Jewish tradition teaches that the celebration of a wedding is to be filled with happiness, love, and joy. There is a custom that nothing is to be permitted to interfere with the happiness of a bride and groom on their wedding day.
When a couple becomes engaged, we encourage you to contact us immediately so that we can share in your joy and assist you in choosing a wedding date. There are certain dates on the Hebrew calendar where a wedding is not permitted including holidays and festivals, certain fast days, and days of mourning. Temple Beth El’s clergy love to share in wedding celebrations, and meet with couples on several occasions prior to the wedding to prepare for the ceremony and for pre-marital counseling.
The first part of the wedding celebration is called the Bedeken, and is where the Ketubah is examined and signed and the bride’s veil is lowered. The Ketubah is the marriage contract. There are many different ways to acquire a Ketubah and they come in a wide variety of styles and with different texts, from a traditional Aramaic text to a more progressive or modern text. The rabbis can guide you in selecting a Ketubah, that is right for you.
The second part of the Bedeken includes the lowering of the bride’s veil. The veil comes from the story of Isaac and Rebecca in the Torah. Rebecca, when she met Isaac, veiled herself as a sign of the intimacy that only they would share. Some also are reminded of the story of Jacob and Rachel, who mistakenly married her sister Leah.
A Jewish wedding consists of two parts – Erusin, which in Hebrew means betrothal; and Nisuin, which in Hebrew means nuptials. In ancient times, and not-so-ancient times, these events were celebrated on different occasions. The family of the bride and groom would meet several months prior to the wedding, agree on the terms of the betrothal, set a date for the nuptials, and shout mazel tov! But there were occasions when the groom did not appear at the appointed date and time, leaving the status of his intended unclear. So in the middle ages, the rabbis decided to celebrate Erusin and Nisuin on the same day, to avoid any confusion. Thus a modern-day Jewish wedding ceremony consists of two ceremonies that have been fused together.
After the Bedeken, the couple arrives at the Chuppah, the marriage canopy. The Chuppah is a symbol of the home the couple is building together. It is open on all sides, like Abraham and Sarah’s tent, to express that the idea that the couple’s home is part of the larger community, and is a temporary structure, to show that the commitments made there should be taken with couple wherever they build their home.
Some follow a custom whereby the bride would circle the groom seven times before entering into the sacred space of the Chuppah. This was a custom that symbolized “a wall of love” that would protect the couple’s home. Some couples make this practice for egalitarian by having the bride circle the groom three times, the groom circle the bride three times, and then together the couple holds hands to make a seventh circle together.
Upon entering the Chuppah, the bride and groom are welcomed with blessings, followed by the blessings of Erusin – betrothal. Then the couple is asked to consent to the marriage that traditionally was arranged for them by their families.
Next, the groom presents his wife with her wedding ring, reciting the traditional formula which translates to mean: “Behold you are consecrated to me with this ring as my wife in keeping with the laws of Moses and Israel.” Traditionally a Jewish wedding ring was of a single, unbroken, solid metal band. Since the groom was obligated to present the bride with an object of determined value, the wedding ring had no jewels or precious stones, which were only of an appraised value. The solidity of the ring reminds the couple of the solidity of the bond between them, and the unbroken round shape reminded them of the cycle of life. Some couples follow a custom whereby a ring with special significance to the family or community is borrowed for the purposes of the wedding ceremony.
It has become more customary for both the bride and the groom to give the other a wedding ring, though in Jewish tradition, the bride is not obligated to give the groom a ring. A customary response from the bride to the groom, upon presenting a ring to him, comes from the Book of Hosea: “I betroth you to me forever. I betroth you to me with steadfast love and compassion. I betroth you to me in faithfulness.” Some couples will also right personal vows they choose to share.
Following the exchange of rings and vows, the Ketubah is read aloud to the gathered congregation. It is a tradition that all in attendance at a wedding share in the obligation of helping the couple fulfill the terms of their Ketubah. The reading of the Ketubah serves as the bridge from Erusin – betrothal, to Nisuin – nuptials.
The celebration of Nisuin consists of the recitation of the Sheva Brachot, the seven marital blessings. These blessings focus on an ascending order of miracle. Beginning with the creation of the world, the blessings move on to the creation of humanity, humanity’s creation in God’s image, the covenantal relationship God shares with the people and land of Israel, and on to the miracle of love, the sacred and spiritual bond that brings a man and woman to be one with each other as husband and wife.
The wedding concludes with blessings and the breaking of the glass. The custom of breaking a glass at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony has many interpretations. It originated from a superstitious belief that “evil spirits” would be attracted to the happiness of the bride and groom, and so the broken glass would scare away the “evil spirits.” It later became a symbol for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, so that we are reminded that even on a perfect day like a wedding day, there is still much work to be done to repair our broken world. Another interpretation teaches that a glass is a vessel that can only contain so much, but that the happiness of a bride and groom is boundless, and cannot be contained. Thus we break the glass to show the boundless nature of the love the bride and groom share for each other.
It is customary for the bride and groom to spend time alone together after the wedding – for this traditionally would be the first time the couple was alone together unchaperoned symbolizing the consummation of the wedding.