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A Simple Guide to a Jewish Wedding Ceremony


When we say we love weddings here, we love them all, in all their varied beauty! No matter how many weddings we go to, each one is a little different, making each a perfect love story told in their own unique way. It is a cumulation of both of their tastes, preferences, likes, dislikes, and cultures! Love is that one language that expresses universally, penetrating through the glass ceilings of divisions in culture, and asking to be felt. The inclusiveness of love generates beautiful results, bringing to us wedding experiences that we presumably never witnessed before. It is the little differences that make the fabric of weddings so colorful and fascinatingly textured. While love is universal, weddings are represented differently in different communities. While the rituals, the little details, and the meanings can be varying and a little unusual from how you know a wedding day to be, it is still a wedding and serves the same purpose- two loving souls choosing to spend all of their eternities in each other's company! Staying curious, observant, and delving into cultures other than our own broadens our mental horizons and allows us to engage in those weddings in the most acceptable ways! 


Today we are talking about Jewish weddings and everything you might want to know about them! If you have never been to any Jewish wedding, we are sure there is some information you must have picked up from movies and series. Today, we will decode all the different rituals that Jewish weddings come with! Whether you have grown up steeped in the beautiful Jewish religion and culture or have barely attended the temple, and now are engaged to a partner who is Jewish, this blog will give you a peek at what to expect! Completely depending on your subculture (Ashkenazi or Sephardic), your level of orthodoxy, and whether or not you are marrying a fellow Jew, including Jewish wedding traditions in your big day can be optional or mandatory! We know for your flawless Jewish wedding, you want to be sure to fully outline your wedding ceremony with an ordained rabbi or other officiants to decide what the best plan for you and your future spouse and your family members is.


A Jewish Wedding Timeline and Guide

If you are confused about the chronological line-up of all the wedding rituals of a traditional Jewish wedding day, allow us to take you on a virtual walk through the day and show how one event leads up to the next. The traditional Jewish wedding is not just a one-day affair. The actual wedding rituals begin well before the wedding day, with the decision when the couple decides to get married! So, let’s read what all happens before the ceremony, during the ceremony, and lastly after the Jewish wedding ceremony! 


Before the Wedding Ceremony


Blessing the Couple
This is a joyful ritual that primarily includes close family and friends of the couple, showering the couple with good cheers and blessings. The couple is usually placed in two adjacent rooms so that the couples do not see each other before the ceremony. Historically, this traditional practice was known as Hanchnasat Kallah (celebrating the bride) and the Groom’s Tisch (the groom’s table) and wedding guests visit the couple according to their gender. But with the changing times, such segregation based on gender is tossed out, and wedding guests move easily and unobstructedly back and forth between both rooms. Since learning plays an imperative role in the Jewish tradition, one or both rooms might include some Torah study followed by celebratory drinking and singing, infusing the setting with warm and inviting, festive vibes, perfect for our professional wedding photographers to capture those detailed wedding photographs! 


Tenaim Ceremony
A tenaim ceremony announces the upcoming marriage by reading a document of a commitment and the symbolic shattering of a dish. Historically, this tradition features two mothers breaking a plate that symbolizes the acceptance of the conditions of engagement. The breaking of plate or glass is to remember two of the most important and unfortunate events of Jewish history, while also signifying the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and presages the breaking of the glass that is part of the wedding ceremony itself. 


At a closer date to the wedding day, the aufruf occurs, a ritual where either the groom or the couple together are summoned up to recite an aliyah or special blessing recited before and after the reading of the Torah. This happens during the Shabbat before the wedding, and following this ritual, the rabbi blesses the couple, while the guests may toss candy to the groom or couple in celebration. The bride, and sometimes the groom, prepare spiritually for the approaching wedding by immersing herself in the mikveh, which is a ritual pool.


Signing the Ketubah
Traditionally, a ketubah is a marriage contract, more of a legal document that protects the rights of the bride and thus is her possession. But in today’s time the text of ketubot is a lot more egalitarian and inclusive, and thus often expresses the commitment, care, and love the couples have for each other as they are all set to create a Jewish home together. Signing the ketubah is one of the oldest Jewish wedding traditions, existing for more than two thousand years. This ceremony happens just before the couple exchanges their wedding vows, where the soon-to-be-married couple, the officiant, and witnesses- all sign the ketubah before the main wedding ceremony. 


Bedeken or the Veiling
The literal meaning of ‘Bedeken’ is ‘checking’, and this ritual has continued on since biblical times. If a bride is to be veiled, at some point before the ceremony her partner places the veil over her face. This goes back to the traditional legend where Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law Laban into marrying Leah, who was offered to him as a bride who was already veiled. The good news is that brides in beautiful veils always make for excellent and gorgeous bridal portraits. While amongst the Sephardic Jews, the Bedeken ritual is not observed, and instead they have a henna party during the week before the wedding ceremony, where the henna is applied to the palms of the to-be-wed couple, which, according to some, protect them from the “evil eye” at this happy time in their lives. 


