Jewish Wedding Traditions
With all the differences, Jewish weddings have much in common. The Rabbis who wrote Jewish law, Halakhah, made it easy for couples to marry with minimal requirements.A Kosher Jewish wedding may consist of the following: the bride accepts an object worth more than a dime from the groom, the groom recites a ritual formula of acquisition and consecration. These two acts are witnessed, and that is it. Everything else is a custom: the canopy (chuppah), the seven wedding blessings, the breaking of a glass and even the presence of a Rabbi.The wedding ceremony may be conducted in a synagogue, temple or other location of the couple's choosing: many are in the same site as the reception. The ceremony is usually performed by a Rabbi if held in a synagogue.
Many Americans of the Jewish faith desire a wedding which reflects their heritage. You must understand where relatives and ancestors may have originated from to plan the wedding reflecting your heritage.
Please feel free to contact us with your comments, and any other traditions which you would like us to include. Enjoy reading!
To understand the Jewish wedding, you must understand the differences among Jews and Jewish observances.Within the world's Jewish population, which is considered a single self-identifying ethnicity, there are distinct ethnic divisions, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an originating Israelite population, and subsequent independent evolutions. Jewish people divide themselves intoAskhenazi Jews (descended from Eastern European Jews), African Jews (Ethiopian, Nigerian, Ugandan Jews, also not of the aforemention major ethnic backgrounds) Sephardic Jews from Iberia (Spain and Portugal), Indian, Bukharan, Persian, Iraqi, Yemenite Jew, and Mizrahi (Eastern or Middle Eastern Jews [not of Spanish/Portuguese or Sephardic origin]). They have very different customs, evident in the celebration of holidays and life cycle events like weddings.
Judaism is divided into three basic groups. Jewish weddings differ depending on whether the Rabbi and/or congregation is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform and depending on whether the customs are Ashkenazi or Sephardic.
Weddings may not be conducted on the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), other holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover Shavuot, and Sukkoth); the three weeks between the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, which generally fall in July and/or August and commemorate the destruction of the Temple; the Omer period (between Passover and Shavuot), seven weeks that usually fall in April and May.During a period of mourning of a member of the immediate family (parent, child, sibling or spouse), the wedding should be postponed for at least thirty days following the burial.
Planning the Wedding
The bride and bridegroom should meet with the Rabbi shortly after they become engaged to select a date and be correctly advised. The Hebrew calendar is lunar; holidays are celebrated on different dates each year, so this visit to the Rabbi is very important.The time of day for the wedding is left up to the couple. The five day work week has made Sundays the most popular day for a wedding. Saturday night weddings may be held an hour and a half after sunset.
The Wedding Invitation
The wedding invitation may be a two-sided text. The left side of the text will be in Hebrew and the right side in English. The Jewish invitation often does not "request the honor of your presence" but to "dance at" or to "share in the joy of".
The invitation may be issued from the bridal couple and/or from both parents. The invitation reflects the celebration of marriage and the participation of the guests.
In recalling the tradition of giving to the poor during times of personal joy, some couples may include a note indicating in lieu of a gift for themselves that a donation be made to charity. Very often the wording includes biblical text.
The Egyptian Jewish bridegroom donned feminine attire, while the bride wore a helmet, and, with a sword in her hand, led the procession and the dance in the Middle Ages.The wedding is considered a personal Yom Kippur, a day of repentance and forgiveness of the couple. The Jewish practice of wearing white is for physical virginity as well as spiritual pureness.
The Orthodox bride will wear white to symbolize that she has been to the mikvah in preparation for the wedding. The groom wears a kittel (a short white linen robe) over his suit to indicate his spiritual readiness for marriage. (The groom may wear the kittel to other special ritual occasions - Yom Kippur, at Passover seders and finally as a shroud.)
The marriage document, called a Ketuba, is a contract, written in Aramaic, which outlines the bridegroom's responsibility for and to the bride.In ancient Arabia, it was the custom of providing the wife with a dowry to protect the wife in the event of her becoming widowed or divorced. This written obligation entitles her to receive a certain sum from his estate in the case of his death or in the case of divorce.
The complete term of this document is the kethubhah (the marriage deed). A minimum obligation was two hundred silver denarii at the marriage of a virgin and one hundred at the marriage of a widow. For the security of the wife's claim, the amount fixed in the kethubhah are: all the property of the husband, both real and personal that was mortgaged.
