The Jewish Wedding Ceremony

The bride and groom are like queen and king on their wedding day so they are escorted down the aisle by an entourage of attendants shoshvinim. (Ancient northern European history tells a different tale of the attendants. The custom was for the groom to raid the village in which the bride lived and carry her away. The best man and the groomsmen held back the relatives, and the bridesmaids tried to protect the bride from capture. If the raid was successful, the groomsmen received gifts for their services. The bridesmaids had already been bribed to allow the groom to capture his bride!). The Jewish processional is slightly different from the traditional American processional, although it is common practice for each member of any processional to start down the aisle on the right foot!

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The rabbi and cantor enter first followed by the bride's grandparents, then the groom's grandparents. The ushers, best man and ring bearer(s) follow in that order, to introduce the groom and his parents. (The mothers are on the right side when walking down the aisle.) In very Orthodox or Sephardic weddings, the groom is escorted by the two fathers-and the bride by the two mothers-in keeping with tzniut ''modesty'' and the laws of separation of males and females in public. Otherwise, as in the Ashkenazic custom, both parents escort their child down the aisle to share in the pride and honor of ''giving their child way". The bridesmaids, maid or matron of honor, and flower girls enter before the bride and her parents. The procession toward the wedding canopy may be illuminated by candles. There are several explanations for this tradition. The light emitted from the candles represents the lightning that appeared when Israel (the bride) accepted God (the groom), light being a symbol of God's presence. Another interpretation explains the similarity of the wedding lights to those of the candles kindled on the Shabbat and on the yomim tovim, ''holidays.'' The Book of Esther (8:16) says, ''The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor", ''Orah ve'simchah ve'sasson ve'yikar". Last, the sum of the letters of the Hebrew word for ''candle''' ner, multiplied by 2, the number of witnesses required for the wedding (or the bride and the groom equal 2) results in the numerical value of the sum of the letters of the beautiful phrase ''Pe'ru ure'vu,'' ''Be fruitful and multiply." The groom walks to the chuppah, the wedding canopy first so he can receive his bride, as God received israel. Another reason he arrives first is that the Chuppah represents the room in the groom's home where the marriage will be consummated; thus he is bringing his bride into the wedding chamber. Sometimes the couple will choose to hold the Chuppah (used here synonymously with: ''wedding ceremony'') outside, a practice based on the verse ''Thus (like the stars) shall your children be'' (Exodus 15:5). The chuppah is usually made from fine cloth, such as velvet or silk, and is beautifully decorated with embroidery and/or flowers. A tallit, or prayer shawl, can also be used as the chuppah. This tradition originated in the seventeenth century in Germany and France where the tallit was spread around the bride and groom. The handmade chuppah or tallit is spread over four poles-one at each corner - but does not extend over the edges. These poles may be held by honored friends or family. Most synagogues own a chuppah whose poles are temporarily secured on the floor for the ceremony.

Usually all members of the precession stand under the chuppah although grandparents and young children often prefer to sit in the first row. Those who are under the chuppah arrange themselves thus: The Chasidic bride and groom usually face their guests; therefore this arrangement would be reversed: the groom with the bride on his right, exchanging places with the rabbi and cantor. (Guests may sit on the same side as the bride or groom depending on whose guest they are.)


Before the bride takes her position next to the groom, she may circle either three or seven times: ''The prophet says that a woman encompasses and protects a man'' Jeremiah 31:21). Again, the interpolations are numerous. The most accepted reason for the number 3 is that God (the groom) said to Israel (the bride), 'And I will betroth you unto Me forever; and I will betroth you unto Me in righteousness, and in justice and in loving kindness, and in compassion; and I will betroth you unto Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord (Hosea 2:21-22). The words "and I will betroth you'' ''ve'erastich'' are used here three times. Also, three obligations of the man to his wife are stated in the ketubbah: food, clothing and conjugal rights. The tefillin, ''phylactery'' straps are wrapped around the middle finger three times every morning during prayer. There are the aliyot, ''Torah honor", during the weekday Torah readings. And there are the Halachic requirements of marriage (discussed in the next section).
The number 7 also occurs frequently in Jewish history: seven days in the week; the seventh day is the Sabbath, seven aliyot are given out on the Sabbath; seven hakafot ''processionals,'' on Hoshanah Rabbah, seventh day of Sukkot; seven repetitions in the Bible of the phrase ''and when a man takes a wife;'' and seven blessings, the Sheva Berachot, during the wedding ceremony. When the bride, followed by the mothers, has completed her circles she takes her place to the right of the groom 'At thy right hand doth stand the Queen. . .'' (Psalms 45:10). This is also the rationale for the mothers' walking down the aisle on the right. Next, the cantor sings a short hymn, which serves as the start of the Erusin, ''Engagement,'' ceremony. The rabbi recites the blessing over the wine and then the betrothal blessing, Birkat Erusin. The groom drinks some of the wine and then hands the cup to the bride, whose veil has been lifted by her mother or an honor attendant. Drinking from the same glass indicates that the bride and groom are ready to begin a life of sharing. The engagement ceremony is also often referred to as Kiddushin. The Kiddushin proceeds with the first of the three Halachic requirements for a marriage which are: tabba'at (ring)/kesef (money), shetar (deed or bride's acceptance), and yichud (seclusion)/bi'ah (consummation). First, the groom must give the bride something of value, usually the ring. The ring, tabba'at represents the gold or silver, kesef, which was given to the bride in ancient times
begining around the seventh century). The ring must be plain metal,
preferably gold, without any stones, because the value of the ring must be easily determinable. Otherwise, the bride may over- or underestimate its worth, which would invalidate her acceptance of it and would thereby make the marriage null and void. The ring must be whole, shlemut, similar to the result of a union of two people, and its value must equal at least one perutah, the smallest coin in ancient Times. Before putting the ring on the bride's finger the groom recites the Harei At, the public proclamation of this union: Harei at me'kudeshet li btabba'at zu ke'dat Moshe ve'Yisrael. Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring, in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel.


