Jewish History

Why Do You Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

Perhaps the most iconic moment of a Jewish wedding is the stepping on a glass, to joyous cheers of “mazel tov!” (“congratulations!”) from the guests. But where does this tradition come from and what does it mean?

Jewish weddings are famous, even in pop culture and among non-Jews, for ending with the breaking of a glass. Traditionally the groom steps on a wrapped glass at the end of the ceremony, and the loud pop of the broken glass has become culturally associated with the moment the couple are officially married (the Jewish version of “you may now kiss the bride”) and met with congratulatory cheers by the guests. Today, both of the newlyweds might step on a glass in some modern egalitarian communities or at same-sex weddings.

Origins of the custom
Why Do You Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

The tradition of breaking a glass at a Jewish wedding goes all the way back to the Talmud, though it wasn’t always done by the groom or even at the ceremony itself. The tractate Brachot recounts two different rabbis, Mar son of Ravina and Rabbi Ashi, who were bothered by the excessive revelry at their sons’ respective wedding feasts, and so they each smashed an expensive glass cup in front of the wedding guests in order to sober and sadden them.

Eventually this custom was incorporated into the wedding ceremony itself and done by the groom, though it’s unclear when exactly it became so formalized or universal. The glass breaking wasn’t always done by foot either; medieval German synagogues are known to have included a special stone in their facades to be used for breaking the glass at wedding ceremonies.

The meaning of breaking the glass
Why Do You Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

There are several meanings and reasons that have developed for the breaking of the glass at Jewish wedding ceremonies:

  • To symbolize the destruction of our Holy Temple and to remind us of our sadness and mourning for it even during our greatest moments of joy; this is traditionally the most commonly cited reason behind the breaking of the glass
  • To show that joy must always be tempered; this was likely the original reason in the Talmud
  • As a reminder of the fragility of human relationships and acknowledgment that marriage will require both joy and sadness
  • Marriage is a covenant, and Jewish covenants normally include cutting or breaking something, such as circumcision or the breaking of the stone tablets at Mt. Sinai; similarly, there is a tradition to break a plate at Jewish engagements
  • There have historically been superstitions surrounding scaring away demons believed to be attracted to happy occasions such as weddings, and it’s possible the loud noise of the breaking of the glass was also meant to serve this purpose
What kind of glass to use and how to break it safely
Why Do You Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

A regular drinking glass or wine glass is usually used for the wedding breaking glass, though some couples today opt for a lightbulb as it’s easier to break and makes a louder popping sound.

Some opinions, however, are opposed to using something as cheap as a lightbulb for such an important and meaningful custom.

Some Jewish couples opt to buy a glass made expressly for this purpose, which can be made even more special and meaningful with a decorated pouch or by hailing from the Land of Israel (like the “O Jerusalem” Breaking Glass in our store here!).

The glass should be in a protective pouch or covered with a heavy cloth or foil in order to keep the shards from dispersing or causing injury.

It is also common to keep the broken shards as a special memento, and they can even be incorporated into a piece of décor or Judaica for the home like a beautiful mezuzah!

 

Now that you know about the breaking of the glass, check out other Jewish wedding ceremony essentials with our guide here, and shop for all your wedding needs and gifts straight from the Land of Israel right at our store!

Can’t decide on a wedding gift for a young Jewish couple in your life? See our Top 10 Wedding Gifts list here!

Why Do You Break a Glass at a Jewish Wedding?

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