During the Wedding Ceremony


Some Jewish couples, depending on the Jewish community to which they belong, fast on their wedding day. The couple can eat again after the wedding ceremony is over.


The Processional
The processional in a Jewish wedding tradition can be a little different from what you are used to seeing as it is initiated by the rabbi, followed by the bride’s grandparents and the groom’s grandparents, who are followed by the groomsmen and best man, soon followed by the groom with his parents. Then follows the bridesmaids and maid of honor and finally, the bride enters with her parents. With the whole family getting involved in the processional, it's quite an intriguing sight to witness.


A chuppah in the wedding canopy consisting of a cloth supported by four poles, each standing on its own or being held by loved ones. The chuppah can vary in design, ranging from simple to intricately decorated, and it symbolizes the presence of god’s sheltering appearance in the lives of the people who are truly in love with each other and are all set to begin their married life along with the new home they will be building together. It is also a display of hospitality to the gathered guests.


Circling or Hakafot
Circling is an imperative wedding ritual amongst the Ashkenazi Jews, while it may or may not be followed in the Sephardic Jews. It primarily includes the bride circling the groom three or seven times. While this traditionally refers to the bride creating a “wall of protection” around the groom, alluding to the seven days of creation and as a reminder that the wedding itself is a process of creation. This happens before the couple makes their dramatic and grand entrance under the chuppah to say out their wedding vows. However, more and more modern couples are choosing to circle each other three times with an addition of one final circle together. 


The Ceremony
The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony usually consists of two separate parts: Erusin or Kiddushin (betrothal) and Nissuin (nuptials). Originally, two beautiful wedding rituals were separated over a period of several months, but nowadays, they are blended together and performed as one wedding ritual. The traditional Erusin ritual begins with the traditional blessings over a cup of wine, which is then shared between the lovely couple and their parents. The second blessing bestows the beautiful couple together in Kiddushin, Hebrew for ‘marriage’, a word that was derived from the Hebrew word for ‘holy’. It is then followed by Sheva brachot, which is the seven blessings that are rendered by the rabbi during the wedding ceremony over a cup of wine during the latter part of the proceedings. 


Reading the Ketubah
Reading the Ketubah aloud is a significant ritual during a Jewish ceremony, as it enables everyone to observe the commitment the couples have made to one another. While in some traditions, the entire Ketubah is read out loud, in others the few lines of the beginning and few lines at the end are enough.


Breaking the Glass
At the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, it is customary for one or at times both the people in the couple to break a glass. There are many definitions associated with this Jewish wedding ritual. While some believe that it is a token of the disruption of the Temple in Jerusalem in the first century and that even at the height of intimate joy, we must not forget the struggles the Jewish and world communities have endured, others explain that the fragile glass reminds us of the delicate nature of wedlock. At the sound of the breaking of the glass, wedding guests traditionally clap and chant “Siman Tov” and “Mazel Tov,” meaning “Congratulations!” 


After the Wedding Ceremony


Yichud or Togetherness
After the wedding ceremony, the couple progresses to a private room for yichud, which, as the name suggests, literally means ‘togetherness’. The newly-weds are secluded from their guests for a period, and traditionally, this is where the marriage was consummated, but the modern Jewish couples will bask in the feeling of being just married, simply enjoy some quiet together and freshen up before attending to their loved ones at the reception. This custom is primarily practiced amongst the Ashkenazi Jews as compared to the Sephardic Jews. 


Seudat Mitzvah or the Wedding Feast
The Seudat Mitzvah means the celebration following the wedding ceremony or the wedding reception. As per the Jewish wedding tradition, the wedding guests who just witnessed the Jewish ceremony are obligated to celebrate and have fun, so that the joy of the couple on the most special day of their life is multiplied. This means feasting, lots of dancing, and merrymaking! This is where the Hora dance is witnessed, which is a traditional Jewish circle dance where the wedding couple will often be lifted high and carried in chairs around the dance floor as part of the celebration of their marriage.


Jewish wedding photography always comes out looking so charming, be it the Jewish bride, the enchanting rituals, or the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony! There is so much life to it and so many celebrations, it sure seems like a larger-than-life affair! There are so many moments to be caught by our Jewish wedding photographer that every minute is a perfect moment waiting to be seized. A Jewish wedding is an intoxicating mix of past and religion, leaving behind a fascinating trail of Jewish traditions that are remarkable! However, no two Jewish weddings are going to look the same, as it depends on the dispositions of the couple and the religious and cultural background of the duo. One factor that remains consistent, however, is that there is a great focus on family and love here, leaving you emotionally fulfilled and abundant! If you have always wondered what the certain terms used mean and what certain ceremonies originate from, we hope this blog provides you with enough answers, so that you can engage in the next Jewish wedding to the fullest!


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