Jewish Wedding – A brief overview
The Jewish wedding contains many fascinating and meaningful rituals, symbolic gestures that not only consecrate the new couple’s marriage but bring out the inner beauty of that uniquely human institution. A marriage is a foundation to the Jewish family – the rock and the staple of Jewish continuity.
Other articles on the website may go into depth and detail of the wedding ceremony; here we wanted to describe briefly the layout of a traditional Jewish wedding.
According to the Talmud, only the man and the woman united compose a complete human being. As these two parts unite and enter a new stratum of their existence, some of the old gets erased. The Talmud says that when a person gets married his sins are corked. (Yevamos 63b) Thus the day of ones wedding is also a personal Yom Kippur.
As on Yom Kippur, both the chosson and kallah fast. In this case, from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony; although some fast only half a day so as not to be too weak for the wedding. And at the ceremony, the chosson wears a kittel, the traditional white robe worn on Yom Kippur.
It is customary for the chosson and kallah not to see each other for the week preceding the wedding. Separate receptions, called Kabbolas Panim, are held just prior to the wedding ceremony.
The chosson’s reception is also called the Tisch (Yiddish for table). The signing of the Tannaim and the Kesubah take place at the Tisch.
Next comes the badeken, the veiling of the kallah by the chosson. The chosson, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to the kallah’s reception room and places the veil over her face. A tender ceremony that perhaps dates back to the Talmudic period, the Bedeken serves as the first of many actions by which the groom signals his commitment to clothe and protect his wife. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac. According to some opinions the Badeken may even be considered as Chuppah. (Chuppah means covering)
The Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (canopy), a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple. Although the chuppah itself belongs to the second part of the wedding ceremony known as Nissuin, presently the entire wedding ceremony is conducted under it. The chuppah is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality.
The chuppah is usually held outside, under the stars, as a sign of the blessing given by G-d to the patriarch Abraham that his children shall be as the stars of the heavens.
The chosson and kallah traditionally don’t wear jewelry under the chuppah (marriage canopy). Their mutual commitment to one another is based on who they are as people not on their respective material possessions.
The chosson, and then the kallah, are usually escorted to the chuppah by their respective sets of parents.
Under the chuppah, the kallah circles the chosson seven times. Just as the world was created in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of the couple’s new home. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately.
The kallah then settles at her chosson’s right-hand side.
The marriage ceremony consists of two parts: Kiddushin and Nissuin. Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessing, after which the couple drinks from the cup.
The chosson now takes the wedding ring in his hand, and in clear view of two witnesses, he declares to his wife: Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel, and then places the ring on the forefinger of his bride’s right hand. Kiddushin is complete, and according to Jewish law, this is the central moment of the Jewish wedding ceremony, and the couple is now fully married at this point.
Kesubah – Marriage Contract
The Kesubah (marriage contract) is read in the original Aramaic in order to separate the two parts of the wedding ceremony. In marriage, the chosson accepts upon himself certain marital responsibilities which are detailed in the Kesubah. His principal obligations are to provide food, shelter and clothing for his wife, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. The protection of the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed and handed to the bride.
The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The Kesubah is the property of the kallah and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home.
The Seven Blessings
The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachos) are now recited over the second cup of wine. These blessings carry the theme of joy and love, and the hope for ultimate redemption of the Jewish nation which is often compared to a bride.
These blessings are recited by the rabbi or other people that the families wish to honor.
At the conclusion of the seven blessings, the chosson and kallah again drink some of the wine.
Breaking of the glass
A glass is now placed on the floor, and the chosson shatters it with his foot. This act serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and connects the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, should be mindful of the Psalmist’s injunction to set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Shouts of Mazel Tov fill the ballroom the moment the glass is broken, and the chosson and kallah are then given an enthusiastic reception from the guests as they leave the chuppah together and head toward the Yichud room, their temporary private chamber.
The couple is escorted to a private room and left alone for the first time. These moments of seclusion complete the marriage ceremony, and two witnesses will remain near the door of the couples’ room.
Since the couple has been fasting since the morning, at this point they break their fast.
The Festive Meal (Seudah)
It is a mitzvah for guests to bring simchah (joy) to the chosson and the kallah on their wedding day.
After the meal, Birkas Hamazon ( Grace After Meals ) is recited, and the Sheva Brachos are repeated.
During the week following the wedding, it is customary for friends and relatives to host festive meals in honor of the chosson and kallah. This is called the week of Sheva Brachos, because of the blessings said at the conclusion of each of these festive meals. Two new guests must be present at these meals for the blessings to be recited.
Now the Jewish wedding is truly complete; a Jewish marriage is now in progress.