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.
[ 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.
[ Image: Jessica & Pete’s ketubah designed by Jennifer Raichman, by Jonas Seaman ]
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.
[ Image: My badeken at my wedding to Jeremy by Earthy Photography ]
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.