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The Marriage Is


It's much more than just a wedding ceremony.

A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals, giving expression to the deepest significance and purpose of marriage. These rituals symbolize the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the community of Jewish people.

In preparing for the wedding, the groom (chatan) and bride (kallah) should not only pay attention to the material and temporal aspects of married life, but should also focus as well on ensuring their religious, spiritual and moral readiness for the future.

The following guide explains the Jewish wedding traditions to help you better understand the beauty and joy of the celebration.

KABBALAT PANIM

It is customary for the groom and bride not to see each other for the week preceding the wedding. Separate receptions, called Kabbalat Panim, are held just prior to the wedding ceremony.

On the Sabbath of that week, the groom is called to the Torah, to impress upon the couple the duty to look to the Torah as their guide in married life.

In obedience to God’s command to mankind in Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply", the bridegroom and bride maintain the world by raising children according to the Torah. Therefore, he is called upon to read the letters of the Torah, which maintain the ten utterances of the Creation.

After this, the congregation showers him with raisins and nuts, symbolic of their wishes for a sweet and fruitful marriage blessed with many children.

Meanwhile, on the same Sabbath, the bride's family and friends arrange a party (forshpiel) for her, expressing their same wishes for her.

From a few days prior, until a week after the wedding, the couple are considered royalty and are, therefore, not to be seen in public without a personal escort. Jewish tradition likens the couple to a queen and king. The bride will be seated on a "throne" to receive her guests, while the groom is surrounded by guests who sing and toast him.

THE WEDDING DAY

The dawning wedding day heralds the happiest and holiest day of one's life. This day is considered a personal and private Yom Kippur for the groom and bride, for on this day all their past mistakes are forgiven as they merge into a new, complete soul.

As on Yom Kippur, both the groom and bride fast, in this case, from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony. And at the ceremony, the groom wears a traditional white robe (kittel) worn on Yom Kippur.

BADEKEN

Next comes the badeken, the veiling of the bride by the groom. The veil symbolizes the idea of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive physical appearances may be, the soul and character are paramount.

The groom, accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to the bride's room and places the veil over her face. This is an ancient custom and serves as the first of many actions by which the groom signals his commitment to clothe and protect his wife. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac.

CHUPAH

The wedding ceremony takes place under the marriage canopy (chupah), a symbol of the home to be built and shared by the couple. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality.

The chupah is usually held outside, under the stars, as a sign of the blessing given by God to the patriarch Abraham that his children shall be "as the stars of the heavens."

The groom and bride will wear no jewelry under the chupah. Their mutual commitment to one another is based on who they are as people not on their respective material possessions.

The groom, followed by the bride, are usually escorted to the chupah by their respective sets of parents.

Under the chupah, the bride circles the groom seven times. Just as the world was created in seven days, the bride is figuratively building the walls of the couple's new home. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately. Another explanation is that the seven circles correspond to the seven times in the Torah where it is written "... and when a man takes a wife."

The bride then settles at her groom's right-hand side, just as the psalmist stated in Psalm 45:9: "At Your right hand stands the queen.."

BLESSINGS OF BETROTHAL (KIDDUSHIN)

Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessing, and after these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup.

Wine, a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition, is associated with the sanctification prayer (Kiddush) recited on Sabbath (Shabbat) and festivals. Marriage, which is called Kiddushin, is the sanctification of a man and woman to each other.

GIVING OF THE RING

The ring should be made of plain gold, without blemishes, engravings or ornamentation (e.g. stones) -- just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty.

The groom now takes the wedding ring in his hand, and in clear view of two witnesses, he declares to his wife, "Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel." He then places the ring on the forefinger of his bride's right hand. According to Jewish law, this is the central moment of the wedding ceremony, and the couple is now fully married at this point.

