Today is my parents' 38th wedding anniversary. In honor of them, I present 13 things about Jewish weddings.
1. First, you gotta get engaged. The engagement can be celebrated at an engagement party/announcement party, known in frum circles as a "vort". The parents of the bride and groom may sign an agreement, called "tenaim" or, in most modern circles, probably not. An old custom is for the mothers of the bride and groom to break a plate together to symbolize that their children will no longer be eating at their tables. Also, it symbolizes the unbreakable nature of the engagement.
2. There are restrictions in the Jewish calendar as to when a wedding can take place. No weddings on Shabbat - from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Traditionally, Jews have been prohibited from getting married during the period of the Omer, the days between Passover and Shavuot. In addition, the three weeks before Tisha B'Av (usually August) are also considered prohibited. Most of these restrictions are eased by Reform and some Conservative rabbis because these are considered "semi-mourning" rather than full mourning periods. For more information on this, go here. On the upside, Tuesdays are considered auspicious days to get married, as is Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. The month of Elul, preceeding the High Holy Days, is very busy but also considered a good time to get married because the name Elul is an acronym for the Song of Songs phrase "I am my beloved and my beloved is mine."
3. It is customary for both the bride and groom to go to the mikveh, the ritual bath, before their wedding. Read more about my experiences with the mikveh here.
4. Before the wedding, a marriage contract called a Ketubah is signed. (This is in addition to a civil marriage license.) Historically only the groom signed the document (and still the way things go in the Orthodox community) but most modern Jews choose to view the ketubah as a more egalitarian document. Many ketubot (plural of ketubah) are beautiful pieces of art that the bride and groom later hang in their home. My favorite thing about the ketubah is that even in the past, it was always considered the property of the woman, and was her insurance that is her husband wanted a divorce, she would receive back her bride price (goats...).
5. After the signing of the ketubah, it is customary to veil the bride, a ceremony known as the bedeken. The groom himself places the veil on his bride, to ensure that he is marrying the right woman. This tradition stems from Jacob's experience with Leah & Rachel in the Torah.
6. Traditionally the bride wears a white dress and the groom a white garment called a kittel. The kittel is also worn on Yom Kippur, and symbolizes personal purity. On the day of one's wedding, it is a chance to start fresh, and considered an opportunity for personal repentance.
6. Bride and Groom stand together under a chuppah, a marriage canopy that symbolizes the home they are about to create. It is probably the most recognizable symbol of a Jewish wedding.
7. There is a custom among many Jews that after walking down the aisle to the chuppah, the bride makes seven circles around the groom, to symbolize the protective circle of their marriage. Modern interpretations of this custom have the bride making 3 circles around the groom, the groom 3 around the bride, and 1 circle together.
8. The wedding ceremony itself is actually 2 ceremonies joined together. Wine is blessed and rings are exchanged (traditionally only the bride receives a ring but many couples exchange rings now). Rings are required to be unbroken circles, traditionally unadorned, to symbolize the never-ending circle of their love.
9. A Jewish wedding can be performed by any Jewish adult. A rabbi isn't exactly necessary. Civil law requires an officiant, however, who is licensed to perform marriages, and rabbis do fit the bill. In addition, a rabbi is likely to help the couple view their wedding as part of the whole of the Jewish community.
10. The Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, are really considered the heart of the wedding ceremony. Asking for abundant blessings for the bride and groom, the blessings are usually sung beautifully and can provide an opportunity for involving friends and loved ones as readers in the ceremony. They are also repeated during the Grace after Meals at the wedding meal and traditionally at seven dinners for seven nights after the wedding. (The couple is usually hosted by friends and relatives each night, the dinners are known as sheva brachot.)
11. The final piece of a wedding ceremony is the breaking of the glass. The custom has many rationales. I like a few of them: the broken glass reminds us the brokenness of the world, even in the midst of our happiness; reminds us of those who wait for a day as happy as this one; defines the unbreakable bond of the couple; the thousands of pieces of the glass are the number of times by which the happiness of the couple will be multiplied.
11. After the ceremony, the couple gets a few moments of seclusion, known as yichud. It's a chance for the couple to connect, eat (traditionally they've been fasting all day), and share a few moments alone before the rush of the festive meal to follow!
12. Many consider the first year of a couple's married life to be special. Some follow "sweet" customs, such as dipping their Shabbat challah in honey each week instead of the customary salt. It is a chance to begin their lives together!
13. Every Jewish wedding is unique, and every community has its own customs and standards. Attending a Jewish wedding? Don't hesitate to ask questions. One great resource for attending all religious experiences is How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook.
Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad! May this year be the best yet.
See more Thursday Thirteen here.