A Ketuba today is signed by the bridegroom and two witnesses. Although this custom continues, the document has little legal significance in many countries.
Couples sometimes commission artists and scribes to create beautiful Ketubas and then have the work of art matted, framed and hung in their homes. The Ketuba becomes the property of the bride after the wedding.
Since the early 1970s, the Ketuba has included a parallel declaration of commitment made by the bride and groom, followed by a joint affirmation of the couples connection to God, Torah, mitzvoth, and to the Jewish people.
The Wedding Ceremony
After the Ketuba is signed, the Rabbi and the two fathers lead a procession of the bridegroom and male guests into the bride's chamber for the badekan (veiling) ceremony. This custom comes from the biblical story of Jacob, who worked for seven years to marry Rachel, only to discover her father had substituted the older, blind Leah, under heavy veiling. Bridegrooms still come to look at their bride before the ceremony and actually place the face veil over her.One the bride is veiled, the ceremony is ready to begin. Grandparents are seated first, the bride's to the right of the center aisle and the bridegroom's to the left.
The actual procession order for the Rabbi and cantor is determined by local custom. In most case, if the Rabbi is planning to come down the aisle, which often happens when the ceremony is not in a temple or synagogue, he will be next. The groomsmen will follow, one at a time, usually standing to the left of the chuppah (canopy).
The chuppah is supported by four poles in stanchions, but could be held by four men during the ceremony, as frequently done in Sepharic tradition. The chuppah seems to have been derived from the canopied litter which in ancient time was occupied by the bride during the procession.
It symbolically establishes a house in public to represent that their lives will be spent together. Sometimes, a large talis (prayer shawl) is put on the poles and held above the couple to create the chuppah.
The best man comes down the aisle alone and goes under the chuppah on the left. The bridegroom, escorted by his parents, go under the chuppah to the left of the best man. The bridesmaids follow, single file, and stand to the right of the chuppah. The maid or matron of honor comes alone, and stands under the chuppah on the right side. She is followed by the flower girl and ring bearer, if any.
The bride comes down the aisle next, escorted by her parents. They stop just before the chuppah and the parents may lift her veil and give her a kiss. They then replace the veil and walk up under the chuppah on the right side. When her parents are in their places, the bride takes three steps on her own, symbolizing her decision to enter the marriage, and the bridegroom comes to escort her under the chuppah. The bridegroom turns as he joins her, so she is on his right.
During the ceremony, in Hebrew and English, the Rabbi reads the Ketuba and the couple drinks wine. Sephardic Rabbis usually wrap the couple in a talis, symbolizing their becoming one.
In ancient times, "something of value" often was a coin, but today it usually is a ring. The ring must be of solid gold, with no stones or gems, and it must, at the ceremony, be the bridegroom's property. Only one ring, given to the bride by the groom, is required by Jewish law. This ring represents the wholeness achieved through marriage and a hope for an unbroken union. The ring may be engraved inside.
Traditional Rabbis refuse to perform a double ring ceremony. A liberal Rabbi may incorporate a ring from the bride to the groom as a gift. Today, when many couples select diamond wedding sets, it often is necessary for the couple to borrow a family ring for the ceremony. To do this and meet the ownership condition, the bridegroom must "buy" the ring from the family member and "sell" it back after the wedding.
In most ceremonies, the bridegroom repeats a Hebrew vow after the Rabbi, with the giving of the ring. The bridegroom would declare, "Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Rabbi will ask the best man to place a wine glass, wrapped in a white cloth or in a special bag the couple provides, under the bridegroom's right foot. There are nearly as many interpretations of the meaning of the breaking of the glass as there are Rabbis. The bridegroom will break it, symbolizing: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, man's short life on earth; that even in the midst of the happy occasion we should not forget that sorrow and death are also ahead. (Sometimes in place of a glass a light bulb wrapped in a cloth or napkin is used.)
The breaking of the glass also has sexual connotations. It is a symbolic enactment of breaking the hymen, which explains why it is considered important that the groom "accomplish" the task.
After the glass is broken, the guests shout "Mazel Tov," clap their hands, embrace and sing as the couple departs. (The shattered glass may then be kept as a keepsake in a velvet pouch.) The bride and bridegroom will kiss immediately after being declared "man and wife" and then run up the aisle into a Yichud.
