Aufruf, a word that means “calling up” in Yiddish, is a traditional ceremony that takes place the Saturday morning before a Jewish wedding. While most Jewish couples still celebrate their aufruf at a synagogue, there are ways to make the ceremony personal and special. Some families host a “kiddish” or reception after the service concludes to bring together family and friends and celebrate the couple.
What Is an Aufruf?
An aufruf is a traditional Jewish ceremony prior to the wedding where the couple is called to the Torah for a blessing called an aliyah. When the blessing is completed, the entire congregation wishes them luck and happiness by throwing soft candies at them.
In more traditional Jewish congregations and synagogues, the custom revolves around the groom, and he is the only one to recite the blessings over the Torah. But that is evolving, said Rabbi Packer-Monroe and Rabbi Frisch. “In liberal synagogues, if both partners are Jewish, then they are usually called up to recite the blessings, regardless of their gender identity,” they wrote in a joint statement. “And more and more in liberal synagogues, partners who aren’t Jewish are being invited to accompany their Jewish partners for this honor.”
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“It’s important to differentiate between custom and religious law,” said Rabbi Feldstein. “An aufruf is a custom, and as such, there’s a lot of variety in its elements among the communities.”
Read on to learn more about the tradition and its meaning, as well as some frequently asked questions surrounding the aufruf.
The History and Meaning of the Aufruf
The aufruf is an ancient custom. Some Rabbis say it actually comes from King Solomon, who ruled the Kingdom of Israel as early as 970 BCE. The story is that he built a special entry to the Temple for grooms, and when people saw someone walk through it, they would shower him with blessings (especially ones hoping he will have many children!) Today that tradition is reenacted at a synagogue when a groom recites blessings for the Torah, and onlookers, or community members, yell blessings at him and throw candy at him. The candy is often wrapped in fun packaging to create a colorful and festive atmosphere.
Where does an aufruf take place?
Most couples celebrate their aufruf at a synagogue. If they don’t belong to one, it’s acceptable for it to be performed at one of their parents’ congregations. The aufruf can also be held at a creative location including someone’s home or a hotel event space. If that is the case, the organizers must ensure there is someone present who can lead the service.
When is the aufruf held?
While many couples choose to have their aufruf the Saturday morning before the wedding, the date can be flexible. Some couples can do it a few weeks in advance (but still on a Saturday morning.) In Sephardic tradition, the aufruf takes place the Saturday after the wedding.
Who plans the aufruf?
Most of the time the family of the groom or the couple plans the aufruf. They work with the Rabbi and executives at the synagogue where it will be held to arrange the logistics.
Who gets invited to the aufruf?
“The entire congregation is welcome at the aufruf, which is part of their service,” said Rabbi Packer-Monroe and Rabbi Frisch. “Often the couple and their parents may invite extended family and friends to join them in the celebration.” It isn’t required to invite all wedding guests to the aufruf, especially if they would have to travel in from out of town for it.
What kind of candy is thrown at the aufruf?
Because it is thrown at either the groom or the couple, the most important rule is that it should be soft! No one wants an injury before the wedding. Often candy is either wrapped in plastic or bags so it doesn’t make a mess in the synagogue if it breaks open.
Couples should check with the synagogue to determine if the candy needs to be kosher.
Do you have to serve refreshments at an aufruf?
The actual aufruf is part of the Saturday morning or Shabbat prayer service, so no food and drink is consumed. But many couples or their families choose to have a kiddish or reception after the service where snacks or a full lunch is served. “Some families cater this meal, some do it themselves,” said Rabbi Feldstein.
How do you invite people to an aufruf?
This Jewish custom is not formal, and it’s perfectly acceptable to send out invitations by email or even text or phone calls. A synagogue will usually include the details for the ceremony in their weekly or monthly calendar or bulletin. Check with the synagogue administrator to find out how the process works.
How to Plan an Aufruf
When planning an aufruf you have to decide where you want to have it (in a synagogue or elsewhere). It’s also important to determine who you want to invite as well as what kind of reception, if any, you want to have afterward. Check with the synagogue to make sure your date is free a few months in advance and send out invitations then so guests can save the date.
Beyond the logistics, it’s also important to think about the ritual itself, said Rabbi Packer-Monroe and Rabbi Frisch: “If one of you is Jewish and one of you comes from a different faith or cultural background, and you’re celebrating at a synagogue, does the partner who isn’t Jewish want to be called up to the Torah?” Also, does the bride also want to perform the ritual or just the groom, as more religious communities do? Once the couple makes those decisions, it’s important to check with the synagogue to make sure they will accommodate the decision.