All imagery by Blake Ezra Photography. This is part 8 of the 8-part Jewish Wedding Traditions Explained series.
So far in this Jewish Weddings Explained series, we’ve gone through the entire day from morning to evening, now the real fun begins. Let’s be honest, Jewish weddings are known for their dancing. If there’s one thing that most non-Jewish guests know about a Jewish wedding, it’s that someone is going to be lifted on a chair and there’s going to be some crazy dancing.
In fact, we recently photographed a stunning and intimate non-Jewish wedding in the rolling hills of Devon. A couple of months before that day, the Groom’s brother had married a Jewish girl in New York. The Groom enjoyed the dancing at his brother’s wedding so much that he insisted his guests hoist him and his new wife onto chairs, which they did, as other guests around them clapped and made vaguely Jewish-sounding noises like ‘oy, oy, oy’. Even at non-Jewish weddings, lifting the couple on chairs will always be awesome!
Firstly, what do we call it? Most people nowadays refer to this part of the wedding as the ‘Israeli Dancing’. For me, it’s not as though everybody in Israel dances down the street in a circular fashion on their way to the local shops, and when you go into a club in Tel Aviv, you don’t see everyone being lifted up on chairs… so I call it ‘Jewish dancing’.
As fun as it is, Jewish dancing is not a modern-day phenomenon. In fact there are quotes in the ancient Talmud telling us that Rabbi Judah used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride, whilst Rabbi Aha took the Bride on his shoulders and danced with her. Rabbis are often very studious and serious individuals, but they know how important it is to dance for a couple, bringing them great joy on their big day. The Torah commands Jewish people to: “Love your fellow as yourself; show cheerfulness and love to others on their most special day so they can be happy; and celebrate in their joy as though it was your own.” Each guest should dance with the same vigour as they would on their own wedding day, the same energy, the same enthusiasm, maybe even the same dodgy break-dancing moves.
As a photographer, I adore this part of a Jewish wedding. It’s a hundred miles per hour, there are always ten things you could be capturing, you’re likely to get stamped on by a stiletto or accidentally elbowed by an Usher, you have no time to dwell on a shot or review your work, it’s go go go. If you know what to look for, this can provide some of the most electric, powerful and crazy shots of the day.
At very religious weddings, the men and women do not dance together, and often a Mehitza (a dividing wall) will be erected down the middle of the dance-floor. The word Mehitza comes from the Hebrew ‘Hetzi’, which means ‘half’, as it literally creates two halves of an area. At less religious weddings, where there is no Mehitza, there is still usually a natural separation of men and women for the Jewish dancing.
For those of you organising your Jewish or Jew-ish wedding, and want to have some traditional dancing as part of your celebrations, make sure you let your guests know in advance that Jewish dancing is not a spectator sport. You don’t have to be the Bride’s best friend or Groom’s sibling to get fully involved — just get stuck in and enjoy it!
I really hope the readers of Smashing The Glass have enjoyed this nine-part series explaining some of the rituals of Jewish weddings, and how to make them as meaningful and personal as possible. It’s been my pleasure to write it, and I may even bump into some of you at a wedding soon!
Karen: Thank you so much to Blake Ezra for this truly wonderful series – I’m so proud to have such an in-depth guide to all the Jewish wedding traditions on the blog. And moreover, each of Blake’s posts generates ideas on how you can modernise and personalise the traditions to match your personality and needs (whether you’re planning a Jewish, interfaith, or Jew-ish wedding).
All the posts in the series have been accompanied by Blake’s outstanding wedding photography. (Oh and by the way, make sure you look through the full gallery of Blake’s Jewish wedding dancing images below. Every picture is a smasher!)
Blake Ezra’s ‘Jewish Wedding Dancing’ gallery
Words and imagery by Blake Ezra Photography.