The Yichud is a brief seclusion where the couple can spend a few moments together before joining their guests. When the couple has fasted until the ceremony, this is their opportunity to break the fast with either a chicken soup or their favorite food. Even couples who have not fasted appreciate the few moments along in what is usually a hectic and emotionally packed day.
The Conclusion of the Wedding Ceremony
Because of this brief seclusion, Jewish weddings usually do not have receiving lines. After the Yichud, the bridal couple is introduced as husband and wife. They may be greeted with a toast or a shower of rice.
To assist all guests often a wedding booklet or program is given to the guests. The booklet may include a copy of the wedding invitation, a copy of the Ketuba text, names of all the wedding vendors, a note from the couple, and an explanation of the different aspects of the ceremony.
The Reform (or Liberal) Ceremony
The Reform movement was founded in Germany in the second half of the 19th Century, and is the most assimilated form of Judaism.Some Reform Rabbis invite the couple to the Temple on the Friday evening before the wedding and bless them in front of the congregation.
Reform Rabbis use a document, similar to the Ketuba, called a "marriage certificate" which also is signed before the wedding. In this case, it usually is signed only by the witnesses, who may be women, may be relatives and even may be non-Jewish.
Most Reform couples do not greet their guest before the wedding.
In Reform ceremonies, the couple often drink twice from one cup of wine.
After the bridegroom declares, "Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel," the Reform bride usually will reply, in Hebrew, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
Some Reform Rabbis do not require conversion and will perform interfaith marriages.
Rabbi begins with prayer, and asks if the couples comes of their own free will
The Wine Service (bride and groom drink from the cup)
The Ring Service
The Final Benediction
The Orthodox Wedding Ceremony
The Orthodox movement follows the Torah literally.In Orthodox ceremonies, the bridegroom is honored by being called to read from the Torah (called an Aliyah) in the synagogue on the Sabbath before the wedding. This ceremony is called an Aufruf. In some synagogues, the women of the congregation throw candy and nuts at the bridegroom as he completes his recitation of the benedictions to wish the couple a sweet and fertile life.
The bride does not sign the Ketuba; it is read as part of the ceremony and given to her.
The ceremony only requires the man to give a ring to the woman, but many Rabbis allow a double-ring ceremony. During the ceremony, the ring will be placed on the bride's right index finger, up to the second knuckle. This finger is chosen because it is said to go directly to the soul, and because it is used as the "pointer" when reading the Torah. The bride usually puts the ring on the left ring after the ceremony. When the bride gives a ring to the bridegroom during the ceremony, she will put it directly on his left ring finger.
Ceremonies always take place under a chuppah.
Brides usually visit the mikvah (ritual bath) the morning of their wedding day (or as close to that day as possible) as an act of purification. Brides and bridegrooms are encouraged to fast on their wedding day until the ceremony.
When guests arrive at the ceremony, male guests go into a room with the bridegroom while the female guests go into a room where the bride is sitting on a throne-type chair. This traditional "public beckoning" is common and actually may be "private," with just family and wedding party in attendance.
Before the ceremony, the bridegroom may celebrate with his friends by eating and drinking items on a special table, called a chassans tisch.
Brides often circle their bridegrooms three or seven times when they come under the chuppah, from the verse "A woman shall go around a man." (Jeremiah 31:22).
After the bridegroom declares, "Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel," the bride does not respond. Rabbi's will not officiate at the marriage of a Jew and a non-Jew.
Bride is escorted to the canopy
The Bride circles the groom seven or three times, as the custom may be
The wedding Address
Sharing of the cup of wine
The Ring Service
The Ketuba is read
Second cup of wine is offered
Bride and groom share the wine
The Conservative Wedding Ceremony
The conservative movement was founded in the United States around the turn of the 20th century.In Conservative ceremonies, the bridegroom is honored by being called to read from the Torah (called an Aliyah) in the synagogue on the Sabbath before the wedding. This ceremony is called an Aufruf. In some synagogues, the congregation's women throw candy and nuts at the bridegroom as he completes his recitation of the benedictions to wish the couple a sweet, fertile life.
In some Conservative congregations, the bride may be called to read the Torah with her bridegroom, and she may even read with him if she reads Hebrew.
