The Jewish Wedding
Rabbi Shalom Kantor
Jewish weddings are probably the most exciting and special events in all of our traditions. The dawning wedding day can be the happiest and holiest day of one's life. We all have been to or will be attending one if not several of these in our lives (the year that I got married we attended or were invited to 11 such celebrations). They can be filled with fun, excitement and holiness of the highest level.
With that in mind I would like to share with you a brief outline and thoughts on some of the different parts of a wedding, so that when you are a guest, or it is your turn to enter into that special day of your own, you will feel more comfortable participating and embracing all that our tradition has to offer.
The Jewish wedding is rich with ceremony, beginning with the announcement of intent to marry and ending with seven days of celebration. Even before the wedding itself there are pre-festivities in which some couples choose to take part.
The Wedding Day
The wedding day is considered a personal Yom Kippur for the Groom (hatan) and Bride (kallah), for on this day it is said that all their past mistakes are forgiven. Thus, they start out their new life together with a clean slate. Just as on Yom Kippur, the hatan and kallah engage in fasting (just until after the ceremony), immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath), wearing white garments and saying penitential prayers asking for forgiveness (taken directly from the Yom Kippur liturgy).
A traditional Jewish wedding begins with separate receptions for the groom and the bride. The groom presides over a tish (literally, "table"), around which the guests sing and make toasts, while the groom attempts to deliver a scholarly talk, while his close friends work hard to interrupt him and not really let him totally deliver the talk. This helps in relieving any tension that may exist for the groom as he is about to enter into this monumental transition. I have often heard this referred to as the "pre-party" for those who prefer the language of the party culture.
The ketubah, or marriage contract, is traditionally signed at the tish before two witnesses, and the groom accepts the obligations by a legal consent process called kinyan (acquisition).
Kabbalat Panim / The Bride's Reception
The bride's reception is usually more peaceful and relaxed. It is an old tradition, referred to in the Talmud, for the bride to sit on an attractive throne. Surrounded by her attendants, close family members, and friends, she receives guests and well wishers. The tradition teaches that the bride’s prayers have extra power and often those with specific wishes or needs will ask the bride to pray on their behalf on the day of her wedding. In general this is a beautiful time to rejoice and relax while waiting for the hatan and his entourage to arrive for the bedeken.
Bedeken / Veiling
The bedeken ceremony is where the groom covers the bride's face with a veil. Reasons for veiling range from emulation of the matriarchs, who veiled themselves, to bridal modesty, to the groom performing his obligation to clothe his wife. This is also a beautiful opportunity for the parents of both the hatan and kallah to offer blessings to their children.
The marriage ceremony is conducted under a huppah (wedding canopy), which symbolizes the new home that the bride and groom are creating together. In a traditional wedding, the bride circles the groom, but in modern weddings both may circle each other or the custom may be dropped altogether. The number of circles varies and is based on the number of times certain phrases appear in the Torah.
The Jewish wedding ceremony combines two formerly separate ceremonies: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage).
The betrothal involves two blessings, one over wine and the other reserving the couple for each other and forbidding them to have relationships with anyone else. This blessing reflects an earlier practice in which the bride and groom did not consummate their marriage until about a year after the formal betrothal, when the bride moved into the groom's home.
Next the groom performs the act that formalizes the marriage: He places the ring on the bride's index finger and recites in Hebrew, "Behold, by this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel.
The reading of the ketubah, which was signed and accepted at the hatan’s tish, serves as a divider between the betrothal and marriage ceremonies.
The nissuin ceremony involves the recitation of seven blessings, called the sheva berakhot, whose themes include creation of the world and human beings, survival of the Jewish people, the couple's joy and the raising of a family.
After the Ceremony
The ceremony ends when the groom (or in some liberal ceremonies, both bride and groom) shatters a glass. Reasons cited for this custom are to quiet boisterous guests, to remind Jews of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and to allude to sexual consummation of the marriage.
The bride and groom then go to a yihud (seclusion) room, where they spend some time alone and eat a small snack together to break the pre-wedding fast.
The wedding feast that follows is a seudat mitzvah, a commanded meal--accompanied by good food, dancing, and singing--where it is a mitzvah (commandment) to help the couple rejoice.
After the feast, the grace after meals is recited over one cup of wine and the same seven blessings from the ceremony over another. The two cups of wine are poured into a third, from which both bride and groom drink.
I hope this handy guide will shed some light on the celebrations you attend!
Material from www.myjewishlearning.com was used in preparing this piece.