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 – for more guidance and inspiration, be sure to sign up for Brides Club, our ultra-informative, always supportive members-only space for Jewish and Jew-ish brides.
Dvorit and Ollie‘s Jewish wedding | Photo by Claudine Hartzel
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.
Lucy and Joel‘s Jewish wedding | Photo by Kate Swerdlow Photography
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.
Esther and Yoni‘s Jewish wedding | Photo by Ben Kelmer
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. For more ideas on how to personalize Jewish wedding traditions, download our guide to the top 9 Jewish wedding traditions and ways to personalize them.
Image: Dave & Charlotte
Nothing says “Jewish wedding” more than the sound of the smashing of the glass, so it’s the natural joyous title for my Jewish wedding blog but why is breaking the glass such an important ritual of the Jewish wedding ceremony?
First and foremost it is the official signal to cheer, dance, shout “Mazal Tov!” and start partying! But there are various other explanations depending on whom you ask. Some of them are that it:
1. is a representation of the fragility of human relationships; and a reminder that marriage will change your life (hopefully for the good) forever.
2. is a superstition and the loud noise is supposed to drive away evil spirits.
3. is a break with the past: the marriage is to last as long as the glass remains broken, ie. forever.
4. symbolises the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.
5. symbolises a hope that your happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass, or that your children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass.
And so it goes on. And as with many symbolic acts in Judaism, you can see that there are a host of reasons available to explain why we break the glass at a Jewish wedding. Some Jewish men may also joke that this is the last time the groom gets to ‘put his foot down’!
Image: Hatunot Blog / Alexey Kudrik
CHOOSE THE INTERPRETATION THAT IS MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU
Whatever reason resonates with you best, feel free to ask your rabbi or officiant to mention, just before the breaking of the glass, an interpretation that is the most meaningful for you.
And on the subject of breaking the glass, there are all sorts of alternative variations that you can make eg. why not both break the glass together with one swift smash in unison? Be creative and choose the interpretation of the breaking the glass that means the most to you as a couple and it will make that element of your ceremony more momentous.
Image: Hatunot Blog / Dima Vazinovich
WEDDING SHARD MEZUZAH KEEPSAKE
Once the glass-smashing has been done and you are man and wife, I think it’s a beautiful idea to create a mezuzah keepsake out of the smashed glass from your wedding ceremony. There are quite a few crafts-y people on Etsy who will create one for you from your shards of glass such as the one below from Enid Traisman