The bride may sign the Ketuba. It is read as part of the ceremony and given to the bride; it is to remain in her possession throughout the marriage.
Wherever the wedding is conducted, Conservative ceremonies always will take place under a chuppah.
Many conservative couples fast on the wedding day until after the ceremony, but it is not required.
When guests arrive at a Conservative ceremony, the female guests go into a room where the bride is sitting on a throne-type chair. This traditional "public reckoning" is common and actually may be "private" with just family and wedding party in attendance.
While most Conservative couples do not greet their guests before the wedding, many Rabbis do not bring the bridegroom into the bride's chamber for the badekan ceremony.
After the bridegroom declares, "Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel," the Conservative bride usually replies, in Hebrew, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
Conservative Rabbis will not officiate at the marriage of a Jew and a non-Jew, but will officiate at marriages between a Jew and one who has converted to Judaism.
Processional - all members of the bridal party take their places under the Chuppah
Rabbi may offer a prayer
The first cup of wine is given
The groom presents the bride with a ring and places on her right forefinger
The Ketuba is read
If a double ring ceremony, the bride presents a ring to the groom
Rabbi will offer homily or sermon
The groom breaks a glass
Other Wedding Traditions
Immediately after the religious ceremony, the newly wedded Japanese Jewish couple jumps three times over a large platter filled with fresh fish, or over a vessel containing live fish, or step seven times backwards and forwards over a fish. The ceremony is expounded to be the symbol of prayer for children.It is written that the bridegroom on the marriage day "take a raw egg, which he casts at the Bride; intimating thereby his desire that she may have both an easy and joyful childbirth".
Western Russian Jews have the custom of setting a raw egg before a bride as a symbol of fruitfulness, and that she may bear as easily as a hen lays an egg.
The Wedding Reception
The meal is begun with a blessing over a wedding challah (a large braided loaf of egg-rich bread). This blessing may be led by the bride and groom. The bridal couple may then bring a piece of challah to each table. This may allow them to greet their guests.
The wedding celebration is lively Israeli folk music creating involvement of people rather than couples. Music need not only be Jewish music, whatever it takes to encourage the crowd to celebrate.
The "Hora," or traditional dance of celebration is done. The dance most widely known is when the bride and groom are lifted in chairs on the shoulders of their guests. There is no planned time for this to happen, just "when the spirit hits". Sometimes the couple will be whirled around each other, holding the ends of a handkerchief or they may be paraded around the room.
In the Jewish tradition, a wedding meal is to be prepared Kosher style, within the laws of the Torah, means no mixing of meat and dairy.
Kosher or kosher style foods would be those with no pork or shellfish. Meat and dairy products cannot be served at the same meal.
The Conclusion of the Celebration
A traditional way to conclude the celebration is by a chanting of blessings which closes the day with spirit, dignity and finality.
A booklet called "benchers" is usually distributed late in the day to the guests. This booklet has songs and readings. (This booklet may also be a favor with the name of the bride and groom, or included in the wedding program.)
The bridal couple may sit at a special table in the middle of the dance floor with all the guests gathered around them. The initial prayer is read, then the seven marriage blessings are offered by persons you chose (who were not under the marriage chuppah). One person may chant in Hebrew while the English translation is read.
The final act may be the "cup of blessing" in which a full goblet of wine is held up, a second goblet is poured, then wine from both cups is mixed in a third goblet, and the bride and groom drink from this cup. The person leading this closing will call upon the guests for personal blessings. Sometimes this may be done table by table or just spontaneously.
Resources and References
Special thanks to Lois Pearce, Master Bridal Consultant of Hamden, Connecticut, for her time and energy gathering the majority of information used here. We also wish to thank the Association of Bridal Consultants for their assistance.
Please note that the information contained in this category should be considered general in nature. We believe it to be a true and accurate representation of some of the customs and traditions for this country or religion. Information provided by individuals and organizations is assumed to be correct.
You are welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for changes, additions or deletions.
www.BecomingJewish.org A Short History of Marriage, Edward Westermarck, Humanities Press, 1968
The New Jewish wedding, Anita Diamant, Summit Books, 1985
Weddings, A Complete Guide to All Religious and Interfaith Marriage Services, Abraham J. Klausner Alpha Publishing Company 1986