The yichud is a ritual performed during a Jewish wedding immediately after the couple is married. The couple spends a few minutes in a room by themselves away from their family and friends. In biblical times this is when the marriage would be consummated. Now it’s a chance for the couple to have a moment of reflection and intimacy during the wedding proceedings.
What Is the Yichud?
The yichud is a ritual performed during a Jewish wedding when the couple spends a few minutes in isolation after the ceremony. In religious circles, it is the first opportunity for the couple to have physical contact now that they are married.
The ritual varies within Jewish communities. Orthodox law states that the couple must remain secluded in the room for eight minutes. Because men and women are forbidden to touch before marriage, this is the first time the couple is able to do so. In less religious circles the yichud ritual isn’t governed by strict rules. It’s a chance for the couple to catch their breath, relax, talk, and eat something before continuing the celebration with all their wedding guests.
We spoke with experts Rabbi Sara Shonfeld and Cantor Debbi Ballard to learn more about the Jewish wedding tradition.
Meet the Expert
- Rabbi Sara Shonfeld is an ordained Rabbi and wedding officiant who performs weddings all over Long Island and the Tri-State area.
- Cantor Debbi Ballard has officiated Jewish lifestyle events including weddings for over 16 years.
The History and Meaning of the Yichud
The word yichud comes from the Hebrew word yachad, which translates to together. At Jewish weddings, it refers to the moment in the proceedings where the couple comes together in a private room with no one else around. Historically, this was the moment when the marriage would be consummated. “There are certain halachic authorities who maintain that the final stage of marriage is not finalized until the groom takes his bride to a secluded area where they spend some personal time together,” said Rabbi Shonfeld. “Jewish law forbids a man and woman who are not married to each other from being secluded together. Entering the yichud room together is an act which symbolized their newly married status.”
In more religious circles the yichud is still the moment when the couple touches for the first time after they are married. In more modern communities the yichud has a more practical role. “They go to the bridal suite or any private room, share some time to relax, recharge, eat, talk, and let the new reality sink in before they go back to celebrate their Simcha with their family and friends,” said Rabbi Shonfeld.
Cantor Ballard said the ritual is still important because it gives couples time to reflect and take in their new reality. “They can breathe in their first breaths together as a married couple, sharing their most intimate thoughts and experiences in becoming husband and wife,” she said. “They are able to take in the magnitude of the shift that has occurred for them in a private space.”
When does the yichud take place?
The yichud takes place immediately after the wedding ceremony. “In most modern weddings the bride and groom are in high demand,” said Ballard. “That makes it even more important to take a few moments of seclusion whether it’s to eat a snack together, drink plenty of water, or simply embrace.” In Orthodox practices, the couple must remain in the room for at least eight minutes.
Where does the yichud take place?
The yichud takes place in a room separate from where the wedding guests are located. Many couples use the bridal suite or a small meeting room inside the wedding venue. Orthodox law dictates that the room has to be able to be locked from the inside. After the room is locked witnesses, friends, or family members of the couple, guard it against the outside to ensure the couple has complete privacy.
Who participates in the yichud?
Only the couple performs the yichud ritual, and they are supposed to be alone the entire time. In more religious circles the couple chooses friends or family members to guard the room to confirm the couple really is there alone, and they are not interrupted. Having a guard can be practical since a lot of wedding guests want to find the bride and groom to congratulate them. But Cantor Ballard said it’s not a problem at most weddings she’s seen: “The respect of privacy has never been violated in my professional experience.”
Who plans the yichud?
The rabbi, along with the couple, organizes the logistics of the yichud. “It is very important while planning your wedding to be on the same page and discuss all the blessings, prayers, and cultural customs you would like to include as part of the wedding,” she said. “This can be discussed when the couple begins the process of creating the ceremony with their rabbi.”
Couples should coordinate with their wedding planner, photographer, and venue coordinator to make sure the yichud is part of the wedding timeline, and there is still ample time for family photos. Cantor Ballard also recommends discussing with catering what should be available in the yichud room from water to champagne to snacks.
What does the couple do during the yichud?
“What the couple does behind closed doors should remain only with the couple,” said Cantor Ballard. Some couples choose to take a moment to breathe and relax. Others exchange wedding gifts or read letters they wrote to one another. Amidst the craziness of weddings, many couples forget to eat and drink. This is a perfect time to pause and replenish before continuing with the festivities. In more religious circles it is the first time the bride and groom have an opportunity for physical contact, and they may choose to exercise that new ability.
Is the yichud required by law?
Some Rabbis, mostly in Orthodox denominations, assert that the marriage is not finalized until a man and a woman spend personal time together after their ceremony. More modern Jewish leaders see it as a symbolic act. “There is nothing “required” of a couple to do,” said Cantor Ballard. “ A few moments of seclusion once married is beautiful, and important, but it is not commanded by law.”