The Modern Jewish Ceremony

The basics of Jewish nuptials, with twists for contemporary couples

Thinking about having a Jewish wedding ceremony? Here are the most common customs, along with up-to-date alternatives you can easily incorporate into your own contemporary celebration.

The Ketubah

Traditionally, the Ketubah was an Aramaic document that not only avowed the bride's acceptance of the groom's proposal, but also declared that the groom had acquired the bride and agreed to support her—eek! Obviously, the original contract doesn't work for the modern American couple.

Recently, however, couples are re-embracing the Ketubah as an important part of their marriage plans. Only now, the document includes a vow of commitment from both the bride and the groom, plus a declaration of the couple's dedication to God and the Jewish people. Signed by the bride and groom, their rabbi, and two witnesses, today's Ketubah is a statement of the couple's loyalty not only to each other, but also to their faith.

In addition to changing the wording, many couples hire professional calligraphers to write their Ketubah. And artists decorate the document with symbols of love and family for the bride and groom to display in their new home.

The Walk to the Chuppah

The chuppah is a canopy, sometimes lavishly adorned with flowers, that symbolizes the home. In the Jewish tradition, both of the groom's parents walk him down the aisle to the chuppah. Then the bride and her parents follow.

Circling

Under the chuppah, the bride traditionally circles around her groom either three or seven times, some say to create a magical wall of protection from evil spirits, temptation, and the glances of other women. Others believe the bride is symbolically creating a new family circle.

Today, the bride and the groom can circle together or around each other, demonstrating independent and complementary orbits.

Breaking the Glass

After the ceremony and before leaving the chuppah, the groom steps on a glass wrapped in cloth. This act has many interpretations, both religious and nonreligious. The shattering of the glass can be considered symbolic of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem or of the horrors the Jewish people have suffered through the ages.

To some, however, the breaking of the glass is a reminder of the fragility of life and an affirmation that in times of happiness there should be a touch of seriousness. It also serves as a reminder of the sanctity of marriage—a broken glass cannot be mended.

Yichud or Seclusion

Following the ceremony, tradition dictates that couples spend approximately 18 minutes in yichud (or seclusion). This wedding custom allows the newly married couple to reflect privately on their new relationship and allows them precious time alone to bond and rejoice.

It's also customary for the bride and groom to share their first meal together as husband and wife during the yichud. Customary meals differ from community to community and can range from the "golden soup" of the Ashkenazim (said to indicate prosperity and build strength) to chocolate-chip cookies from Grandma.

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