The legal requirements of a Jewish wedding ceremony in the UK

legal-requirements-of-a-Jewish-wedding-ceremony

Granted it’s not the most exciting of topics, but one that definitely needs addressing, so thank you, Emily, for highlighting it! I asked Emily to provide me with an exact list of questions that she wanted answering and then called upon the expertise of STG regular, the wonderful Rabbi Paul Glantz to shed light on the the legal requirements of a Jewish wedding ceremony in England, and the UK.

For any American readers, or brides holding a destination Jewish wedding in the USA, a post detailing the legal requirements of a Jewish wedding in the USA will be up on the blog in he coming weeks too.

farmhouse-wedding
Deborah & Hernan’s Jewish wedding in a farmhouse. See the full wedding here :: Image by York Place Studios

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How to make your friends and family feel extra special at your wedding

creative wedding ideas

Smashing The Glass is all about super creative Jewish (and Jew-ish) weddings packed with individuality and personal details so you’ve definitely come to the right place for inspiration!

I’ve come up with lots of creative ideas for you with everything from innovative ways to include friends, family and little ones in your ceremony to making them feel ultra special at your reception

Ceremony ideas

A lovely way to get your closest friends and family involved is to have them contribute to your chuppah design. Ask guests to contribute different squares (tell them what size is required or supply a blank piece of square material sized correctly) and patchwork them together to make one big chuppah canopy.

Cheryl and Ernest’s beautiful personalised chuppah quilt (below) is an example that’s made out of the clothes of the bride’s mother who sadly passed away, and other momentous pieces including her grandmother’s wedding dress and a shirt her mum had kept of her grandfather’s after he had died, but the same quilt style could be used by asking friends and family to each contribute a square, and sewing them altogether.

quilted-chuppah
Image: Daniel C. Photography from Cheryl & Ernest’s Jewish wedding

Or do what my husband and I did where we asked some of our guests to contribute to our chuppah design by asking them to compose a short message (in English or Hebrew) that we then incorporated into our chuppah canopy design.

This was also a lovely way of including guests from abroad that weren’t able to attend in person. We also chose four significant people to hold each of the four chuppah poles including Sharon, our Irish Catholic mutual friend that set us up (chuppah holders don’t have to be Jewish). Perhaps your fiancée’s best friend could do that? Everyone we asked felt very honoured!

personal chuppah
Image: Earthy Photography from my own Jewish wedding

Another ‘ceremony’ idea is to replace the traditional Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) with prayers by all your friends personalised for you, then have each friend came up and read their own prayer. Chelm and Jake did that in their Jewish wedding – have a read of their wedding post for many more ideas of how to involve friends and family. And even if you don’t want to personalise the seven blessings, you can still ask seven different friends or cousins to read each blessing for you at the chuppah. People comfortable reading Hebrew can read the blessing in Hebrew, while non-Jewish friends can always read an English translation.

Wedding reception ideas

A lovely way to make your guests feel super special is to incorporate another detail that I did for my wedding. My husband and I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to talk to everyone on the day, so we spent some time before the wedding writing personal notes to everyone at the wedding which we then had printed underneath their names on their menus / name cards. It took a bit of time but we really wanted each and every guest to realise how much we wanted them there and what they meant to us.

personal wedding messages
Images: Earthy Photography from my own Jewish wedding

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What’s the correct processional order for a Jewish wedding ceremony?

Jewish wedding question
To begin with, I want to say that “there is no such thing as a ‘generic’ Jewish wedding – no matter what the rabbi tells you, no matter what your mother tells you, and no matter what the caterer tells you”.

That’s not my quote, that’s Anita Diamant’s, from her wonderful book, The New Jewish Wedding. And I start with it, as it’s important to know that just like all other aspects of a Jewish wedding, the processional order will vary with how religious you are, and your local practices, but it will still follow this basic order:

The wedding party enters in this order:

  • Rabbi and/or chazan (cantor) on Rabbi’s right.
  • Bride’s grandparents (or they can choose to be seated beforehand)
  • Groom’s grandparents (or they can choose to be seated beforehand)
  • Ushers in pairs (shortest to tallest)
  • Best man and / or Best woman
  • The groom, escorted by his parents (father on his left, mother on his right)
  • Bridesmaids (individually or in pairs)
  • The bride, escorted by her parents (father on her left, mother on her right)

