The Jewish Wedding: 10 Things to Expect


Jewish bride and groom having ceremony under Chuppah

A Jewish wedding is a happy moment for the Jewish couple and their families in the Jewish community. There are several movements within the Jewish religion; hence, some weddings will have different rituals. Jewish weddings have also evolved to incorporate some of the modern wedding practices.

So, what are the 10 things you should expect at a Jewish wedding? The 10 things you should expect at a Jewish wedding include the Chuppah, circling, signing the Ketubah, blessing the Marriage, reading the Ketubah, breaking the Glass, designated sitting arrangement, exchanging of Wedding Rings, Mitzvah Tantz, and Yichud. However, you will see more rituals in an orthodox Jewish wedding than in a Reform Jewish wedding. While the Orthodox Jewish couple will have a traditional wedding with many rituals, the reform Jewish couples will only have a few rituals.

When you receive that invitation to a Jewish wedding, take it an opportunity to observe some of the Jewish religious practices. There will be several things that will be done differently compared to your religion or culture. Read on to find out more about ten things in a Jewish wedding, what to expect, and various rituals carried out in a Jewish wedding.

What To Expect in Weddings of Different Jewish Movements

There are several things that you should expect at a Jewish wedding. The types of Jewish movements will determine the rituals and practices you will observe at the wedding. There are three Jewish movements, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movement.

Here is how the different Jewish movements differ in their practices.

Orthodox Jewish Wedding

The dress code in an orthodox Jewish wedding is stringent; men have to wear a suit and tie and a yarmulke to cover your head. For women, you have to follow the tzniut law. You have to cover your arms up to the elbow; the dress should cover your knees, collarbone, and shoulders.

Men and women celebrate a large portion of the wedding ceremony separately. The women will spend time with the bride, and the men will do the same with the groom. Even during the ceremony, the women shall sit on a different side away from the men. The Ketubah shall be signed by the rabbi, the groom, and two male witnesses.

During the bedeken, the groom and his entourage shall walk to the bride’s room for the veiling. The groom takes the veil and places it over the bride’s face; the veiling shows that the groom only cares for the bride’s inner beauty. Before this ritual, the groom is expected to stay away from the bride for close to a week.

The wedding ceremony will take place under the chuppah. The groom shall be the first to walk to the chuppah accompanied by his parents. The bride will then walk to the chuppah, accompanied by her parents, and circle the groom seven times. The groom will then place a ring on the finger of the bride. The rabbi will read the Ketubah for the guests to note the bride’s consent.

Reciting the seven blessings is done by men. The chosen men will recite the blessings, and the bride and groom shall sip wine from a cup. The groom will then break the glass, and the guests will shout, “Mazel Tov.” The guest can congratulate the married couple, but only men can touch men, and women can touch women.

The guest will then head to the wedding hall for a meal. The rabbi shall say a blessing for the meal before you can eat. There is a specific way to wash your hands before eating, and you should make sure you do it correctly. After the wedding feast, you will head to the dance floor for some dancing. The groom will be entertained by a jester or people from the crown during the mitzvah tantz.

Conservative Jewish Wedding

A conservative Jewish wedding has some similarities to a traditional orthodox wedding. There are a few differences, mostly in the role of the bride. In a conservative Jewish wedding, the men and women sit together during the wedding ceremony. The rabbi can call upon the bride, and groom to read the Torah; a role played by the groom only in an orthodox wedding.

During the signing of the Ketubah, the bride may also sign the Ketubah. Female witnesses can also sign the Ketubah. During the bedeken, the groom will place a veil over the bride’s face while the bride will place a yarmulke on the groom’s head.

In a traditional Jewish wedding, the groom will place a ring on the bride’s index finger, but the bride will not. In a conservative Jewish wedding, the bride may place a wedding ring on the groom’s index finger. The bride will also step on the glass together with the groom. Women are included in most rituals that they would not participate in had it been an orthodox Jewish wedding.

During the festive meal, there will be a recital of the seven blessings and the Birkat Hamazon. It is a great honor for a person to participate in the recitals. In an orthodox wedding, only men will participate in reciting the Birkat Hamazon and Sheva Berakhot. Some conservative rabbis and cantors may allow women to take part in the recitals.

