Even if you have never been to any Jewish wedding, you may definitely have heard of or seen them in the movies or TV series like Wedding Crashers, Along Came Polly, New York I Love You, and others. The two most famous rituals of breaking the glass and dancing the Horah, make every Jewish wedding distinct from any other wedding. No wonder Jewish weddings provide a bucket full of incredible opportunities to the Jewish wedding photographers to capture some really incredible wedding photos in the best of frames! Weddings not only provide individuals with companionship, but they also ensure the physical and spiritual survival of humanity by creating communities that mirror divine law, and Jewish weddings are one of them! Jewish weddings are integral to God’s plan of ongoing creation, which began with the creation of the first human couple, Adam and Eve.
So, whether you have grown up immersed in the beautiful Jewish religion and culture or barely attended the temple, it’s a dream of every bride to include the amazing and out-of-the-box Jewish wedding traditions in their wedding day! Completely depending on your subculture (Ashkenazi or Sephardic), your level of orthodoxy, and whether or not you are marrying a fellow Jew, including Jewish wedding traditions in your big day can be optional or mandatory! We know for your flawless Jewish wedding you want to be sure to fully outline your wedding ceremony with an ordained rabbi or other officiants to decide what the best plan for you and your future spouse and your family members is.
The traditional Jewish wedding is not just a one-day affair. The actual wedding rituals begin with the decision when the couple decides to get married. There are several rituals that are performed starting from a few days of the wedding till the end of the wedding ceremony and reception. The Tenaim ceremony declares the upcoming nuptials by reading a document of lifelong commitment and shattering a dish! Closer to the wedding is the Aufruf, where the groom (or the couple) recites a blessing over the Torah and is showered with candy. The Jewish bride has the chance to prepare religiously by immersing herself in the mikveh (ritual pool), a custom many grooms follow as well. And lastly on the big day, before the wedding ceremony, the ketubah is signed by two witnesses, and many couples do the Bedeken ceremony in which the groom covers the bride’s face with a veil.
So, if you are a Jewish couple who is planning to have a wedding real soon, this special blog is dedicated to you so that you can learn more about traditional Jewish wedding rituals and other rituals associated with it which you may add to your Jewish wedding ceremony and celebration that beautifully unites two individuals in a wedding lock! Not only these rituals will make your wedding more authentic but it will also make your wedding portfolio look fabulous while highlighting the true essence of a Jewish wedding! So, let’s read what all happens before the ceremony, during the ceremony, and lastly after the Jewish wedding ceremony!
Before the Jewish Wedding Ceremony
Celebrating the Wedding Couple- Just before the actual grand wedding ceremony, there is a tradition of celebrating the wedding couple at a Jewish wedding. It is a joyous ritual that majorly includes close family and friends surrounding the couple (who usually are in two adjacent rooms, so that the couples do not see each other before the ceremony) with good cheers and blessings! Historically, this traditional ritual was known as Hanchnasat Kallah (Celebrating the Bride) and the Groom’s Tisch (the groom’s table) and wedding guests visit the couple based on gender. But as time is changing, we started seeing a bit of flexibility and versatility in this ritual. Today, many wedding couples- both heterosexual and sam-sex-couple are no longer divided by the practice by gender. In fact, these days, wedding guests move easily and freely back and forth between both the rooms, visiting separately with the partners and their families. As learning plays a pivotal role in a Jewish tradition, one or both rooms may include some Torah study and, for those so inclined, a bit of celebratory drinking and singing to make the setting more interesting and inviting for our professional wedding photographers to capture detailed wedding photographs!
Breaking a Plate- Breaking a Plate is a very usual and momentary ritual that takes place before the actual wedding ceremony. Historically, this tradition features two mothers breaking a plate that symbolizes the acceptance of the conditions of engagement (when it was a separate ceremony). The breaking of plate or glass is to remember two of the most important and tragic events of Jewish history: It also symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and foreshadows the breaking of the glass that is part of the wedding ceremony itself.
Signing the Ketubah- Traditionally, a ketubah is a (marriage contract) legal document that safeguards the rights of the bride and thus is her possession. But in today’s time the text of ketubot (plural of ketubah) is more contemporary and egalitarian, and thus often expresses the commitment, care, and love the couples have for each other while they are all set to create a Jewish home together and all ready to start the new phase of their lives together happily. Signing the ketubah is one of the oldest Jewish wedding traditions, existing for more than two thousand years. This ceremony happens just before the couple exchange their wedding vows, where the soon-to-be-married couple, the officiant, and witnesses- all sign the ketubah prior to the main wedding ceremony.
Bedeken, Badekenish, or Bedekung (Veiling)- The literal meaning of ‘Bedeken’ is ‘checking’, and this ritual is in existence since the biblical times. As per one great legend, this tradition in Jewish weddings began after Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law Laban into marrying Leah, who was presented to him as an already-veiled bride. It was only after the ceremony that Jabcob discovered that she was not Rachel, his intended bride. Where in another story, the first time in the Torah that we learn of love between two people is when Isaac and Rebecca meet. Out of modesty and humility, Rebecca lowers her veil, and Isaac is so taken by her aura and beauty that he falls to the ground. If a bride is to be veiled, at some point before the ceremony – either before or after the processional – her intended places the veil over her face. Though brides in beautiful veils always make for fantastic and incredible bridal portraits. So, while you are all decked out in that elegant bridal attire and looking nothing less than a princess in the veil covering you, allow our Jewish wedding photographers to capture and document some remarkable candid bridal portraits of you!
