Jewish Wedding Ceremony Practices

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



The Jewish Wedding


     There are two stages to a Jewish wedding. The first, called kiddushin, meaning sanctification, refers to engagement or, using an antiquated word, betrothal.

     The second stage is called nissuin and refers to marriage. The marriage ceremony is called a Chuppah and consists of the exchange of wedding bands under a silk canopy as well as the breaking of glass. The canopy represents the Jewish home and the broken glass is a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as well as other Tzores.

     In American usage, engagement occurs when a woman accepts an engagement ring, signaling intent to promote a marriage. In Europe, it was customary to let a year go by between the engagement and the wedding. This is possible in the United States but not necessary. Many weddings take place in far less time since engagement than a year.

     Jewish marriage includes the signing of a marriage contract, known as a ketubah. This contract is written in English and in Hebrew and details the obligation of the husband to the wife, including food, clothing, and protection for a lifetime (note that this means that the contract assumes there will be no divorce). The wife promises to conduct herself as behooves a Jewish woman, but the contract does not say that she will be responsible for food, clothing, and protection.

     The wedding contract is written in Hebrew on one side and in English on the other side. It usually has a flowery margin and is preceded by a sentence from the Torah, or Bible (Bible = from the town of Biblos in ancient north Africa).

     Among Ashkenazi Jews it is customary to cover the bride with a veil, which is sometimes called “bedecken,” a German word meaning to cover. The idea is that Jacob was cheated by his father-in-law when he sought to marry Rachel, only to be stuck with Leah. Now the groom uncovers the veil to see if the bride is really the one he wants to marry that day (Berayshit or Genesis, Vayaytzeh Chapter 29:25-28).

     The ceremony under the Chuppah includes the bride walking around the groom seven times, as the number seven denotes perfection, for Hashem made the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

     Next the bride and groom drink some wine after a blessing is said. Then another blessing is said concerning the upcoming wedding. Then the groom gives the bride a ring, accompanied by the words “you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” Two witnesses will then watch him place the ring on her right index finger. Among egalitarian Jews, the bride then places a ring on the groom's finger and says: “Ani l’dodi v'dodi li,” meaning I am my lover's and my lover is mine. Some people inscribe the ring with that sentence.

     Now comes the time for the seven blessings. Seven guests are called individually and each recites one of the blessings. The officiating rabbi usually says the first one. Then both bride and groom drink from the same cup of wine and some songs are sung.

     Among conservative Jews the rabbi may ask, “Do you, ..., take ... as your wife? This is then also asked of the bride and hearing “yes” the rabbi may say, “I hereby pronounce you man and wife according to the laws of Moses and  Israel” (Some add: by the authority granted me by the State of New York and etc.).

     Finally, the groom breaks a glass with his right foot (usually a light bulb). All the guests shout “Mazel tov,” or good luck. Some say that the glass is broken to ensure the wedding doesn't become a “bacchanalia”. This refers to the Greek god of wine, Bacchus. The ancients and those living now often drank too much and “raised the roof” during a drunken orgy.

      Some Ashkenazi Jews ask the bride and groom to retreat to a private room for ten to fifteen minutes after the breaking of the glass. Most do not do this but walk down the aisle while the music plays.

     Jews dance at weddings. Among some, men dance with men and women with women. Most American Jews dance with the opposite gender. There are some traditional dances, including lifting the bride and groom on a chair while the strong men who hold them up move about.

      The wedding meal includes the custom of pouring two glasses of wine together into a third glass, symbolizing the hoped for creation of a new life.

        (The function of all wedding ceremonies is to tell the community that two adults are willing to create the next generation).

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).

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