As the sun begins to shine throughout the day and flowers begin to blossom, nature sets the perfect backdrop to wedding season, and this of course includes Jewish weddings. Like most weddings, Jewish weddings are full of tradition, but these religious traditions date back to hundreds of years, with one of the first we know of coming from Jacob’s marriage to Leah. Jacob did not know that Leah was replacing Rachel and did not check under the veil which is why today the groom always checks. There are so many interesting parts to a Jewish wedding and here are just a few you might see next time you attend one.
As the bride and groom walk down the aisle at a Jewish wedding, they meet underneath the chuppah or wedding canopy. The chuppah can range in style, from something as a simple as a tallit on poles to a beautiful floral arrangement with sweeping curtains- the only requirement being there must be some type of “roof” as the chuppah represents the new home of the couple and represents G-d’s presence at the ceremony. Some choose to use a tallit as it represents all the mitzvot (commandments) they will do in their future together. Back in the day, wedding ceremonies took place in two parts, once where there was an engagement and one where the bride began to live with her husband, and these took place in two different places as well. Today the engagement agreement is signed before the ceremony and everything happens in one place, so the chuppah is used as a second place and to keep tradition alive.
While standing under the chuppah, close family and friends join the newlyweds to say the Sheva Brachot, Seven blessings, given to the new couple. Each blessing is read by a different person, often times alternating between the bride’s side and the groom side, and the blessings thank G-d for this incredible moment and wishes the newlyweds well on the beginning of their marriage. Giving a blessing is considered to be an honor, but this isn’t the only time where Sheva Brachot are read. After the meal at the wedding Sheva Brachot are said again and some hold to a tradition that during the first week of marriage, family and friends prepare dinner parties for the bride and groom, to which after each meal, Sheva Brachot are again read by their loved ones.
The Ketubah is the Jewish marriage contract that states the obligations of the husband to the wife and is signed by the groom and two witnesses. However, this is no ordinary marriage contract as many have a ketubah that is a piece of art and hung on the wall. While this might seem strange, there is good reason behind it. Under the chuppah, the groom gives the bride the ketubah and it is her responsibility to know where it is at all times, since if it should get lost or damage, it can cause problems with their marital status. In Israel, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel holds a second copy, but originally, it was up to the wife, which is why it was turned into art, so it can always be found. Some say the ketubah is hung on the wall to remind the couple of their commitment and dedication to one another. Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaism have different versions of what should be written on the ketubah and artist have been sure to make beautiful designs for each and every one.
Breaking of the Glass
One of the most well known Jewish wedding traditions is the breaking of the glass. Towards the end of the ceremony, the groom smashes a glass cup with his foot, and everyone then yells out “Mazal Tov!” but the meaning behind the glass is not a happy one. The broken glass actually represents the destruction of the Temple, and while weddings are a joyous occasion, we must remember our past and that Jewish life is not complete without a Temple. Some even save the glass and have it turned into art, often featuring the phrase “if I forget thee Jerusalem”. Another opinion on why we break the glass is rather ironic. Before being born, the souls of a husband and wife were joined together, only to be torn apart at birth. Throughout the years, the two grew up and developed into themselves, only to meet again and become one. The breaking of the glass resembles that their souls will never be torn apart again.
These Jewish wedding traditions are truely a beautiful thing. Lasting for hundreds of years, following through with these ancient rituals have kept modern weddings as special as they are and leave the newlyweds with smiles as they begin their new lives together. After the wedding ceremony the party starts and the fun begins with dancing, music, food and of course, bringing joy to the happy couple in their first moments as husband and wife. Enjoy wedding season and Mazal Tov!