Reform Jewish Wedding

The Reform Jewish movement is a major Jewish denomination with a more liberal stance than the other movements. The Reform Jewish movement practices and encourages equality; hence, most of the rituals have been abandoned or changed to include other parties. The order of the service is the same as the other movements. The groom will walk to the chuppah, and the bride will follow.

Women and men sit together in a reform Jewish wedding ceremony. Some couples will avoid the bedeken because the bride needs to show her face to the guests. The bride and groom will circle each other seven times under the chuppah, and the bride and groom will exchange wedding rings. The bride shall sign the Ketubah as well.

The couple can add modern wedding practices such as writing their vows. The bride and groom can write their wedding vows and say them during the wedding ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom may break the glass together. The bride is free to choose whether she will step on the glass or not.

The Reform Jewish movement puts more emphasis on equality. If a ritual requires only men to participate in it, you will not see it or see women participating in that ritual. The reform Jewish community views men and women as equal; hence, they should participate in all the rituals at the wedding.

10 Things To Expect at a Jewish Wedding

When you attend a Jewish wedding, there some unique activities that the couple and their quest may engage in during the ceremony. These are the things that make Jewish weddings differ from other religious wedding ceremonies. Here are ten things that you should expect at a Jewish wedding;

1.   The Chuppah

The chuppah is one of the most common features in a Jewish wedding that you will notice while entering the synagogue or other venue. It is a marriage canopy under which the couple will get married. It is made of four support pillars and a white covering.

It symbolizes the Jewish home, and its lack of walls means everyone is welcome into that home. The lack of furniture in the chuppah also shows that marriage does not need material wealth to succeed. It is not a must that the couple has a chuppah at their wedding; a marriage is still valid without the chuppah.

2.   Circling

The bride will circle the groom seven times under the chuppah. The number of circles can change; the bride circles seven times, other times, the bride circles three times. The circling symbolizes the creation of a magic wall of protection around the groom from evil spirits.

Some people also believe that the circling symbolizes the groom creating a new family circle. In modern Jewish weddings, the groom will also circle the bride.

3.   Signing the Ketubah

The signing of the Ketubah usually happens at the first ceremony. When you receive the invitation, you will note the wedding program has two events, one at home and the other at the synagogue. If you attend the first ceremony, you will see the bride and groom signing the Ketubah.

The Ketubah is a marriage contract between the bride and groom that outlines the bride’s responsibilities. It is signed by the couple and two witnesses at the first ceremony; then, the couple will head to the second ceremony.

4.   Blessing the Marriage

There are blessings of marriage in every religious wedding, and at a Jewish wedding, there are seven blessings for the marriage. Also known as Sheva Berakhot, these blessings are from the ancient teachings and are chanted during the ceremony.

The seven blessings can be chanted in Hebrew or English by the rabbi or family members and close friends of the couple. After the recital of the seven blessings, the couple and their guests will drink wine.

5.   Reading the Ketubah

The signing of the Ketubah’s occurs in the first ceremony, and not many people are invited to the first ceremony. The reading of the Ketubah happens in the second ceremony in front of the guests. The rabbi or cantor will read the contents of the Ketubah.

The purpose of reading the Ketubah is to ensure that all the guests can witness the couple giving their consent to marry. The Ketubah contains numerous issues such as the groom’s responsibilities, the bride’s rights, and the divorce terms. The rabbi needs not read all these parts; he can read the essential parts that consent to the marriage.

6.   Breaking the Glass

Breaking the glass happens at the end of the ceremony, and it is the most commonly known practice of a Jewish wedding. A glass will be placed inside a cloth bag, and the groom is invited to step on the glass to break it. Sometimes both the bride and groom will step on the glass.

Breaking the glass

Breaking the glass has several meanings, depending on the movement they belong to. Breaking the glass can represent the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem or the difficulties of marriage. At the sound of the breaking glass, guests will clap and shout “mazel tov.”

7.   The Sitting Arrangement

In the Orthodox Jewish movement, men and women sit on different sides inside the synagogue. So, if you have been invited to an orthodox Jewish wedding, do not cause a fuss or feel alienated when instructed to sit in a different spot.

