This Custom Is a Staple of Traditional Jewish Wedding Ceremonies

Liz Susong weighs in on the classic Jewish smashing ritual

Updated 06/29/17

Clark + Walker Studio

In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

If you like a good wedding custom, boy, would you dig a Jewish wedding. From the date and time of the wedding to the wording on the invitations, Jewish couples have a precedent that they can choose to follow or modify according to their values. And many stodgy patriarchal wedding traditions have been easily updated to be more egalitarian. For instance, a Jewish bride customarily circles her groom seven times to symbolize that he is now the center of her life. Today, circling is either omitted, or both partners take a turn circling the other to show a mutual commitment to one another.

Perhaps the most culturally recognizable Jewish wedding custom is the smashing of the glass and the celebratory chorus that follows, “Mazel Tov!” Danya Shults, the founder of ARQ, a lifestyle brand for “Jew-ish” people, says, “Our rabbi asked us a question that really resonated with us when we were planning which traditions to include. He said, ‘What do you or your loved ones need to see or hear to feel like you got married?’ For me, the smashing of the glass felt iconic and essential.”

Interestingly, this tradition has a number of interpretations. Karen Cinnamon, the founder and editor of Smashing the Glass, an appropriately named wedding inspiration Web site for Jewish couples, explains that smashing the glass symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, “which in turn symbolizes the destruction faced by Jewish people over the past two thousand years.” And why acknowledge this sadness at the end of a joyous wedding ceremony? “It’s said that whenever Jewish people experience immense joy, they should also remember times of hardship from their ancestry,” she says.

“With celebration comes commemoration.” If you’re raising an eyebrow, Cinnamon understands, “but it comes with the tribe membership,” she explains.

And many couples extract their own meaning from this symbol. Here's how Danya and her husband, Andrew, described the tradition for their interfaith guests in their wedding program: "Our wedding is a day of irrevocable change. The moment the glass is broken, our separate lives end, and our life as a married couple begins. The act of stomping on the glass is a reminder that relationships are fragile and must be treated with great care, love, and mutual respect."

Danya and Karen have seen many approaches to smashing the glass. Some couples ask for a moment of silence after smashing the glass to acknowledge brokenness and injustice in the world. Others take a lighthearted approach, laughing that this is the last time the groom will put his foot down. Danya says she recently heard about a bride and a groom who both stomped on the glass “signifying the shattering of the glass ceiling.”

Traditionally, the groom breaks the glass. Alain Cohen, the owner and chef at Got Kosher? in Los Angeles, says, “I didn't know why, but it was important to me that I break the glass completely and without hesitation. Apparently missing the glass is a sign of weakness, which reflects on the groom’s personality.”

Today, however, many couples have adapted this tradition to be independent of gender. Natalie and Nicole share their experience: “During the ceremony, we were both wearing heels. It’s impossible to smash the glass in heels, so we each donned a cowboy boot at the end of the ceremony to break the glass. Hobbling back down the aisle in one heel and one boot was hilarious and memorable.”

Amy of Ohio says she and her husband both wanted to break the glass, but her father-in-law was against it. “As goes with wedding planning, you pick your battles, so I decided not to fight,” she says. “Fast-forward to the wedding day, and the rabbi pulls out not one, but two, light bulbs wrapped in duct tape, one for each of us. It was a surprise to both of us. As we learned later, my future father-in-law gave him the two light bulbs right before the ceremony.”

Light bulbs are the easiest to break, but some couples choose to break a special glass so that it can be transformed into a keepsake. Danya had a bowl made that serves as a memory of the wedding. Lisa of Colorado says, “A family friend got us two colorful champagne flutes with little velvet pouches to put them in for the breaking part of our ceremony. We put the shards into a mezuzah that was also part of the gift. This was probably the most thoughtful gift at our wedding.” When asked why both she and her husband chose to break the glass together, she said simply, “Why should the dude get all the fun of smashing a glass!?”

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