Jewish-wedding-ceremony-processional-order

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A guide to the Jewish Wedding Ceremony and Order of Service under the chuppah

DEAR KAREN WEDDING Q3

Good question! Many wonderful traditions come together in a Jewish Wedding Ceremony and each one symbolises the beauty of the relationship of a husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and the Jewish people. Here’s my guide to everything you need to know.
Jewish Wedding Chuppah
[ Image: Natasha & Jez’s wedding by Susan Stripling

1. Signing of the Ketubah
To start with we have two short, but very important, rituals. The first is the signing of the ketubah. The ketubah is an ancient document –  a marriage contract of sorts – that specifies the groom’s commitments to the bride.  It is signed by two appointed Jewish witnesses, who must not be blood-related family members to the bride and groom.

Ketubot are often beautiful pieces of artwork that can be framed and displayed in the home.
ketubah
[ Image: Jessica & Pete’s ketubah designed by Jennifer Raichman, by Jonas Seaman ] 

2. Badeken
The second is called the badeken and it happens straight after the ketubah signing. It’s a short but meaningful ritual where the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. It’s a custom that derives from the biblical account of Jacob’s first marriage, when he was deceived to marry the heavily veiled Leah instead of Rachel, his intended bride. I’ve heard that some egalitarian couples are now balancing this tradition by having the bride place a kippah (yarmulke) on her bridegroom’s head too!

The badeken is often emotionally charged as the bride and groom may not have seen each other for 24 hours or longer (as much as 7 days) until this moment.
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[ Image: My badeken at my wedding to Jeremy by Earthy Photography ]

3. Chuppah
Now it’s time for the wedding party to enter the main ceremony area where all the guests are seated. They make their way towards the focal point of the ceremony –  a canopy held up by four poles known as the the chuppah.

The chuppah represents the shelter and privacy of the home that the bride and groom will create following their marriage. The home is central in Jewish life – it is the place where we grow up, learn to share and love, and from which we also secure our independence. You will see that the bride and groom stand at the centre of it, and the walls are formed by those closest to them. Just as the walls of our home protect us from the elements, offering warmth and security, so too the ‘walls’ of the chuppah – that is our families and friends – provide support and strength with their love.

The bride follows the groom towards the chuppah, and both are usually escorted by their respective sets of parents.

The custom of the bride circling the bridegroom seven times has been interpreted as the symbolic building of a wall of love around the relationship of the bride and groom. Seven represents the most sacred of all numbers in Judaism and also symbolises the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately.

Again, some more modern couples choose to update this ritual by circling around each other three times and then a final figure of eight. Chelm and Jake did this in their fabulously personal Jewish wedding.

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How much time do we allow for the Jewish Dancing section of our wedding?

DEAR KAREN WEDDING Q2
Hi MeLena

The hora is one of my favourite parts of  a Jewish wedding – everyone that you love and care about dances around you, participating in your joy and celebration as you try not to fall off your flying thrones! I say live it up  but I think the answer to how long for, depends on the type of guests that you’ve invited.

If it’s a predominantly Jewish crowd who have been to many Jewish weddings before your big day, they are going to throw themselves into it and probably want 30 minutes worth to work up a huge sweat and go wild! That could either be encompassed into all one set, or split into two sets of 15 minutes.

However, if there are going to be quite a few non-Jews who may have never experienced the Hora before than I think that a shorter set of  approximately 10 minutes is better as there won’t be quite the same vigour from every guest, and not everyone will have the confidence to throw themselves into the Jewish dancing the first time they experience it.

The great thing about an iPod playlist is that you can arrange say 30 minutes worth of hora dance music and just wind it down at any point if you feel the momentum is dropping or people are ready for a break. It’s definitely better to allow for more and give the ‘cut’ signal to the DJ if you feel like it’s time to stop.

In terms of your iPod Jewish music playlist, get the party rocking by checking out these cool alternative versions of Hava Nagila, the Hora and other Jewish Wedding music and this one that collates the best versions and remixes of Hava Nagila. There are loads of non-traditional versions to choose from that maybe better match your personality as a couple, or your wedding theme, than the traditional ‘fiddler on the roof’ style versions. Listen to them all , take your pick, and have a wonderful Jewish wedding music set!

Karen x


Do you have a wedding-related question that you’d like me to answer in Dear Karen? Either email me or leave it in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!