Mazel Tov! You’re attending a Jewish wedding celebration and want to learn more about the ceremony you are about to witness. Whether the engaged couple is reform or orthodox, there are certain things that you can expect to see on the big day. So get into the spirit (and the most out of the ceremony) with our handy guide to Jewish wedding rituals and traditions below!
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Rituals
Traditionally, the wedding day is a day of forgiveness honored by fasting. And while this is not as widely practiced as it once was, fasting can be a source of great spiritual enlightenment for the bride and groom to-be.
Badeken (Or Veiling of the Bride)
This tradition, in which the groom places his bride’s veil over her face before the ceremony, dates back to biblical times. It comes from the story of Jacob’s love for Rachel. When on their wedding day, Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s veiled sister Leah, instead. So if the groom places the veil himself, there is no question of the true identity of his bride.
Signing of the Ketubah
The ketubah serves as a prenuptial agreement that outlines the groom’s responsibilities to his bride. It describes the conditions of the marriage, the protections and rights of the bride, and a guideline should the couple choose to divorce. The ketubah is signed by two witnesses and the couple and then read aloud at the ceremony.
The Chuppah is a structure with four corners and a canopy, symbolizing the house the couple is building together. In some ceremonies, four friends or family members carry the chuppah down the aisle. Other times it is decorated in flowers or lights and stands alone. The canopy is usually a prayer shawl (or tallit) owned by the couple or a family member. This bestows blessings and protection over the bride and groom. This beautiful Jewish wedding tradition pops up in ceremonies of all faiths.
Traditionally the bride circles her groom seven times beneath the chuppah. There are a few different interpretations of this ritual. Some believe that the bride creates a wall of protection around her groom. Expelling evil spirits, temptation, and the glances of other women, the bride enters the seven spheres of her groom’s innermost being. Others believe that seven is a powerfully magical number mirroring the days of the week, the aliyot on Shabbat, and the number of times the phrase “when a man takes a wife” appears in the bible. Many modern couples choose to circle three times each, and once together symbolizing their equality in marriage.
Sheva B’rachot (Or Seven Blessings)
The seven blessings come from ancient teachings. Read first in English, then again in Hebrew, they blessings focus on peace, companionship, joy and the power of love. This blessing begins over a cup of wine and ends with grand and celebratory statements or readings by friends and family.
Breaking of the Glass
Perhaps the most well known Jewish wedding custom, the breaking of the glass has many meanings. At the end of the ceremony the groom steps on a glass held in a cloth bag to shatter it. Some believe the broken glass symbolizes the destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem. It is a reminder that even in times of great joy, there is still sorrow and suffering. Others say it represents the commitment and permanence of marriage. A smashed glass (and the bride and groom) will never be the same again.
When the glass shatters it is customary for the guests to shout “mazel tov”! Which has a similar meaning to “good luck”. When you say “mazel tov” you are wishing the bride and groom a great destiny and prosperous future together.
Following the ceremony, the bride and groom spend about 18 minutes together in yichud, or seclusion. This gives them a moment to reflect and be alone before joining the party and their guests. If they have been fasting, they will also share their first meal together as husband and wife. We love this perfect ending to a beautiful ceremony. In all of the craziness of the day, having a few minutes to just relax and be with your sweetheart sounds divine.
And don’t forget, custom programs from Marrygrams will keep your guests engaged and informed during the ceremony. And our brand new “Mazel Tov!” favor tags are on sale for a limited time. Get yours today!