Every relationship is unique, every couple is special. Shouldn't your wedding ceremony be the same way?
When I officiate weddings, I work hand in hand with couples to craft a Jewish ceremony that is memorable, comfortable and beautiful.
Below you can learn about some of the traditional rites and rituals of a Jewish Wedding. Consider which rituals speak to you, and imagine how you might like your wedding ceremony to proceed.
SOME FUN CEREMONY IDEAS
The Tish – a fun option!
A traditional Jewish wedding begins with a tish, Yiddish for table. In a modern tish couple attempt to present a lecture on the week's Torah portion, while their friends and family heckle and interrupt them and there are rounds of whiskey or wine all-round. Of course, in more traditional circles this ritual is only for the males. I think it’s a great way to loosen up and begin the ceremony with some Torah and some humor. But make sure you’re up on your Torah portion!
The Ketubah Signing – making it official
The couple, their immediate family and the wedding party will gather in a room to sign the Jewish marriage contract. Although traditionally a legally binding bill of “sale”, today it is a public document of commitment. Two witnesses, not related to the couple are chosen to sign the Ketubah. Witnesses can sign in either English or Hebrew, and often there is a space for both.
Take a look at all the beautiful options in Judaica stores, museum stores, and, of course, on line. Be sure to inquire about the different texts.
Signing The State License
The rites and rituals can’t happen without the license from the State in which the wedding is to take place. Usually you must apply for and obtain a license within 90 days of the wedding. The officiant must sign and return a copy in order for the wedding to be recorded as official. Please refer to the rules of the State where the wedding will be held for more details. Don’t forget to bring the license with you along with the envelope it came with and a first class stamp!
The B'deken – an ancient custom
If the bride is planning on wearing a face-veil, the couple often chooses to participate in a short ritual called b’deken. This beautiful tradition stems from the embarrassing mix-up on the wedding day of our ancestor, Jacob. When he was to marry his beloved, Rachel, he had no idea that she was switched with her sister Leah by their scheming father. Unfortunately, Jacob had neglected to check under her veil before the wedding. In this ritual, after the signing of the ketubah and immediately before the processional to the chuppah, the groom himself reaches back and places the veil over the face of his bride, thus assuring all involved that she is, indeed, his betrothed.
The Chuppah - a sacred space
The chuppah, or wedding canopy, creates a sanctified space under which the ceremony takes place. Often the couple’s parents stand with them at the chuppah, but just outside the open walls, signifying the new home the couple will now make. The chuppah can be very simple; a tallit or piece of cloth attached to four polls and held by four friends. Or the chuppah can be elaborate, made of flowers from the florist. One can be very creative with one’s chuppah and it is often one of the things that friends and family make for the couple, often as a quilt.
If you are looking for an extraordinary chuppah try:
Circling – a traditional ritual
In a traditional ceremony the bride circles the groom seven times, representing the seven days of the week and that the groom is now the center of her world. Today many couples choose to circle each other at the beginning of the ceremony, signifying that they are now each other’s’ centers.
Nissuin and Kiddushin - the betrothal ceremony
The nissuin (betrothal ceremony) and kiddushin (wedding ceremony) takes place under the chuppah. It begins with greetings, often sung and translated and then the blessing for the first of two cups of wine. After affirming by saying “I do” (an American custom that is almost always added), comes the exchange of rings. The couple recites an ancient Aramaic phrase as they place the wedding band on their betrothed’s right index finger -- the finger believed to be directly connected to the heart. Don’t worry – you don’t have to memorize it! I’ll prompt you word by word.
The sheva b'rachot, or seven blessings, are the heart of a traditional wedding ceremony. During the ceremony, the blessings are traditionally chanted in Hebrew and may also be read in English. In the Sephardic tradition, a parent will often wrap the bride and groom in a tallit (prayer shawl) before the recitation of the blessings begins, to recognize the intimacy and significance of the moment. Many contemporary couples invite seven friends or family members to each recite one of the blessings or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer seven non-traditional blessings in English. At the end of the sheva b’rachot the couple drinks the second of the two cups of wine.
They translate as follows:
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has created everything for Your glory.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Rule of the universe, Creator of Human Beings.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who has fashioned human beings in your image, according to your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of Human Beings.
Bring intense joy and exultation to Zion through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens Zion through her children.
Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens the wedding couple.
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, wedding couple, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, friendship, peace, and companionship. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the wedding couple, the sound of the jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes the wedding couple to rejoice.
Breaking the glass - the sound of joy
The sound of a glass breaking at the end of the Jewish wedding is one of pure joy. The couple embraces in their first kiss and the congregation bursts into applause and often the song “siman tov u’mazal tov”. What does it mean? There are so many different answers: a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; a representation of the fragility of human relationships; that the number of shards of glass represents the number of years of happiness. No matter what meaning you may derive, nothing says Jewish wedding like the sound of breaking glass. One of the couple may choose to do the honors or both may break a glass together. And, of course, it is the signal for the party to begin.