The Harei At is taken from the Talmud (Kaddish 8a) and is very appropriate to this part of the wedding. There are thirty-two leters in the sentence. The Hebrew letters that make up the number 32 as Lamed (30) and Bet/Vet (2), and these two letters together spell lev, the Hebrew word for ''heart.'' As he gives the bride the ring, the groom simultaneously gives her his heart. He places the ring on the forefinger of the bride's right hand (not over a gloved finger, so that it may be seen easily by the two appointed witnesses and by the guests. The ring may then be transferred to the ring finger of the left hand; this custom is based on the Greek belief that there is a vein in this finger that runs directly to the heart. The second requirement is shetar, the deed, or bride's public acceptance of the ring (allowing the groom to put the ring on her finger) because, Halachically the groom ''takes a wife". If the bride chooses to give the groom a ring also, she may do so and recite the beautiful phrase: Ani le'dodi ve'dodi li I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. (Song of Songs 6:3)
This phrase is simply a statement of her affection and is not intended to be an '''exchange.'' In fact, she could give him the ring during the yichid (discussed later). Some brides, during a Conservative or Reform ceremony give the groom a ring and say, "Harei ata me'kudash li" ata modish (the masculine form af Harei At used when addressing the bride). This phrase implies that she is ''taking'' him as her husband; for this reason , it is not induced in an Orthodox ceremony. In fact, some Orthodox rabbis will not perform a double-ring ceremony at all because it may be misconstrued.
The double-ring ceremony developed in America around World War II. Women began giving their husbands rings to announce to the women overseas that these men were ''taken.'' This is a reverse of the medieval practice of departing knights locking their wives into chastity belts! The bride's acceptance of her ring marts the end of the betrothal ceremony, Erusin. At this natural break between Kiddushin and Nissuin, ''the wedding ceremony", the ketubbah is read aloud in Aramaic (or Hebrew) and English and then given to the bride to keep. The rabbi usually makes some personal comments at this time, often incorporating a modern English translation of the Sheva Berachot, the seven marriage blessings.
The Nissuin begins with the Sheva Berachot, also called the Birkat Chatanim, ''Blessing for grooms", which were extracted from the Talmud (Ketubbah 8a). Although only two witnesses were necessary for the Erusin, a minyan-ten men over Bar Mitzvah age-must be present for the Nissuin. The cantor usually recites all seven berachot especially the last blessing because beautiful melodies have been composed for it. A wonderful tradition is to honor father, grandfathers, uncles, and others by having them each recite one beracha (singular). Often, at Chasidic weddings, all seven berachot are recited by rabbis. Each beracha has its own significance:
the first is for the wine; the second is in honor of the wedding guests; the third celebrates the creation of Adam; the fourth, fifth, and sixth bless the couple's marriage; and the seventh is in honor of Israel and the wedding couple.

The bride and groom share wine again-either from a second cup or from the refilled first cup. Two cups are used as a reminder of the two separate ceremonies (betrothal and marriage) occurring at this one time, but one cup is sufficient if it has been refilled before the Nissuin ceremony. An option that many couples choose to include are these few words added by the rabbi: ''By the power vested in me by the state of (your state) and according to the traditions of Moses and Israel, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Before the groom kisses his bride, he breaks with his right foot a small glass that has been wrapped in a napkin or a special velvet pouch. This breakage suggests that a broken marriage cannot be easily repaired. It also serves as a reminder of the Destruction of the Temple; the bride and groom must always remember the sorrows of the Jewish people, even during simchas. The Talmud (Berachot 31a) tells us the story of a wedding celebration at which the guests induced many rabbis. At one point during the se'udah ''festive meal" one rabbi smashed an expensive vase in order to warn the celebrants against limitless joy. (Note: A similar American custom is observed at bachelor parties: after the best man has toasted the bride and groom, he and all the men smash their glasses, so that they may never be
used for a ''less noble purpose") At the sound of the broken glass, family and guests call out words of congratulations and Mazel tov ("good 1uck''). (Note: Mazel, the Yiddish pronounciation of ''luck'' is more commonly used than the Hebrew pronunciation, mazal.) In Eastern Europe and Sephardic communities, at this point the couple try to step on each other's foot first to determine who will be the dominant one in the marriage!

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