Jewish Wedding

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While wedding ceremonies vary, common features of a Jewish wedding include a ketuba (marriage contract) signed by two witnesses, a wedding canopy, a ring owned by the groom that is given to the bride under the canopy, and the breaking of a glass.

Technically, the Jewish wedding process has two distinct stages: kiddushin (sanctification or dedication, also called erusin, betrothal in Hebrew) and nissuin, (marriage, also called huppa), when the couple start their life together. The first stage prohibits the woman to all other men, requiring a religious divorce to dissolve, and the final stage permits the couple to each other.

Today, erusin/kiddushin occurs when the woman accepts a ring or other object of value with the intent of creating a marriage. There are differing opinions as to which part of the ceremony constitutes nissuin/huppah; they include standing under the canopy – itself called a huppah – and being alone together in a room (yichud).While historically these two events could take place as much as a year apart, they are now commonly combined into one  ceremony.

Before the wedding ceremony, the ketubah, or marriage contract, is signed in the presence of two witnesses. The ketubah details the husband’s obligations to his wife, among which are food, clothing, and marital relations. This document has the standing of a legally binding agreement. It is often written as an illuminated manuscript that is framed and displayed in their home. Under the huppa, it is traditional to read the signed ketubah aloud, usually in the Aramaic original, but sometimes in translation. Traditionally, this is done to separate the two basic parts of the wedding. Secular couples may opt for a shortened version to be read out.

A traditional Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under a Chuppah or wedding canopy, symbolizing the new home being built by the couple when they become husband and wife.

Prior to the ceremony, there is a custom for someone – generally the groom – to cover the fact of the bride with a veil. The veiling ritual is known in Yiddish as Badeken. Various reasons are given for the veil and the ceremony.

In traditional weddings, two blessings are recited before the betrothal; a blessing over wine, and the betrothal blessing, which is specified in the Talmud. The wine is then tasted by the couple.

The groom gives the bride with a ring, traditionally a plain wedding band, and recites the verse: Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of  Moses and Israel. The groom places the ring on the bride’s right index finger. According to traditional Jewish law, two valid witnesses must see him place the ring.

During some egalitarian weddings, the bride will also present a ring to the groom,often with a quote from the Song of Songs: “Ani l’dodi, l’dodi li” (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine), which may also be inscribed on the ring itself.This ring is sometimes presented outside the huppa to avoid conflicts with Jewish law.

The Sheva Brachot or seven blessings are recited by the hazzan or rabbi, or by select guests who are called up individually. Being called upon to recite one of the seven blessings is considered an honor. The groom holds a cup or glass of wine during these blessings, and drinks from it either after each blessing, or after all seven. The bride also drinks the wine – in some traditions, the cup will be held to her lips by her new mother-in-law. Traditions vary as to whether additional songs are sung before the seven blessings.

At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass, crushing it with his right foot, and the guests shout “Mazel tov!” (“Good luck“). At some contemporary weddings, a lightbulb may be substituted because the glass is thinner and more easily broken.

The origin of this custom is unknown, although many reasons have been given. The primary reason is that joy must always be tempered. This is based on two accounts in the Talmud of rabbis who, upon seeing that their son’s wedding celebration was getting out of hand, broke a vessel – in the second case a glass – to calm things down. Another explanation is that it is a reminder that despite the joy, Jews still mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Because of this, some recite the verses “If I forget thee / O Jerusalem…” at this point. Many other reasons have been given by traditional authorities. Anthropological explanations include the making of a loud noise to scare away demons (bad luck), and the symbolic deflowering of the bride by the groom.

Yichud (Hebrew for “togetherness” or “seclusion”) refers to the practice of leaving the bride and groom alone for 10–20 minutes after the wedding ceremony. The couple retreats to a private room. Yichud can take place anywhere, from a rabbi’s study to a synagogue classroom.

Dancing is a major feature of Jewish wedding. It is customary for the guests dance in front of the seated couple and entertain them. Traditional dances include:

  • A dance in which the bride and groom hold opposite corners of a handkerchief while they are lifted up on chairs by the guests and whirled around.
  • The Krenzl, in which the bride’s mother is crowned with a wreath of flowers as her daughters dance around her (traditionally at the wedding of the mother’s last unwed daughter).
  • The Mizinke, a dance for the parents of the bride or groom when their last child is wed.
  • The gladdening of the bride, in which guests dance around the bride, and can include the use of “shtick”—silly items such as signs, banners, costumes, confetti, and jump ropes made of table napkins.
  • The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance in front of the bride (or sometimes with the bride in the case of a father or grandfather), often holding a gartel, and then dancing with the groom. At the end the bride and groom dance together themselves.

After the meal, Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) is recited, followed by sheva brachot. At a wedding banquet, the wording of the blessings preceding Birkat Hamazon is slightly different from the everyday version. Prayer booklets called benchers, may be handed out to guests. After the prayers, the blessing over the wine is recited, with two glasses of wine poured together into a third, symbolizing the creation of a new life together. (source)

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