14 Jewish Wedding Traditions Explained
14 most popular Jewish wedding traditions included at many Reform, interfaith, and non-religious weddings, as well as traditional weddings. Learn the meaning behind these common customs, rituals and traditions, so you know what to expect.
If you are reading this post, you are either getting married or know someone who is, or maybe you are attending a Jewish wedding for the first time.
The 14 Jewish traditions and customs introduce you to the world of most Jewish weddings whether you are having a Reform, Interfaith or cultural wedding. In a separate blog post, I'll address the Traditional Jewish wedding which includes these traditions plus a few pre and post marital rituals.
Knowing the names and meaning behind them allows you to make educated choices in what you want to include and what to leave out. This also will affect your officiant choice, as well. In this blog post we address your different officiant options along with the questions to ask during your officiant interviews. The amount of flexibility and variations in your ceremony does depend on who you want to lead the ceremony.
During our 20 years planning and officiating weddings, we've customized and help couples to make their weddings warm welcoming and personalized to each wedding.
Understanding the Basics
When planning a wedding with one person Jewish, it's really important to understand the basic traditions of jewish weddings. Once you have an idea of what the traditions are and the symbolism behind them, it helps you choose which traditions work for you.
The Chuppah (The Wedding Canopy)
The Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under a WEDDING CANOPY called a Chuppah (hoopah).
It consists of four poles and typically a square or rectangle cloth overhead. It symbolizes the new home the couple is creating. The poles represent the pillars of the faith and trust on which marriage is based and open on all sides symbolizes the hospitality and welcoming of their guests from all directions.
The Ketubah (Jewish Marriage Document)
The Ketubah Signing Ceremony, dating back 2nd century B.C.E., is a private ceremony takes place prior to public wedding. During the ceremony the bride, groom and two non-family witnesses sign the document which is an Intention to Marriage. [the oldest pre-nuptial agreement] It is considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. Today the Ketubah has evolved in more liberal circles to incorporate the vows and aspirations the couple have for their marriage.
While Orthodox couples still adhere to traditional Aramaic text, many Reform, interfaith and same gender couples have a variety of ways to make their Ketubah their own, while carrying on this ancient Jewish tradition.
Kippah (Jewish Scullcap)
A kippah is the Hebrew word for the traditional small cloth cap worn as a sign of respect during Jewish ceremonies. Yarmulke is the Yiddish term for kippah. Traditionally worn by men, women today wear them too. Wearing a kippah at a wedding is optional. It is a custom to have special engraved kippah with couples name & wedding date on hand as a souvenir.
Processional (Walk Down The Aisle, Jewish Style)
Jewish weddings traditionally have both bride & groom walk down the aisle accompanied by both parents. Traditionally Rabbi and Cantor lead, the groomsmen, followed by the groom and his parents, the bridesmaids, the flower girl and ring bearer, finally the grand entrance bride and her parents. This order is not always followed. In a Jewish wedding the bride and her court stand to the right side of the groom when facing the chuppah. [opposite of American style wedding]. Not always followed in modern weddings.
This optional ritual is followed by some: bride walks around the groom under the Chuppah before the rabbi begins the wedding ceremony. In Israel, mother & grandmother of the bride walk with her. This custom stems from ultra Orthodox when bride’s face is covered with a cloth, not a ‘see through’ veil. Three or seven circles are customary. In modern egalitarian ceremonies, the bride and the groom circle each other.
The Wine Blessing (Kiddushin)
The wine ceremony known as Kiddush, in Hebrew, is performed twice during a Jewish ceremony. Wine is associated with all celebrations festivals and simcha - joy. Kiddush is part of virtually all Jewish observances as a prayer of sanctification. As the couple shares the cup of wine, they embark on a new beginning together.
The Ring Ceremony
In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value to the bride, traditionally gives a ring made of simple, plain metal. In the presence of witnesses, the groom declares “you are hereby married unto me in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” There are modifications & adjustments done in the ring ceremony, when either the bride or groom are not Jewish.
Reading of the Ketubah
The Ketubah is on display under the chuppah during the ceremony. After the ring exchange it is customary to read the Ketubah outloud for all the guests to hear. After the ceremony, the Ketubah is moved to the reception to be viewed by the door as guests come into the Seudah [Dinner and Dancing] outlines the promises, obligations, and commitments the bride and groom WILL exchange.
Sheva Brachot: 7 Wedding Blessings
The Sheva Brachot [Hebrew 7 Blessings] are a key element in a Jewish wedding. It is a time when the community bestows it's blessings onto the couple. There are many different ways to incorporate them into a wedding ceremony. Chanted in Hebrew by a Rabbi, Cantor or honored guest. Many couples ask honored family and friends to share one of the blessings.
Breaking the Glass
Mazel Tov: Jewish CongratulationsJewish etiquette is to wish the couple & their families mazel tov. The word is shouted by all when the glass is broken at the end of the ceremony. Mazel Tov means more than, “good luck or congratulations.” These words suggest a powerful “sending forth of energy”. A quick prayer at moment the glass is broken sends wishes for joy to surround & sustain the couple throughout their lives together.
Yichud: Alone Time After The CeremonyShare a Private Moment: Immediately following the ceremony, the newlyweds head off to a pre-arranged private spot to enjoy a few moments of reflection & signifies the transition to married life, living in partnership. After this period of time, the bride and groom usually meet up with the photographer for family portraits before joining the celebration.
Blessings Before Meals
Blessing Over the Wine and Challah Ritual; To open the Dinner and Dancing portion of the Jewish wedding, Kiddush, wine blessing and breaking of bread blessings are typically done right before the meal is served, after you have been introduced into the reception and done any first dance/hora you might be planning. It is simply a large challah that is rolled out, someone (usually an elderly male family member or your rabbi if you want, but, it's a nice honor for a family member) says the blessing over the challah
Hora: Jewish Wedding Circle Dance
Although the wedding feast in itself is a mitzvah, the emphasis is on entertaining the newlyweds. By dancing around the Choson[ Groom] & Kallah [Bride], the community expresses its support for the couple. As a part of the Jewish people, they never need fear facing life alone. As a mitzvah, it is to be taken seriously.
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