Jewish Wedding Traditions

Ketubah

The ketubah is a Jewish legal document that confirms the religious bond of marriage.  Historically, the ketubah was a very progressive document.  It provided women with legal status and rights in marriage.  Today, it recognizes not only legal commitment, but also that love, friendship and communication are necessary in a marriage.  According to the rabbinic principle of hiddur mitzvah, when a physical object is needed to fulfill a commandment, the object should be made as beautiful as possible.

Bedeken

Bedeken means “covering” in Yiddish.  Traditionally, the groom will place the veil over the bride’s face.  The custom arose in reference to the biblical account of Jacob’s first marriage, when he was deceived and found himself married to the heavily veiled Leah instead of Rachel, his intended bride.  Some Modern Jewish couples choose to use the ritual of the lowering of the veil as a moment to look into each other’s eyes, allowing them to connect to one another and to reflect upon the love that has brought them to this moment.

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Chuppah

The chuppah under which the couple stands during the ceremony represents the home they will build together.  The chuppah is open on all four sides, recalling the tent of Sarah and Abraham, and symbolizing that family and friends are always welcome in the couple’s home.

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Hakafot

“A woman shall go around a man” (Jeremiah 31:22)

The bride’s circling of the groom prior to entering the Chuppah is not a part of the wedding liturgy, but rather a very old custom.  One explanation is the bride’s circle may be seen as a way of binding the groom to her.  Her circuits symbolically create a new family circle, demonstrating her primary allegiance has shifted from her parents to her husband and her husband is now bound more intimately to her.


The Marriage Ceremony:

The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is actually composed of two separate and distinct parts.  The first part of the ceremony is generally known as erusin (betrothal) or kiddushin (holiness) and this ceremony calls on the groom to recite a certain formula and then give his bride something of value (the ring).  The second part of the marriage ceremony; known as nissuin (Hebrew for “marriage,” from the verb “to carry”), contrasts greatly from the legal nature of erusin.  This is the ceremony where love, spirituality, and connection to God are mentioned.

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Erusin/Betrothal

Wine is the Jewish people’s symbol for joy and celebration.  Therefore, it is the first blessing recited in the Betrothal ceremony.  Reciting a blessing over wine sanctifies it and thus changes it from ordinary into something sacred and holy.  Traditionally, the wine is not drunk after the kiddush but is held until after the betrothal blessing.

The final part of the Erusin ceremony is the act that legally makes the two individuals standing under the Chuppah into a married couple, the exchange of rings.  The wedding ring is a symbol of perfection and eternity.  The ring is a perfect circle, having no beginning or end and made of pure metal without any precious stones.  The groom places the ring on the index finger of the right hand that, according to ancient folklore, is thought to contain an artery that runs directly to the heart.

It is customary to make a clear separation between the two parts of the wedding ceremony with the reading of the ketubah and brief words from the clergy.

Nissuin/Sheva Brachot

During this ceremony the focus shifts from legalities to the sacred relationship of two partners joining together in a loving commitment.  It begins with the chanting of the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings).  The set of blessings begin with the kiddush, the blessing over the wine and, from there, each blessing enlarges the circle to include not only the couple standing under the Chuppah but also the entire Jewish community – past, present, and future.

  1. The first blessing follows the tradition of beginning joyous occasions with a blessing over wine.
  2. The second praises God.
  3. The third alludes to the creation of man and woman, because newlyweds are considered to be reborn.
  4. The fourth refers to the creation of humans in the image of God therefore eternally bonding bride and groom together.
  5. The fifth affirms faith in God’s eventual restoration of Zion and Jerusalem.
  6. The sixth prays that the bride and groom experience the joy Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden.
  7. The final blessing contains ten synonyms for joy; paralleling the ten times that Israel is called a Kallah (bride) in scripture.  The blessing ends with a prayer for joy and gladness in the streets of Jerusalem.

Breaking of the Glass

The final ritual in the Jewish wedding ceremony is probably the best known.  There are many explanations for the custom that began in the 14th century.  It can signify that the wedding day is a day of irrevocable change.  The moment when the glass is broken the bride and groom’s separate lives end and their life as a married couple begins.  The act is a reminder that relationships are fragile and must be treated with great care, love and mutual respect.

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Yihud

The word yihud is derived from a Hebrew word which means “one” and has come to represent the transition when two individuals become one.  After the ceremony, the couple adjourns to a room for a few minutes of private time.  This is a period of bonding, privacy and reflection before they join guests for the celebration!

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