Amongst the Sephardic Jews (those Jews who originally originated in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula), the Bedeken ritual is not part of their wedding day. Instead, they have a henna party during the week before the wedding ceremony, where the henna is applied to the palms of the wedding couple. The henna applied on the palms of the couples make them easily identifiable on the day of the wedding ceremony and may, according to some, protect them from the “evil eye” at this joyous time in their lives, when they are all set to start their happily ever after!
During the Wedding Ceremony
Chuppah (the wedding canopy)- The traditional and authentic Jewish wedding ceremony usually takes place under a chuppah or a beautiful wedding canopy that lends a picturesque backdrop for stunning wedding photography. The wedding chuppah or the canopy symbolizes the presence of god’s sheltering appearance in the lives of the people who are deeply, madly, and truly in love with each other and are all set to begin their happy married life along with the new home they will be building together. Family members and all the closed friends are presented under the wedding canopy or at the chuppah during the exchange of vows, as it signifies that the members of the family and all the closest friends will always be welcomed in the couple’s new home! A tallit (prayer shawl) that has special meaning to the couple can serve as a chuppah as can a handmade quilt or other covering. Some Jewish wedding canopies are not free-standing, requiring four individuals, generally, friends or family members of the couple, to hold the poles to which the chuppah is affixed.
Circling- Circling is a major and important wedding ritual amongst the Ashkenazi (those who are originated from eastern and central Europe). This wedding ritual may or may not be followed in the Sephardic Jews. Before the couple makes their dramatic and grand entrance under the chuppah to say out their wedding vows, one partner has to circle the other partner seven times, alluding to the seven days of creation and as a reminder that the wedding itself is a process of creation. Though these days, as more and more heterosexual and same-sex Jewish couples are getting hitched, they are choosing to circle each other three times, adding one final circle together. As per one of the Jewish interpretations, the circle represents the rhythm of Hosea 2:21-21: ''And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and injustice, and in loving kindness, and in compassion; and I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.”
Erusin or Kiddushin (Betrothal)- The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony usually consists of two separate parts: Erusin or Kiddushin (betrothal) and Nissuin (nuptials). Traditionally, these two beautiful wedding rituals were separated by a period of several months; but today they are combined together and performed as one wedding ritual during the wedding ceremony.
The traditional Erusin ritual begins with the traditional blessings over a cup of wine, which is then shared amidst the lovely couple and their parents. The second blessing blesses the beautiful couple together in Kiddushin, Hebrew for ‘marriage’, a word that was derived from the Hebrew word for ‘holy’.
As per the Jewish wedding law, the giving and receiving of an item of value in the presence of witnesses is part of what ordains a marriage. Therefore, the couple generally exchange rings as they declare, in Hebrew, “Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” The rings are solid, without any breaks or stones, signifying the wholeness and union achieved through marriage. Each ring is placed on the right index finger, demonstrating the ancient belief that the forefinger is connected by a direct line to the heart. In Sephardic ceremonies, a ring, a coin, or anything valuable, such as a piece of jewelry other than a ring may be used for this part of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony.
Whereas the second part of the wedding, also known as the Nissuin (nuptials) begins with the Sheva Brachot, or seven invocations, that are chanted or recited, by the officiating ministry or closed friends of the wedding couple, over a cup of wine. The two cups of wine symbolize the fact that originally, the betrothal and nuptials were two individual wedding ceremonies with a span of time between them. This Nissuin ceremony has different aspects in different Jewish communities. In the Sephardic community, the same cup used for Erusin is refilled for Nissuin. Whereas, in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, the seven blessings give thanks for the fruit of the vine, the creation of the world, the creation of humanity, the perpetuation of life, the continuation of the Jewish community, the joy of marriage, and the couple’s happiness.
Reading the Ketubah- Reading the Ketubah aloud is a necessary ritual during a Jewish wedding as it allows everyone to witness the commitment the couples have made to one another for the rest of their lives. As per the Jewish tradition, the entire Ketubah is being read out loud, but in Sephardic Jewish weddings, the few lines of the beginning and few lines at the end are being read out loud.
Breaking the Glass- At the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, it is customary for one or at times both the people in the couple to break a glass. There are many interpretations associated with this Jewish wedding ritual. Some believe that it is a reminder of the disruption of the Temple in Jerusalem in the first century, for even at the height of personal joy, we must not forget the tragedies the Jewish and world communities have endured. Others explain that the fragile glass reminds us of the delicate nature of wedlock, which must always be cared for and cherished till the death parts the couple. At the sound of the breaking of the glass, wedding guests traditionally clap and chant “Siman Tov” and “Mazel Tov,” Hebrew phrases that offer congratulations, and good luck to the couple!
After the Wedding Ceremony
Yichud (Togetherness)- After the wedding ceremony is done, the couple proceeds to a private room for yichud, which traditionally and literally means ‘togetherness’. There the couple will quaintly share the tender and excitement of their first moments together as a newly married couple. This custom is majorly practiced amongst the Ashkenazi Jews as compared to the Sephardic Jews.
Seudat Mitzvah (The Wedding Feast)- The Seudat Mitzvah means the celebration of the wedding ceremony, or in simple terms, we can say the wedding reception. As per the Jewish wedding laws, all the wedding guests who come to witness a Jewish wedding are commanded to celebrate, to ultimate fun, and to increase the joy of the couple on the most special day of their life. There are endless ways to celebrate this joyous moment but nothing is more joyful than dancing, including the Hora, the traditional Jewish circle dance. During this dance, the wedding couple often will be lifted up and carried in chairs around the dance floor as part of the celebration of their marriage.