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Jewish Wedding Guide


If you have never attended a Jewish wedding, you are in for a real treat.  Some ceremonies are rich in tradition and follow the steps outlined below.  Non-traditional couples often incorporate some of these rituals.  As a guest, you might want to check with the hosts to see if there are any dress requirements.  Example:  a woman wearing a sleeveless dress at a Hassidic wedding might feel out-of-place.  While wedding ceremonies vary,  there are some features common to most.

The Signing and Reading of the Ketubah (marriage contract)

The ketubah details the obligations of one partner to another. This is a legally binding agreement.  Traditionally, ketubahs were illuminated manuscript that were  framed and displayed in the home (not in the bedroom).  Normall, the signed ketubah is read aloud as the couple stands under the chuppah (wedding canopy).

The Chuppah

A temporary shelter where the bride, groom and some members of the wedding party stand during the ceremony.  Chuppahs vary greatly from a tallit attached to four poles to intricately crafted structures elaborately decorated with flowers and fabric.     

Covering the Bride's Face (Badeken)

Ashkenazi Jews have a custom to cover the face of the bride.   The practice is reminiscent of  forefather Jacob who was tricked by his future brother-in-law, Laban into marrying Leah first, before he could marry Rebecca, the younger of the sisters.   Sephardic Jews do not perform this ceremony.

Encircling the Groom

The bride  walks around the groom as she arrives at the Chuppah.  Traditionally, the bride makes seven circuits around the groom.  A modern custom is for the groom to also encircle the bride also.  This practice derives from the Biblical concept that seven denotes completeness.

The Blessings

In Traditional WeddingsTwo blessings are recited before the betrothal; a blessing over wine, and the betrothal blessing.  The wine is then tasted by the couple. The groom gives the bride a plain gold wedding band  and recites the declaration: Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel. The groom places the ring on the bride’s right index finger, During some egalitarian weddings, the bride may also present a ring to the groom.

Breaking the Glass

At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass, smashing it with his right foot, and the guests shout "Mazel tov!" ("Congratulations").  A modern addition is that both the bride and groom both break glasses.  Beautiful glass smashing (breaking) cups are sold at judaism.com.  Each comes with a matching satin or velvet bag.  The broken shards can be incorporated into many pieces of Judaica or decorative vessels.
While many explanations have been given for the origin of the custom, the primary reason is that joy is tempered since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem . Because of this, some recite the verses "If I forget thee / O Jerusalem..." at this point

Yichud (Togetherness or Seculsion)

The couple retreats to a private room for 15-30 minutes.  A light meal is provided as many couples have fasted for the day

Additional Nuances

Many sects have their own ceremonial practices regarding dress, custom, or additional prayers.  The ceremonies of Sephardic Jews often omit some of the practice outlined above.  If this is a new experience for you, enjoy the beauty of the ceremony.

Celebrations/Reception

Traditional Jewish celebrations differ from those of non-traditional or secular Jews.  The concept is to bring great joy to the new couple.  Some participants might juggle, dress up, perform dances or compose songs, or dress  in costume.  There is much dancing by all.  With most Orthodox weddings, the dance floor will have a separation between men and women.  Even if you don't know the dances, get up and participate.  It's a mitzvah to add your own personal joy to the wedding celebration.  


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