Heading to your first Jewish wedding? Whether it's reform or strictly orthodox, there are some Jewish wedding traditions that you will definitely see. Some may sound familiar, but knowing what to expect (and being versed in the meaning behind what you're watching) will make you even more prepared to celebrate.
The wedding day is considered a day of forgiveness, and as such, some couple choose to fast the day of their wedding, just as they would on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The couple's fast will last until their first meal together after the wedding ceremony.
Before the ceremony, the groom approaches the bride for the bedeken, or veiling. He looks at her and then veils her face. This signifies that his love for her is for her inner beauty, and also that the two are distinct individuals even after marriage. It also is a tradition stemming from the Bible wherein Jacob was tricked into marrying the sister of the woman he loved because the sister was veiled. If the groom does the veiling himself, such trickery can never happen.
3. Ketubah Signing
The ketubah is a Jewish prenuptial agreement that outlines the groom's responsibilities to his bride. It dictates the conditions he will provide in the marriage, the bride's protections and rights, and the framework should the couple choose to divorce. Ketubahs aren't actually religious documents, but are part of Jewish civil law—so there's no mention of God blessing the union. The ketubah is signed by the couple and two witnesses before the ceremony takes place, then is read to the guests during the ceremony.
4. The Walk to the Chuppah
In the Jewish tradition, both of the groom's parents walk him down the aisle to the chuppah, the altar beneath which the couple exchanges vows. Then the bride and her parents follow.
5. Vows Under the Chuppah
A chuppah has four corners and a covered roof to symbolize the new home they are building together. In some ceremonies, the four posts of the chuppah are held up by friends or family members throughout the ceremony, supporting the life the couple is building together, while in other instances it may be a freestanding structure decorated with flowers. The canopy is often made of a tallit, or prayer shawl, belonging to a member of the couple or their families. You may see the couple's parents join them under the chuppah, along with the rabbi, but this isn't a requirement.
The bride traditionally circles around her groom either three or seven times under the chuppah. Some people believe this is 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.
The bride and the groom can circle together or around each other, demonstrating independent and complementary orbits.
7. Sheva B'rachot: Seven Blessings
The seven blessings, called the Sheva B'rachot, come from ancient teachings. They are often read in both Hebrew and English, and shared by a variety of family members or friends, just as friends and family are invited to perform readings in other types of ceremonies. The blessings focus on joy, celebration, and the power of love. They begin with the blessing over a cup wine, then progress to more grand and celebratory statements, ending with a blessing of joy, peace, companionship, and the opportunity for the bride and groom to rejoice together.
8. Breaking of the Glass
As the ceremony comes to an end, the groom (or in some instances the bride and groom) is invited to step on a glass inside a cloth bag to shatter it. The breaking of the glass holds multiple meanings. Some say it represents the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Others say it demonstrates that marriage holds sorrow as well as joy and is a representation of the commitment to stand by one another even in hard times. The cloth holding the shards of glass is collected after the ceremony, and many couples choose to have it incorporated into some sort of memento of their wedding day.
9. Mazel Tov!
Shouting "Mazel tov!" is one of the most well-known Jewish wedding rituals. Once the ceremony is over and the glass is broken, you will hear guests cheer "Mazel tov!" Mazel tov has a similar meaning "good luck" or "congratulations." The direct translation is actually closer to wishing the best for the future, a great destiny, or a pronouncement that the person or people have just experienced great fortune. There's no better time to say "mazel tov" than at a wedding!
Following the ceremony, tradition dictates that couples spend at least eight 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. Jewish or not, it's a great idea for any couple to enjoy their first few moments as husband and wife alone together—what a romantic way to wind down before the festivities!