The Jewish faith is one that is deeply ensconced in tradition. A traditional Jewish wedding follows a number of beautiful traditions that date back for thousands of years. The traditions include the signing of the Ketubah, the use of the chuppah as well as traditional dances that are performed at the wedding. The rings exchanged during a Jewish wedding also have traditional connotations.
Celebrating the Wedding Couple
Before the ceremony, close family and friends surround the couple with good cheer and blessings. Historically, this practice was known as Hachnasat Kallah (Celebrating the Bride) and The Groom’s Tisch (The Groom’s Table). The bride and groom would be in separate rooms and guests visited based on gender. Today, many wedding couples – both heterosexual and same-sex – no longer divide the practice by gender.
The signing of the Ketubah is the traditional start of a Jewish wedding ceremony. The Ketubah is a written agreement that not only asserts that the bride is not already married but also outlines the expectations that the couple holds for each other in the marriage. This ornate document can later be framed and prominently displayed in the couple’s home as a reminder of their commitment.
Bedeken means “checking,” and this practice dates back to biblical times. According to one legend, it began after Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law into marrying Leah, who was presented to him as an already-veiled bride. Only after the ceremony did he discover that she was not Rachel. In another story, Rebecca lowers her veil, and Isaac is so taken by her aura and beauty that he falls to the ground. If a bride is to be veiled, at some point before the ceremony – either before for after the processional – her intended places the veil over her face.
Among Sephardic Jews (those who originated in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula), the bedeken isn’t part of the wedding day. Instead, a henna party may be held during the week before the ceremony at which henna is applied to the palms of the wedding couple. These markings make them easily identifiable on the day of the ceremony and may, according to some, protect them from the “evil eye” at this joyous time in their lives.
The wedding party traditionally precedes the couple in the wedding procession. The bride and groom then proceed down the aisle together accompanied by both of their parents to symbolize that their union includes the union of both families and not just the bride and the groom.
It is customary, before entering the chuppah, for one partner to circle the other seven times. This alludes to the seven days of creation. It also acts as a reminder that marriage is itself a process of creation. In a contemporary update, many couples choose to circle each other three times, adding one final circle together. According to one interpretation, the circles represent the repetitive rhythm of Hosea 2:21-22. “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in compassion; and I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.”
The ceremony takes place under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, which represents God’s sheltering presence in the lives of the couple. The presence of family members under the chuppah signifies that family and friends will always be welcome in the couple’s home. A tallit (prayer shawl) that has special meaning to the couple can serve as a chuppah as can a handmade quilt or other covering. Some wedding canopies are not free-standing, requiring four individuals to hold the poles.
Erusin or Kiddushin (Betrothal)
The marriage ceremony consists of two separate parts: Erusin or Kiddushin (betrothal) and Nissuin (nuptials). Originally, these two ceremonies were separated by a period of several months; today they are combined into one.
Erusin begins with the traditional blessing over a cup of wine, which is then shared among the couple and their parents. The second blessing sanctifies the couple together in kiddushin, Hebrew for “marriage,” a word derived from the Hebrew word for “holy.”
The giving and accepting of an item of value in the presence of witnesses is part of what sanctifies a marriage. Therefore, the couple generally exchange rings as they declare, in Hebrew, “Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” The rings are solid signifying the wholeness and union achieved through marriage. Each ring is placed on the right index finger, demonstrating the ancient belief that the forefinger is connected by a direct line to the heart.
The second part of the wedding ceremony begins with the Sheva Brachot, or seven benedictions. These are chanted or recited – by the officiating clergy or friends of the couple – over a cup of wine. Two cups of wine represent the fact that the betrothal and nuptials were, originally, two separate ceremonies. There used to be a span of approximately a month between the 2 ceremonies but now both are performed on the same day. In the Sephardic community, the same cup used for Erusin is refilled for Nissuin. The seven blessings give thanks for the fruit of the vine, the creation of the world, the creation of humanity, the perpetuation of life, the continuation of the Jewish community, the joy of marriage, and the couple’s happiness.
Breaking the Glass
At the end of the ceremony, it is customary for the couple to break a glass. There are many interpretations of this ritual. Some consider it a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the first century. Others explain that the fragile glass reminds us of the delicate nature of marriage, which must always be cared for and cherished. At the sound of the breaking of the glass, guests traditionally clap and chant “mazel tov“.
After The Ceremony
Tradition holds that the couple spends a few minutes alone immediately following the wedding. The couple proceeds to a private room for yichud, which means “togetherness”. There, they will quietly share the excitement of their first moments together as a married couple. This custom is practiced among Ashkenazi Jews, but not by Sephardic Jews. This was traditionally an opportunity for the couple to consummate the marriage. Today it is more of a chance for the couple to reflect on their wedding ceremony and the start of their life together.
Seudat Mitzvah (The Wedding Feast)
According to Jewish law, wedding guests are commanded to celebrate and to increase the joy of the couple. There’s no more joyful way to do this than with dancing, including the hora, a traditional Jewish circle dance. In this dance, the couple holds a handkerchief between them while they are seated in chairs. They are then hoisted into the air by their guests. This dance is a celebration of the couple and recognizes the significance of their union.
If you are the final child to be married there are a few more traditional dances that may take place. If the bride is the last in her family to be married, she and her sisters will honor their mother in a tradition known as Krenzi. The mother is crowned with flowers and her daughters honor her in the form of dance.
Also, they were the youngest to be married both of the parents will be honored through the Mizinke dance. In this tradition, all of the guests circle the parents and shower them with flowers and praise.
The Jewish faith is a faith that is full of history and tradition. Many couples and their guests choose to honor these traditions by incorporating them into their wedding ceremony and reception. Many of these traditions are the defining moments of the celebration. They lend an atmosphere of historical significance to the wedding.
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