So, you’re attending a Jewish wedding…
If it’s your first time attending one, then there are a few things you need to know to avoid any (unpleasant) surprises.
Jewish wedding ceremonies have a different order, unique rituals, and special Jewish wedding gifts… It’s a completely different beast!
And you don’t want to be bitten by the beast, now do you?
Note: Just kidding, no one is going to bite you… Jewish people are friendly 🙂
This Jewish wedding ceremony guide is here to help you learn what you’re up against, so you don’t end up scratching your head all night wondering what the hell is going on.
Table of Contents
With all the food, dancing and celebrating going on, it’s easy to forget that a Jewish wedding ceremony is, first of all, a spiritual day.
In fact, in Judaism, a person’s wedding day is considered a day of forgiveness similar to Yom Kippur. And just as we fast on Yom Kippur, the bride & groom also fast on their wedding day.
Wait, but Why?
“I thought a Jewish wedding was a happy moment… why the fasting?”
It is a happy moment… in fact, that’s exactly why this custom exists in the first place.
Let me explain…
Fasting represents the transition occurring in the Jewish couple’s lives: according to our tradition, it’s the day the couple’s souls unite… the day they change from two separates into one whole.
The act of fasting highlights the spiritual significance of this day. It shows that our physical celebration is only secondary to our spiritual celebration.
The Reception (Kabbalat Panim)
This is where you get to smile at the camera for the first time.
You’ll usually have the couple’s family greeting you at the entrance and where the hugs & kisses are given (depending on how religious the wedding is, so be careful).
But then comes what some guests consider their favorite part of the wedding (though they won’t admit it).
Food, snacks & alcohol, obviously.
It’s a party after all. We’re here to celebrate. So it’s custom to have some delicious food at the reception.
Wait, but Why?
“What’s the point of having this reception?”
Imagine you’re going to a restaurant. You don’t eat the main course right away, nor does the waitress even bother you at first.
First, you want your guests to relax, order starters, a few refreshments and drinks.
Signing the Ketubah
Let’s call a spade a spade: the Ketubah is a (fairly one-sided) prenuptial agreement highlighting the groom’s responsibility for taking care of his wife.
It’s a legally binding contract requiring the husband to provide his wife with basic necessities, such as food, clothing and conjugal rights. It also states the husband’s obligation to pay a pre-specified amount of money in case the couple file for divorce.
Essentially, the woman gets a bill of protection signed by her husband, and a fine piece of art – which might end up getting displayed in their future home, if the husband is (un)lucky.
Wait, But Why?
“Isn’t this a bit “old-fashioned”?
Many modern Jewish couples believe so.
In fact, there’s been a common trend among many reform and conservative Jews in the past few years of “modifying” the Ketubah to make it more Egalitarian. That includes writing the Ketubah in English (originally written in Aramaic).
This obviously raises many questions (especially among Orthodox Jews)… but let’s not go into that debate shall we?
Veiling the Bride (Badeken)
The veiling of the bride is commonly known as “Badeken”.
The groom is led towards his bride, usually accompanied by the two fathers.
The veil most important role is to highlight the groom’s interest in his bride’s personality and inner beauty, VS her external beauty.
Wait, but Why?
What’re the real reasons behind the veil?
There are many other symbolical reasons why women wear a veil on their wedding night:
- The veil represents dignity, honor, and purity.
- It’s a symbol of modesty.
- It conveys maturity and significance.
So it kind of makes sense why it represents married women – to signify the importance and holiness of this moment, and her new status as a married woman.
The Chuppah is probably the most emotional part of the wedding. It’s where the actual wedding ceremony takes place.
The Chuppah is actually the wedding canopy, but the word “Chuppah” was popularized to also describe the ceremony itself.
The Chuppah represents the future home the bride and groom will create. The “walls” of the Chuppah are actually played by the couple’s family & friends, to represent the future love and care they will surround their own home and family with.
In some Jewish cultures (especially Ashkenazi), it’s common for the bride to circle the groom seven times.
Why 7 times? To strengthen their newly built foundation and symbolize their own “new world” they’re about to create.
Did You Know?
The number 7 has many strong associations in Judaism. It represents creation (the world was created in 7 days), fortune and blessing (Sabbath = 7th day).
After the rabbi finishes reciting a few blessings over wine, the groom places a solid, gold ring on the woman’s finger while citing the Talmud:
“Be sanctified to me with this ring in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel”
In Hebrew: הֲרֵי אַתְּ מְקֻדֶּשֶׁת לִי בְּטַבַּעַת זוֹ כְּדַת מֹשֶׁה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל
Wait, but Why?
“Why a solid, gold ring? What does it symbolize? Tell me more!”
There are actually quite a few reasons for it:
- The ring’s circle shape represents the eternity of the bond the couple is now forming
- Traditionally, the ring should be made of plain gold and have a solid exterior – without any ornamentation covering it, to represent the hope that the married couple’s marriage will be clean and solid as the ring
Here’s that number 7 again.
The seven blessings, also known as “Sheva Berachot”, is where the rabbi recites seven blessings for the new young couple.
The blessings cover several aspects:
- Thanking & praising G-d for his creation
- Wishing the couple will rejoice together forever like Adam & Eve
- A prayer for rebuilding Jerusalem and the holy temple
Wait, but Why?
“What’s the real meaning of Sheva Berachot?”
The true meaning of the seven blessings is to acknowledge that the couple’s marriage has a much higher goal than satisfying their own needs and desires.
Their marriage represents completeness, the combining of two split souls into one complete soul, which was created in God’s image.
Break the Glass!
Yes, that’s usually how it goes.
The groom shatters a glass with his foot to express the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Wait, but Why?
“Ok, I get it… but why break a glass? What does breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding actually mean?”
The popular answer is that it commemorates and symbolizes the fall of Jerusalem.
But actually, there’s a deeper meaning behind it.
The breaking of the glass represents the two fragmented souls.
Before the souls were sent to this world, they were originally one complete soul. When they got sent here, they were split into two soul fragments: one male, one female.
When a Jewish couple gets married, their souls reunite again, which gave us a reason for this wonderful celebration.
The breaking of the glass symbolizes that everything happens for the best… and if your one soul wouldn’t have been shattered into two parts, you wouldn’t be able to celebrate with your loved ones this joyous moment of two souls reuniting into one soul again.
That’s also why people yell Mazal tov at this moment because we trust that everything happens for the best.
Seudah (aka Party Time)
Yes, it’s called Seudah (feast).
But the highlight here is probably the drinking, the dancing and the partying.
It’s considered a huge Mitzvah to bring joy to the bride and groom on their special day, and this is where you get to express it.
So why not, have a glass of wine.
Wait, but Why?
“It’s their wedding day… aren’t they happy already? Why do they need me to dance like a madman and spread my love?”
You get to fulfill the Mitzvah of “love thy neighbor as thyself”
Making one’s personal celebration a community celebration. Love is best celebrated when shared with many people, VS by yourself.
Finally, some alone time. No parents, friends, or cameramen to be found (I hope).
Just you and your new spouse. Together. Looking at each other’s eyes, reflecting on the day you just had, and on the life ahead of you together. And it starts right at this moment, at the Yichud.
Wait, but why?
“Why do they need time to be alone?” I want to continue celebrating with them!”
You’ll understand when you get old.
A Jewish wedding ceremony is a big deal: lots of happiness and emotions (and alcohol) involved.
It’s where Jewish tradition is demonstrated in all its beauty.
Where old Jewish men/women will try to set you up with their niece/nephew (even when you’re not single)…or perhaps that’s just me?
Don’t worry, you’ll have a great time!
Mazel Tov 🙂