MARRIAGE CONTRACT (KETUBAH)

Now comes the reading of the marriage contract (Ketubah) in the original Aramaic text. In marriage, the groom accepts upon himself certain marital responsibilities, which are detailed in the marriage contract. His principal obligations are to provide food, shelter and clothing for his wife, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. The protection of the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed.

The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The Ketubah is the property of the bride and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home.

The reading of the Ketubah acts as a break between the first part of the ceremony -- betrothal (Kiddushin), and the latter part -- marriage (Nissuin).

THE SEVEN BLESSINGS

The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) are now recited over the second cup of wine. The theme of these blessings links the groom and bride to our faith in God as Creator of the world, Bestower of joy and love, and the ultimate Redeemer of our people.

These blessings are recited by the rabbi or other people that the families wish to honor.

At the conclusion of the seven blessings, the groom and bride again drink some of the wine.

BREAKING THE GLASS

A glass is now placed on the floor, and the groom shatters it with his foot. This act serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, is always mindful of the Psalmist's injunction to "set Jerusalem above my highest joy."

Others explain that this is the last time the groom gets to "put his foot down."

(In Israel, the glass is broken earlier, prior to the reading of the marriage contract.)

This marks the conclusion of the ceremony. With shouts of congratulations and best wishes (Mazel Tov), the groom and bride are then given an enthusiastic reception from the guests as they leave the canopy together and head toward the Yichud room, their temporary private chamber.

PRIVATE CHAMBER (YICHUD)

The couple are escorted to a private room and left alone for the first time. These moments of seclusion signify the newly acquired right of the groom and bride to live together as husband and wife.

Since the couple has been fasting since the morning, at this point they break their fast.

THE FESTIVE MEAL (SEUDAH)

It is a law (mitzvah) for guests to bring joy (simchah) to the groom and the bride on their wedding day. There is much music and dancing as the guests celebrate with the new couple. To further bring joy to the occasion, some guests show off their skills at juggling and acrobatics.

After the meal, "Grace After Meals" (Birkat Hamazon) is recited, and the Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) are repeated.

During the week following the wedding, it is customary for friends and relatives to host festive meals in honor of the groom and bride. This is called the week of Sheva Brachot, because of the blessings said at the conclusion of each of these festive meals.

This festive meal is liken to the Feast of Tabernacles which is a week-long when God dwells (tabernacles) with man in tents (canopy).

Some other interesting Jewish customs about marriage:

  • Some rabbis may command that the bride should recite certain chapters of Psalms on her wedding day. Since the specific chapters are not made known, the bride should recite the entire book of Psalms, if possible.
  • If the wedding takes place before sunset, the bridegroom and bride do not have to complete their fast.
  • It is customary that the couples, who accompany the bridegroom and bride to the canopy, from both sides should be married couples.
  • If the father or mother are presently married to another partner, it is customary that in addition to the married couple that accompany the bridegroom or bride to the canopy, the father with his wife (or the mother with her husband) should also circle the bridegroom under the canopy together with the bride.
  • It is customary that both fathers accompany the bridegroom, and both mothers the bride.
  • It is customary that the couples who accompanied the newly weds to the bridal chambers, both the men and the women, should circle the bridegroom 7 times together with the bride.
  • It is customary that the bridegroom wears a white garment. Therefore, he does not wear a white garment on the Yom Kippur following his marriage. On the next following Yom Kippur, he begins wearing a white garment.
  • The wedding ring should be gold and smooth, with no engravings on it, both inside and outside.
  • After the canopy, before the bridegroom and bride enter the private room, a silver spoon is placed at the doorstep. The bridegroom steps over it, with the bride entering after him.
  • During the week of rejoicing following the wedding, the bridegroom or bride should try not to go alone, even in each other's company. They should always be escorted by another person.
  • Two sisters may have their weddings in the same week, but not on the same day.

Please also read:
The Marriage Was
The Marriage To Come

Source:
A Guide To the Jewish Wedding by Andy Shulman
http://www.aish.com/literacy/lifecycle/Guide_to_the_Jewish_Wedding.asp