Early on in the planning process, I set off to learn everything there was to know about Jewish weddings. Through my informal research (read: the internet), I was able to find out a lot about what you do at a Jewish wedding, but it wasn’t always clear exactly why you do it. After reading several books and having many conversations with knowledgeable family members and rabbis, I have learned so much! I put together a list of some of the major elements of a Jewish wedding, and I want to share what we have decided to include and leave out in our wedding. Even if you are not planning a Jewish wedding, I hope that this information will pique your interest and help you follow along at weddings you may attend in the future!
Some of these elements I have talked about before, so here I tried to focus more on why and how we are including them, rather than what they mean. Refer back to my older posts (linked below) for more information.
The information below is adapted from The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant.
In order to make a wedding legal (Jewish-ly speaking), the ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract, must be signed and witnessed. The ketubah represents the spiritual and emotional commitment that the bride and groom make to one another. The text of the ketubah is written in Hebrew, and often the couple’s native language as well. The ketubah is a beautiful art piece meant to be displayed in the home of the couple as a reminder of the vows and promises they have made to one another. The ketubah is most often signed prior to the wedding ceremony.
Our decision: Absolutely! We chose to use a traditional conservative text in Hebrew with a modern English interpretation. I will share more about how we chose the text when I reveal the design we chose. We will sign our ketubah during our ceremony rather than before for logistical reasons (our rabbi cannot oversee the signing before sundown since it is Shabbat) and so that we can include our guests in the tradition. We will display our ketubah on an easel during our reception so that our guests can take a look up close.
The chuppah, or Jewish wedding canopy, represents the home that the couple will build together. The tradition of the chuppah is full of rich symbolism, and is perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of a Jewish wedding. Sometimes the chuppah is physically held or supported by four cherished family members or friends, in a gesture that is meant to represent the support for the couple from the family and community.
Our decision: You betcha! We are so excited to build our own chuppah. We have decided to build a free-standing structure, rather than have family members hold the chuppah poles, since we are incorporating many important people into our ceremony in other ways (read on!).
In a tradition with origins in Jewish mysticism, a bride will walk seven circles around the groom before they step under the chuppah together in order to protect him from evil spirits. Modernly, this tradition is sometimes made mutual by allowing both the bride and groom to circle each other. The number seven is considered lucky in Jewish mysticism (and many other traditions), based on the number of days it took for God to create the world.
Our decision: We’re skipping this. Unlike many of the other elements, this one just didn’t speak to us in a way that was personally meaningful. I was also concerned with the logistics of managing a train and a veil while wearing heels on grass!
In another legal tradition, the groom must give (and the bride must accept) something of value, or shaveh p’rutah (“worth a penny”). Modernly, this is represented by the wedding ring, and the custom is most often reciprocated as the bride gives the groom a ring as well. According to some traditions, the ring must be made of pure gold and “unpierced” by any stones, in order to represent the fact that the couple’s love is an unbroken circle. As the rings are exchanged, the couple recites a traditional phrase in Hebrew, which is often translated to, “By this ring you are consecrated to me as my husband (or wife) in accordance with the traditions of Moses and Israel.”
Our decision: Doing it! We will exchange wedding bands during the ceremony. My wedding band is an unbroken circle of pure gold, but that’s mostly a happy accident. We plan to recite the formula above in Hebrew as well as an English translation. We will also exchange our own vows!
Seven Wedding Blessings
Often included in a Jewish wedding ceremony is the recitation of the seven wedding blessings, or sheva b’rachot. They are either read by the officiating rabbi or an honored family member or members. There’s that lucky number seven again! The blessings bestow love and luck upon the couple as they become one spiritually.
Our decision: Since we are not including any readings, we are using the seven blessings as a way to include some very special people in our ceremony. Each blessing will be read in Hebrew by a member of our wedding party or one of our parents, followed by a modern English interpretation. I will be sharing more about how we interpreted this tradition to make it personally meaningful for us, as well as how we plan to execute it!
Breaking the Glass
The breaking of the glass is another iconic Jewish wedding ritual. Like the chuppah, there are a number of modern interpretations of this tradition. One is that the loud sound of the glass breaking will ward off the evil spirits (just in case the circling didn’t work!). Some people see the breaking of a glass as a reminder of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, or more broadly, as a reminder that even in light of a joyous occasion, there is still sadness and loss in the world. When the glass is broken, guests shout, “Mazel tov!” to congratulate the happy couple—many think breaking the glass also reflects the sentiment that the couple’s marriage should last as long as it would take to put the glass back together. The type of glass is not important, as long as it can break easily. Just to be sure, some grooms step on a light bulb! After the wedding, some couples choose to creatively display their broken glass in a shadow box or other decorative piece.
Our decision: Mr. T will break the glass as we are introduced as husband and wife—gotta do something about those evil spirits!!
Well hive, are you interested in learning more about Jewish weddings? Please let me know in the comments (or you can send me a private message) if you have any specific questions or requests for more information about Jewish weddings—I’d love to hit the books and share the knowledge!