Planning a Jewish wedding and not quite sure where to start? Maybe only one of you is Jewish and you are trying to mesh together two different faiths, day-of. We know that there are numerous Jewish wedding traditions that you might want to incorporate into your big day, but sometimes it can be hard to know exactly which ones will fit you as a couple. Keeping in time with our cultural wedding week, we’re here to help with some explanations of the common customs utilized in all types of DC Jewish weddings. Mazel tov!
Aufruf – A traditional Jewish wedding celebration actually begins on the Sabbath before the wedding day, as a way to publicly announce the forthcoming nuptials. It is a centuries old tradition for the groom or bride and groom to be called to the Torah and recite a blessing, called an Aliyah. This ceremony is called an aufruf, which, in Yiddish, means “calling up.” After reciting the blessings, the rabbi usually offers a blessing for the couple. In conclusion, as the groom or bride and groom return to their seats, they are showered with candy, nuts and raisins symbolizing sweetness and fruitfulness.
Kabbalat Panim – A traditional Jewish wedding day begins with time for guests to greet the couple before the ceremony. At a more traditional kabbalat panim, the bride and groom sit in different rooms and guests greet them individually. Each participate in their own receptions
The Tisch – The groom participates in a tisch, which is Yiddish for table. During this portion of pre-ceremony festivities, the groom attempts to present a lecture on the week’s Torah portion, while his male friends and family heckle and interrupt him, often with lively singing and rhythmic clapping. The bride is not often included in this ceremony in orthodox communities, but in a more modern Jewish wedding, the bride and groom may lead the tisch together.
Bride’s Reception – The bride’s reception is usually the livelier one! It is an old tradition for the bride to sit on distinctive, ornate, throne-like chair. Surrounded by her family and friends, she receives guests, heartfelt wishes and words of encouragement. The bride may also offer a special blessing in return. During this time, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom together, break a plate. This symbolizes the seriousness of the commitment of marriage – just as a plate can never be fully repaired, so too a broken relationship can never be fully mended.
The Ketubah Signing – After the kabbalat panim, the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) is signed by the bride, groom, rabbi and chosen witnesses. In a traditional orthodox community, this is only signed by the groom and male witnesses. Despite the ketubah’s testimony that the groom has “acquired” the bride, the ketubah actually outlines the bride’s rights and her willingness and desire to enter into the marriage. This contract is hers to keep as proof of her rights and the groom’s responsibilities to her under Jewish law.
The Bedeken – In an Orthodox wedding, this is the first time a bride and groom see each other on the wedding day, sometimes after a week long separation. It is one of the most romantic and significant moments during the wedding day. This ceremony is based on the biblical story in which Jacob was presented with an already veiled bride; he discovered only after the ceremony that she was not his intended bride and love Rachel, but instead her sister Leah. The bedeken, or veiling of the bride, involves both families; accompanied by both fathers and all of his friends who joyously sing and dance, the groom is led to the bride, where both mothers and all the women surround her. The groom lowers her veil over her face, sanctifying the bride to be his wife, a commitment to clothe and protect his wife. The bedeken also symbolizes an added level of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive physical appearances may be, inner beauty, the soul and character are paramount. This relates back to when Rebecca saw her groom Isaac coming toward her, “she took her veil and covered herself.” This is not often performed in more modern Jewish weddings.
The Chuppah – The chuppah is the wedding canopy under which couples say their vows; it dates back to the tent-dwelling Jewish nomadic days in the desert. Jewish wedding ceremonies were held outdoors, and the chuppah created an intimate, sanctified space – symbol of the new home the bride and groom will soon be starting together. Traditionally, the bride’s parents will walk her down the aisle to the entrance of the chuppah where her groom, who was also walked down the aisle by his parents, will meet her, the circling will begin, and once completed they will enter the chuppah together. The bride stands on the groom’s right side. The chuppah is a great way to insert your own design and aesthetic into the wedding ceremony. The only requirement is that it is open on all sides, and covered on the top.
Circling – Upon reaching the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times; this is a representation of many things in the Jewish faith such as the seven blessings, the seven days of creation, and the number of times Joshua circled the walls of Jericho when they finally came tumbling down and in circling her groom, a bride brings down any wall that may remain between them. To make the ancient ritual reciprocal, many couples opt to circle each other or split the circling with the bride and groom each making three circles on their own and one together.
Kiddushin – Once the bride and groom have entered the chuppah together, the kiddushin, or the betrothal ceremony, takes place. It begins with greetings and a blessing over the wine where a sip is taken by both the bride and groom. The second part of this custom is the ring exchange; in Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value, such as a plain gold wedding band (without blemishes or ornamentation, just as hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty), to the bride. In Orthodox Jewish ceremonies, only the bride is given a ring, but in modern ceremonies rings are exchanged between both the bride and the groom. First, the groom places the ring on his bride’s right index finger- the finger believed to be directly connected to the heart – as he may recite, “Behold, by this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel,” then the bride does the same as she may recite a biblical phrase. In modern ceremonies, the couple may also choose to recite their own vows as an added personal touch.
Sheva B’rachot – The sheva b’rachot, or seven blessings, is the heart of the Jewish ceremony and is recited for the bride and groom over a second glass of wine. The theme of these blessings link the bride and groom to God, as well as the creation of the world, survival of the Jewish people, a prayer for peace in Jerusalem, and good wishes for the couple and raising of a family. In many weddings, before the sheva b’rachot are recited, the parents wrap the couple in a tallis, prayer shawl, binding them together. These blessings are recited by the rabbi, or other special guests, the couple wishes to honor. After the seven blessings are said, the couple take a sip from the second cup of wine.
Breaking of the Glass – Most people are highly familiar with the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony based on the breaking of the glass. Depending on who you ask, the breaking of the glass is a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a representation of the fragility of human relationships, and a reminder that marriage changes the lives of individuals forever. In modern weddings, a lightbulb is often used in place of a physical glass as it is much easier to actually break in the moment and makes a loud noise! After the glass has been broken, generally by the groom, everyone yells “Mazel Tov” and in non-orthodox weddings, the bride and groom share their first kiss as husband and wife!
The Yihud – Immediately following the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom take at least eight minutes together privately to reflect on the vows that they have just entered into together. These moments of seclusion also signify the new status of living together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the bride and groom choose an individual they wish to honor who will guard the locked door in order to ensure they are not bothered. Alone, this is a great time to take a breath and spend some quality time with each other as well as a great way to get away from the crazy of the day, if only for a few minutes. This practice has gained recent fame and is being taken up by brides and grooms of all faiths! Even though this time was originally used to consecrate the marriage – although this is not the practice now – many couples also take this time to eat a little food together as well as exchange gifts, before joining their friends and family at the reception.
We hope you enjoyed learning about all of these aspects of traditional Jewish ceremonies! For more cultural inspiration, check out our 7 Cultural Wedding Traditions and Customs post and for even more local ideas visit our wedding inspiration galleries or check out our other Washington DC area real wedding features.