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The Traditional Jewish Wedding

The Traditional Jewish Wedding

by on 06-30-2012 in Weddings

A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals and customs. Each one symbolizing a new aspect of the journey the soon-to-be husband and wife are about to take. There are various halachot (Jewish Laws), and customs regarding the precise ceremony. Halachically (according to Jewish Law), there are two stages required to unite a Jewish man and woman. The first known as Kiddushin or Erusin (betrothal), and the second knows as Nissuin or Chuppah (actual marriage). Both stages are required to be performed in front of at least two witnesses. In this article you can learn more about each stage of the Traditional Jewish wedding ritual.

The Wedding Day

The day of one's wedding is a time when a person's sins are forgiven and is considered to be like a personal, mini-Yom Kippur. For this reason, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) fast until the ceremony, unless the wedding is held on a day when fasting is not permitted, such as Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah. Therefore, it is customart for the bride and groom to include Yom Kippur prayers in their mincha (afternoon prayers).

Kabbalat Panim

The Jewish wedding customarily starts with Kabbalat Panim – Reception. During this segment of the wedding, the bride and the groom traditionally greet their guests separately, since in most customs they have refrained from seeing one another for the week prior to the wedding. Our tradition teaches us that, the chattan and kallah are comparable to a king and queen. The Kallah, sits on a “throne” to receive her guests, while the chattan is also receiving guests who sing and toast him. Some use this time to sign the tenai'm ("engagement" contract) and the ketubah (marriage contract). It is the tradition of some Ashkenazim for the mothers of the bride and groom break a china or glass plate, at this time. Some say this symbolizes the impending breaks in their relationships with their children, who will soon take responsibility for feeding each other.

Badeken

Just prior to the chuppah, the groom is taken to see the bride at what has been come to be called the bedekin, or "veiling". You can imagine the excitement of those brides and grooms who have kept apart for the week preceding the wedding; this will be the first time they see each other since before their separation. It is here that the bride's veil is lowered to cover her face, just like Rebekah covered her face when she first saw her husband, Isaac. There is a custom for the groom and others to bless the bride with the verse from Genesis 24:60, "You shall be the mother of multitudes." In order to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the bride's veil contains no silver or gold strands.

The Chuppah – Jewish Wedding Canopy

The couple is married under a chuppah (wedding canopy) and it is customary for the chuppah to be under the open sky. Most modern-day wedding halls have a sliding roof or folding hatch directly above the chuppah that is kept open for the duration of the ceremony. Many Hasidim prefer to conduct the entire ceremony outdoors. Sefardim generally have the chuppah indoors. A chuppah consists of a cloth or sheet, sometimes a tallit, stretched or supported over four poles, or sometimes carried by attendants to the ceremony. The four corners of the Chuppah symbolize the four of the home the couple will build together. It can be made of any material. Silk or quilted chuppot are increasingly common, and can often be customized or personalized to suit the couple's unique interests and occupations. The groom enters the chuppah first to represent his ownership of the home on behalf of the couple. When the bride then enters the chuppah it is as though the groom is providing her with shelter or clothing, and he thus publicly demonstrates his new responsibilities toward her. It is customary for the bride and groom not to wear any jewelry under the chupah to represent the basis of their commitment that is rooted on who they are and not what they wear. It is the minhag (custom) of the Ashkenazim that the kallah circles the chatan seven times after she enters the chuppah. In the same way, Hashem created the world in seven days, the kallah is metaphorically building the foundation of the couple's new world together. After the seventh time the kallah stands by chatan's right-hand side.

Blessings of Betrothal (Kiddushin)

It is only after the bride and groom are standing together under the chuppah that the chief ceremonies of the Jewish wedding take place. First, the leader of the misader kiddushin (arbitrator leading the ceremony) makes two blessings. The first bracha is made on wine and the second on the act of kiddushin, or marriage. After he finishes the blessings, both the bride and groom drink some of the wine. The groom then declares that the bride is sanctified to him with the central statement of the wedding ceremony and the giving of the ring: “Hare at mekudeshet li betaba' at zo k'dat Moshe v' Yisrael - With this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife in accordance with the law of Moses and the people Israel." A ring is not necessary; in fact anything of sufficient value may be used to wed, as long as the item belongs entirely and properly to the groom. Two kosher witnesses must see the item of value being passed from the groom to the bride. Because the ring giving bears significance as a legal transaction in Jewish law, the wedding ceremony may not take place on Shabbat or Jewish holidays with sabbath-like work restrictions.

Reading the Ketubah

After the initial two blessings and the ring giving, the ketubah is read aloud as an interlude between the first portion of the wedding ceremony, kiddushin, and the second portion, known as ni'suin. As the ketubah is generally written in Aramaic, it is important to appoint someone who is fluent in that language. The ceremony continues with nisu'in, during which seven blessings are made over another cup of wine. As an honor, a number of rabbis, community leaders or relatives and close friends may be called upon to recite the seven blessings, known in Hebrew as sheva brachot. If the bride and groom have both been previously married, only three blessings are recited.

Breaking the Glass

The ceremony ends with the groom stepping on a glass to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Immediately after that, all guests shout in joy "Mazel Tov!" and dance enthusiastically as chatan and kallah leave the chuppah together. The meaning of this act is disputed. The breaking of the glass may have its roots in the Babylonian Talmud: The rabbis tell the story of the wedding of Rav Ashi's son. When the rejoicing of the celebrants grew raucous, Rav Ashi smashed a crystal glass in front of them. The interpretation by the Tosafot (early medieval Talmudic commentators) is that even during moments of great celebration, one must maintain a degree of sobriety. In Israel, the Ashkenazi custom is that the glass is broken earlier, prior to the reading of the ketubah. Sefardim always break the glass at the end of the ceremony, even in Israel.

Yichud

The couple is then joyously accompanied to a private room to complete the official wedding ceremony with yichud, or seclusion. It is customarily performed right after the Kiddushin, although some perform it after the wedding feast. It is imperative that the couple be allowed to remain alone for a certain period of time in order to validate the marriage.



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