When one or both members of a couple are Jewish, a great way to respect and honor that heritage is to include elements from a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. Depending on how devout you are, you may choose to do only some of the typical wedding traditions, but consider how adding these traditional elements can make your wedding special and meaningful.
Probably the most well-known element of Jewish weddings, the Chuppah is a beautifully decorated altar made up of four corners and a covered roof, sometimes made out of a prayer shawl. The Chuppah represents the home you’ll create together, including those among your friends and family who support you both. Walking with family members, like mothers or fathers, to the Chuppah and reciting vows beneath it can be a wonderful way to celebrate Jewish heritage and also allows for a way for your family or friends to participate in the decorating or building of the Chuppah. Family also sometimes stands close to be the “walls of the house” that is formed by the Chuppah, physically representing their support.
Part of the traditional ceremony for a Jewish wedding is the reciting of Seven Blessings for the bride and groom, known as Sheva Brachot. The rabbi or honored guests and family recite these benedictions to honor the couple. In the same way that having someone sing in your wedding ceremony or recite a reading gives them a special place in the ceremony, these blessings remind the guests and couple of their Jewish heritage. It is also a chance to honor those who are very important to the couple with a speaking role in their wedding.
A physical reminder of how a new family has been formed or how the groom and bride will now protect each other, a bride circling the groom three or seven times is a traditional element of a Jewish wedding. While modern couples sometimes circle each other, this dance-like component can be symbolic and meaningful to show how connected the couple is now. It also breaks up a long period of standing during the ceremony and can be beautiful, like a dance.
Breaking of a Glass
After the ceremony, the groom or both members of the couple often step on a glass in a way that makes many people think that the celebration period has begun. However, this tradition has many other forms of symbolism, from remembrance for Jewish history of the destruction of the Temple to the idea that love must be protected because it is delicate and prone to breaking. In many cases in modern ceremonies, however, it is not a solemn moment but instead one that is greeted by cheers of “Mazel Tov!”
The traditional marriage contract, this document is signed by the couple and witnesses and read before those who are present at a Jewish wedding. While there are many elements that were more one-sided and thus mostly applied to the responsibilities of a groom to his bride, modern Ketubah can be modified to be more egalitarian and to be written in different languages. Using a beautiful decorative Ketubah can create a wonderful keepsake to display in one’s home to remind you of your commitments to each other.
A ceremonial silence or reflective time, these specific 18 minutes for the couple to spend together after the ceremony may seem odd, but can be quite nice. Most brides and grooms have spent much of the day apart, sometimes fasting as part of a traditional Jewish preparation for the ceremony, and can now break their fast. This time apart also gives the couple a great way to remind themselves that the day isn’t just about the many guests who have gathered. If you choose to include Yichud, or seclusion, it may be one of the most memorable moments of the wedding for you in a day that is otherwise a happy and busy blur.
The Hora and Other Traditional Dances
Many traditional Jewish dances may be accompanied by other, more modern dance music at a Jewish wedding reception. However, the image of a bride and groom being lifted in chairs and carried around the room is often associated with Jewish weddings, and creates an unforgettable and wild ride for the happy couple. Rather than simply having your wedding be characterized by whatever pop music is most in vogue when you get married, it can be great to learn a few traditional Jewish dances, even if you are from a family that doesn’t celebrate a lot of Jewish holidays. The Hora is a downright fun and exciting dance that may add a twinkle to the eyes of older relatives as well.
Jewish traditions vary, as they are also mixed with cultural practices in different parts of the world where Jewish people live, but incorporating versions of these traditions that fit with your values can be wonderful. In a time when many options exist for weddings, incorporating traditional customs can be a beautiful tribute to one’s history and to the older members in your family who are strongly tied to these traditions.