It is an important rule for them, and it will be nice for the couple if you obey the rules. If men and women are allowed to sit together, the bride’s guest will sit on the right side, and the groom’s guests will sit on the left. The bride and groom’s parents will stand with the couple under the chuppah for the entire ceremony.

8.   Wedding Rings

Jewish wedding rings should not have any adornments. You will notice that the ring does not have any precious stones or metals attached to it. Only the bride shall receive a ring under the chuppah. The ring is a gift to her from the bride; hence, the rule that the ring is made from one single material.

If the ring is of pure gold without any adornments, the bride can quickly ascertain the value of the ring. The groom cannot receive a ring under the chuppah, but the bride can give him a ring during the reception after the ceremony is over.

9. Mitzvah Tantz

Mitzvah tantz is a Jewish tradition where the men dance before the wedding night and after the wedding feast. The rabbi can also participate in the dance and can dance with the bride. The bride will stand perfectly still at the end of the room, holding a sash while the person dancing holds the under end. This dance aims to pray for the couple; the dancer will silently pray for the couple’s success in life while dancing.

10. Yichud

Yichud is a law that prohibits the seclusion of a man and woman in a private area who are not married to each other. Yichud prevents the temptation of committing adultery or any promiscuous acts by unmarried people. After the wedding ceremony, the married couple will be sent to a room to spend some time by themselves.

In ancient times, the married couple spent this time consummating the marriage. In modern times, the couple just spent a few minutes talking then come back out to continue with the ceremony. Only the traditional Jewish couple participate in the Yichud; Reform Jewish couples tend to ignore this ritual.

What Is the Order of Rituals in a Jewish Wedding?

There are several rituals in a traditional Jewish wedding. The orthodox Jewish wedding tends to have most of the rituals. The orthodox Jewish will observe all these rituals in the wedding ceremony. The conservative Jewish will perform most of the rituals but with a few changes regarding women’s roles. Reform Jewish movements will abandon some of the rituals that do not show equality between men and women.

Here is the order of rituals in a traditional Jewish wedding;

The Tish

The first event in a traditional Jewish wedding is known as the tish. Tish means table in Yiddish. The tish is an event for the groom, where he will attempt to present a lecture from the Torah. His male friends and family present during the event will heckle and try to interrupt him.

The purpose of the tish is to make the groom relaxed and relieve the stress of planning a wedding. Meanwhile, the bride will be in another room, getting entertained by her female friends and family. The bride can also participate in the tish in the conservative and reform Jewish movements.

The Signing of the Ketubah

After the tish, the bride will join the groom for the signing of the Ketubah. The Ketubah is a marriage contract that includes the responsibilities of the couple. Only the groom, the rabbi, and two male witnesses will sign the Ketubah in the orthodox Jewish movement.

In Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, the bride may also sign the Ketubah and have female witnesses. The Ketubah is about the consent of the bride and her sights in the marriage.

The Bedeken

In an orthodox Jewish wedding, the bedeken is the first time the groom will meet with the bride during the ceremony. It is the bride’s veiling; the groom will head to the bride’s room where her family and friends surround her.

The groom will lower the veil over her face, indicating that he is only interested in the bride’s inner beauty. In reform and conservative Jewish movements, the bride may put a yarmulke on the groom’s head during the veiling as he lowers the veil.

The Wedding Processional

In a traditional Jewish wedding, the groom will walk down the aisle towards the chuppah accompanied by his parents. The bride and her parents will follow. Traditionally, the parents are supposed to stand with the bride and groom throughout the ceremony. In modern Jewish weddings, the parents can sit down with the rest of the guests.

The Chuppah

The chuppah is a marriage canopy that the bride and groom san their parents stand under during the wedding ceremony. The chuppah is made of four posts and a shawl. Sometimes the couple will request four family members or close friends to hold up the shawl throughout the ceremony.

The chuppah represents the Jewish home, and the lack of a wall means the welcoming nature of the Jewish family. There are no formal requirements in making a chuppah; you can customize your chuppah in the manner that pleases you.

