.{1} A moment in time when two become one, when the individuals coming together are sanctified from their past transgressions and allowed the privilege of beginning a whole new season of life together, with only the present and future ahead of them. It is a time of supreme celebration and eternal commitments made before family and friends. A Jewish wedding is a profound experience, both for the bride and groom and for those who attend the celebration.

A Jewish marriage is a partnership, and as such begins well in advance of the ceremony. After a match has been made, a Jewish couple will work both together and individually to establish their spiritual foundations. Some rabbis recommend that others plan the wedding, thereby allowing the bride and groom to remain free of the distracting frictions that can arise during the planning of such a big event.{2}

For a week before the wedding, the bride and groom are encouraged to refrain from all contact. This "fasting" builds anticipation and excitement for the wedding day and night. In addition, beginning at dawn on the morning of their ceremony, the couple is expected to fast from all food until after the ceremony has been performed. This fast symbolizes the purity with which they will approach their union, for all of their past sins are forgiven on this day.{3}

While many American Jews wear western wedding attire, a white gown and black tux, traditionally the groom wore a white kittel (robe) as a symbol of his own purity.{4} Still in isolation from one another, the bride and groom greet their guests as they arrive. The bride is seated upon a throne, queen for the day, while the groom mingles among his guests as the king he has become in their eyes.

At this time, the festivities officially begin with the tish (Yiddish for 'table'). At his table, the groom offers a lecture on that week's Torah portion. It is tradition for the groom's friends and family to give him grief during this "important" moment in his day. While he endures jibes and ribbing from his peers, his bride enjoys the company of her women friends and family in a separate room.

In some Jewish traditions, the next step is for the mothers of the bride and groom to break a plate together. This act symbolizes the gravity of the commitment the two lovers are about to make. Just as a smashed plate can never be fully restored, so two people will never be the same again if their marriage breaks apart.{5}

Next come the B'deken and the signing of the ketuba. Depending on which Jewish tradition is followed, one will come right before the other. The ketuba is the marriage contract, and while it implies the acquisition of the bride by the groom, in practice it is a legally binding agreement signed solely by the groom declaring his intention to provide food, clothing, shelter, emotional support, and pleasure to his wife throughout their union.{6} This document is typically artfully presented, as seen in the photograph above, and belongs to the bride. She will typically display it prominently in their home.

It is during the B'deken that the bride and groom see each other for the first time after a week apart. The bride is seated upon her throne, surrounded by family and friends. Her groom approaches, accompanied by his father and his future father-in-law as well as a band of musicians, to cover her face with her veil. This veiling symbolizes that while appearances are important, her inner beauty, her soul, and her character are of utmost importance to him.{7, 8} It can also symbolize the groom's promise to protect and cover his bride for all their days.

Together at last, the bride and groom proceed next to the chuppa, a decorated wedding canopy held aloft over the couple to symbolize the new home the couple will build together. When the bride arrives, she will circle the groom seven times, representing her "protective, surrounding light" which will illuminate their household "with understanding and love from within and [protect] it from harm from the outside."{9}

Beneath the chuppa the rabbi pronounces blessings upon the couple, wine is sipped, and the groom offers his bride a plain gold band without blemish or ornamentation as a token of his commitment to her. The ring is placed upon her right index finger. At this point their marriage is official, and the seven blessings are read by the rabbi and/or honored family members. Following another sip of wine, the breaking of the glass takes place. In this moment, the joy of the day is set aside as the groom shatters a wine glass with his foot in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In this way, the couple assures that even above the joy of their union, Jerusalem holds pride of place for them. The sound of shattering glass is the cue for the crowd to shout "Mazaltov," after which time the newlyweds are secreted away for fifteen minutes of privacy, their yichud.

Together in secrecy, they will break their fast and eat a light meal together while their guests are served outside in the banquet hall. In the past, it was customary for the couples' first experience of physical intimacy to take place during this brief but sacred time.{10} This is not typically the case these days, though I imagine a fair amount of smooching takes place during this time.

After their sacred alone time, the couple is reunited with their wedding guests, and supper is eaten together. After dinner, the "Grace After Meals" is recited, and sometimes the seven blessings are repeated. And then, the dancing begins in earnest until the night is over.

~Angela Magnotti Andrews, Staff Writer


  1. Becher, Rabbi Mordechai. "The Jewish Wedding Ceremony." OhrSomayach. Accessed August 25, 2015.
  2. "Engagement." Accessed August 30, 2015.
  3. Shulman, Shlomo (Chaplain). "Guide to the Jewish Wedding." Accessed August 25, 2015.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Becher.
  7. Shulman.
  8. The Knot. "Jewish Wedding Ceremony Rituals." Accessed August 25, 2015.
  9. Becher.
  10. The Knot.

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