Jewish Wedding Ceremonies
Author: Mavis ElliotJews believe that a person cannot achieve complete joy and fulfilment on earth without being united in the holy covenant of marriage. According to Jewish tradition, the bride and groom not only pay attention to the material and temporal aspects of wedding preparations, but also to ensuring their religious, spiritual and moral preparedness for their big day.
What is a Jewish Orthodox wedding?
As long as the bride (Kallah) and groom (Chatan) are standing under the Chuppah (canopy), the marriage ceremony can take place almost anywhere - in a synagogue, the bride or groom's home, in a public venue such as a hotel or even on a beach.
The wedding venue is chosen by the bride and groom. The cost is normally covered by the bride's parents.
The Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony follows a strict pattern, including singing and readings taken from the psalms, from which it is impossible to deviate. The wedding lasts about one hour.
To marry in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, your parents must also have been married in the orthodox manner, the ceremony presided over by an authorised Rabbi. They also need to produce a Ketubah (Jewish marriage licence). For the Orthodox wedding to be considered valid, there needs to be a minimum of ten males (usually friends or family) in attendance, a group known as the minyan.
Organising your Jewish Orthodox wedding
Setting the date
You can marry at any time of the day, though it is most usual to marry in the afternoon or evening. Most people choose to marry on a Sunday or a Tuesday - a particularly significant day, as this was when God blessed His creation doubly.
A few months before you intend to get married, you must register with a synagogue and Rabbi at the Chief Rabbi's office, based in Finchley, London. For more details, contact the Jewish Marriage Council on 020 8203 6311.
It is forbidden to get married in the 49 days between the moveable feasts of Passover and Pentecost, and during three weeks between July and August. It is also forbidden to marry on the Sabbath or on festival days. If you want to get married on a Saturday, the ceremony is not allowed to begin earlier than two hours after sundown.
Preparing for your wedding
Two weeks before the Orthodox wedding, the groom must obtain a Ketubah from the Chief Rabbi's office. Written in English and Aramaic, this is the Jewish marriage certificate. By Jewish rule, the groom must accept certain responsibilities for the maintenance of his bride and these responsibilities are spelt out in detail in the Ketubah. His principal obligations are to provide food, clothing and shelter for his wife and be attentive to her needs. The document also stipulates the minimum settlement to be received by his wife in the event of the marriage being dissolved.
The couple are required to meet the Rabbi a number of times before they marry, so he can offer advice about the meaning of marriage, provide them with religious texts to read and answer any questions. There is also a meeting between the bride and the Rabbi's wife who will explain what is expected of each partner in a marriage.
The congregation follow the service from the siddur (book) and service sheets are normally provided when non-Orthodox guests are invited. The sheets explain the significance of the ceremony and give a running order to guide the guests.
This is not normal practice, but is up to each individual Rabbi/synagogue.
All non-Orthodox Jewish guests are welcome to the synagogue, as long as they respect the traditions and customs of the Jewish faith and culture. Men must cover their heads with a Kippah (which is often provided) and married women should cover their heads too. All women are required to cover their shoulders and arms before entering the synagogue.
Male guests normally wear a dinner jacket or suit and women, a dress or skirt - trousers for women are considered disrespectful in the synagogue.
The bride usually wears a white wedding dress. Throughout the ceremony, her face is covered by a veil. The groom wears a suit and a Kippah (skull cap) more commonly called a Yarmulke, although most grooms opt for a top hat instead. He will also wear a white prayer shawl, known as a Tallith/Tallit, over his suit.
Before the wedding
On the eve of the wedding, the Chuppah or canopy is constructed from four vertical poles, linked by a frame and traditionally covered by velvet embroidered cloth. It represents the new home being established. As it is open on all four sides, it symbolises the unconditional hospitality to be extended to all who enter.
Unless you're getting married on Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon and beginning of the Jewish month), you'll have to fast for 24 hours before the ceremony. This period is seen as a personal Yom Kippur - a day of atonement - when the couple repent of their sins so that they can begin their new life together with a 'clean slate'.
It is traditional for the bride and groom not to see each other a week before the wedding.
The wedding day
The men, including the ushers, arrive first. This is known as the groom's Tish - the time when the groom, ushers and male family members gather for song and prayers before the ceremony.
The fathers of the bride and groom and the ushers enter with the groom. The bride arrives with her mother, mother-in-law and the bridesmaids.
The next step is the Bedeken (the veiling of the bride), which is carried out immediately before the processional of the bride, groom and their 'unterfuhrers' or attendants to the Chuppah. This takes place in another room, while most of the guests are being seated. It can be a very private time with just the rabbi, bride and groom and both sets of parents present. However, some couples like to include their close family too - aunts, uncles and siblings. The fathers bless the bride and groom and the groom veils his bride. This is an ancient custom and serves as the first of many actions by which the groom signals his commitment to clothe and protect his wife. The custom developed from the Biblical story of Jacob, who married Leah by mistake instead of Rachel, the women he loved.
The ceremony itself lasts 20-30 minutes and is made up of the Kiddushin and the Nisuin. The former involves the bride walking around the groom seven times on her arrival under the Chuppah, to show this is the man she wishes to marry. This action also represents the role she will play in creating an all-embracing, religious warmth within their new home. She settles on her groom's right-hand side with her unterfuhrers to her right, the groom's to his left. Two pre-nuptial blessings are recited over wine, a symbol of sanctification and joy, and the couple drink.
The groom now takes the wedding ring in his hand and declares to his wife: "Behold, you are sanctified to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and of Israel". He places the ring on his bride's finger. Bride and groom are now legally married, but according to Jewish law, not yet permitted to live together as man and wife.
The Rabbi then reads the Ketuba certificate of marriage to the couple and guests in English and Hebrew, says more prayers and blesses the couple. Following this, he performs a short speech in which he talks about the bride and groom's family histories.
The Nisuin that follows completes the ceremony. It is conducted under the Chuppah and symbolises the act of the husband bringing his new wife into his home. The bride and groom recite the seven marriage blessings (sheva brakhos). They talk of the themes of the greatness of God as creator of all, the happiness of bride and groom and the wellbeing of the eternally inspiring source of religious strength, the city of Jerusalem. These blessings are recited over a second cup of wine and at their conclusion, bride and groom again drink some of the wine.
During the service, the Eshet Chail is sung. This is a special song to the bride, which celebrates her new role as a wife.
There is usually a Jewish choir and musicians in attendance. They will perform music from prayers and psalms, as well as traditional Jewish folk music.
The breaking of the glass
To mark the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass with his heel. This act expresses sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. A Jew, even during this personal and religious rejoicing is always encouraged to "set Jerusalem above my chiefest joy". The breaking of the glass also serves as a reminder to all concerned that the forthcoming celebration and merry-making must be in accordance with what is considered appropriate and respectable behaviour.
After the ceremony
The bride and groom sign the marriage documents with two witnesses - normally a sibling, bridesmaid, best man or usher. The couple then spend a few minutes alone together in a private room in the venue. This is known as the Yichud and must be undisturbed time. They normally break their fast at this point. The Rabbi will guard the door and the guests do not leave the ceremony venue until they reappear. Once the time is over, the guests wave the couple off, so they are the first to make their way directly to the reception.
The reception party follows - usually a large, lavish dinner. The meal concludes with grace and a repetition of the seven marriage blessings.
Speeches are made by the Rabbi, the father of the groom and the bridegroom. Afterwards, guests dance to the accompaniment of Jewish folk music and or any other music of their choice.
For more information, go to www.somethingjewish.co.uk or click here to learn about music in Jewish wedding ceremonies
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