Circling

When the couple enters the chuppah, the bride will circle the groom seven times. Circling seven times represents the seven blessings for the marriage and the seven days of creation. Circling also symbolizes the magic wall around the groom to protect him from evil spirits. In modern weddings, the groom can also circle the bride during the wedding ceremony.

The Kiddushin

The Kiddushin is a betrothal ceremony and takes place under the chuppah. The couple and their parents will drink wine blessed by the rabbi. The groom will recite an ancient Aramaic phrase as he places the wedding ring on the bride’s right index finger.

The rabbi will then read aloud the Ketubah. In a modern Jewish wedding, the bride may be allowed to place a wedding ring on the groom’s index finger. She can also be allowed to read a feminine form of the Aramaic phrase.

Sheva Berakhot

Sheva Berakhot is when the couple will receive the seven blessings of marriage. The blessings are recited by the rabbi or selected members of the couple’s family. It is not a must to recite all the seven blessings. In some modern Jewish weddings, the couple will opt not to have the blessing recited at their wedding ceremony.

Breaking the Glass

Breaking the Glass is the most common ritual in a Jewish wedding that is done even in a modern wedding. The breaking of the glass symbolizes that the marriage is not going to be an easy task; there will be difficult moments in the marriage. After the groom steps on the glass, the guests will shout “Mazel Tov” to congratulate the couple.

The Yichud

At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom will be secluded together in a room alone for a few minutes, this is the Yichud. The bride and groom have to focus on their new partnership, and this ritual offers them the first opportunity to do so. In the old days, this time was for consummating the marriage, but in modern times, the couple will talk and deed each other a few bites of their first meal together as a married couple.

Seudat Mitzvah

It is customary to have a meal at the wedding ceremony for the guests, known as the Seudat Mitzvah. The rabbi will say a blessing for the meal before the guests take it. The meal may include chicken and fish, both fertility symbols in the Jewish community; they will also be rice, coconut milk, honey, and almonds. Pork and shellfish are off the menu in a Jewish wedding ceremony.

The Hora

The hora is also a familiar ritual in a traditional Jewish wedding. The hora, also known as the chair dance, is where the couple sits on chairs and is lifted by the guests while singing “Hava Nagila.” The guests will also circle the couple while singing in a celebratory dance. It is an enjoyable moment, and guests are encouraged to take part in the dance.

Mitzvah Jewish Wedding Traditions

After the hora, the crown will place the couple down in the middle of the room and be entertained by the guests. The guests will dance around the couple and sing. Some will try to make the couple laugh by engaging in funny activities by wearing funny costumes and props.

It is an excellent moment for the couple to relax and enjoy the moment. You can take some photos and videos and enjoy the silliness after the wedding.

The Mezinke Dance

If the bride or groom is the last child getting married, the parents will participate in a dance known as the Mezinke dance, during the wedding ceremony. The mother will receive a crown of flowers known as the krenzel; it will be placed in the mother’s hair. The parents will stand in the middle of the room, and the guests dance around.

The Birkat Hamazon

The Birkat Hamazon is the last ritual in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. The guests will recite the grace after the meal; the synagogue will have some prayer booklets for those who cannot recite from memory. The seven blessings may also be recited again, and during the seventh blessing, the person leading the recital will pour wine into a cup and bless it.

He will then pour the wine into two other cups and drink the wine from the original cup; he will then hand the two cups of wine to the bride and groom to drink. The married couple will then head home or to their wedding reception, depending on their wedding program.

Finally

A Jewish wedding is a special moment for the bride and groom to share with their family and friends. Several things happen at a Jewish wedding to make the marriage valid. You can expect some things to happen in an orthodox wedding, but you might miss them in a Reform Jewish wedding.

A Jewish wedding ceremony is in two parts. The first part includes rituals like the tish, bedeken, and signing of the Ketubah, which will happen at home, usually the groom’s parent s house. Then the second part will happen at the synagogue or at an outdoor venue.

The rituals at the wedding will depend on the couple’s Jewish movement. If they are orthodox Jewish, then the wedding shall include all the rituals. If they are reform Jewish, then the wedding shall include a small number of rituals or the rituals may include different ingredients.

Photo credits:

Main image – Hilt0nT, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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