Shatter the Glass: A Guide to Jewish Wedding Ceremonies
A Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals, symbolizing the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the Jewish people. A Jewish wedding isn’t just a ceremony binding a couple in matrimony, but also to generations of their ancestors. The texts read in a Jewish ceremony, along with their rituals, have been carried out for almost 2,000 years. Of course of time things have changed, been adapted, and elaborated over the centuries. With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that not every Jewish wedding ceremony will be identical as it will vary based on whether a couple is orthodox, reform or conservative.
Signing the ketubah
Under Jewish law, every wedding process begins with the signing of the ketubah and occurs before the ceremony begins. This is a special type of Jewish agreement considered an integral part of traditional Jewish marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride.
Standing Under the Huppah
Once the ketubah has been signed, the huppah becomes the next focal point. The huppah, or wedding canopy, dates back to the tend-dwelling Jewish nomadic days in the dessert. The idea is that the huppah creates an intimate and sacred space since Jewish weddings were historically held outdoors. It represents the home the bride and groom will build together. A cloth typically creates the roof of the huppah, typically ornate or specially made for the wedding. It is attached to four poles and those are held up, most often, by male friends or relatives. In more progressive streams, women also hold the huppah poles.
Before the bride and groom join to stand under their huppah, a short meaningful ceremony is performed. The groom cover’s his bride’s face with her veil. The veil symbolizes that the groom is solely interested in his bride’s inner beauty. This is usual very emotional part of any ceremony as the couple is traditionally away from one another for seven days leading up to their wedding.
The Wedding Ceremony
With all the guests assembled, the ketubah signed and the bride veiled, the wedding ceremony officially begins. The processional may include the groom’s parents escorting him to the huppah, followed by the bride’s parents doing the same for their daughter. Once both bride and groom arrive at the huppah, the the bride circles the groom (generally seven times, but sometimes only three). This custom is part of many modern wedding. Seven is the more usual custom as seven is a number of great significance in Judaism.
Once the bride and groom join their rabbi under the huppah, the sanctification of their nuptials begins. Technically, this isn’t the marriage ceremony, but the engagement ceremony. In ancient times this would take place a year prior to the wedding, but as we said – things adapt and change over time. Two cups of wine are used throughout the entire wedding ceremony. The first cup is blessed by the rabbi and given to the groom, who sips from it. He then offers a sip to his bride and his bride’s mother. A ring is placed on the bride’s index finger, and according to Jewish law is officially engaged. Once engaged, the rabbi will read the previously signed, ketubah to the gathering.
The Seven Blessings
The second part of Jewish ceremonies includes a blessing over the second cup of wine – the first of the seven blessings or sheva b’rachot. These blessings are of ancient scripture and are often recited by an important person to the couple, not necessarily their rabbi. After the seven blessings are recited, the couple shares the second cup of wine.
Breaking the Glass
Of all Jewish wedding ceremonies, this is most well-known and most often the one depicted in Hollywood. There are many interpretations of the symbolism in this ritual, however the most known understanding we have encountered is that the broken glass symbolizes the couple’s happiness and that their life and the lives of their future children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass. Once the groom breaks the glass underfoot, cheers and shouts of ‘Mazal Tov’ officially signify the party and celebration can begin!
Following many ceremonies, couples often share a few private minutes together to reflect on the commitment they just made to one another and Jewish ceremonies are no different. The bride and groom are required to have time alone away from friends and guests to reflect on what just took place – their marriage – before joining their party. Many modern couples take this time to get a bite to eat as they fast throughout the day of their wedding.