A Guide to a Jewish Wedding Ceremony
A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful rituals, symbolising the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the Jewish people. These include pre-wedding decisions, from choosing a date to a location. During the ceremony, performed by a Rabbi, there are also a variety of traditional rituals. We will guide you through everything you need to know about a Jewish wedding ceremony below.
- How is a Jewish Wedding Affected by Coronavirus?
- How Do You Choose a Date for a Jewish Wedding Ceremony?
- Where Can a Jewish Wedding Take Place?
- Is a Jewish Wedding Ceremony Legally Binding?
- Can I have a Jewish Wedding Ceremony if My Partner isn’t Jewish?
- Are There Pre-Wedding Traditions before a Jewish Wedding Ceremony?
- What Happens in a Jewish Wedding Ceremony?
Currently in the UK, both wedding ceremonies and receptions have limited numbers depending on where you live. Wedding ceremonies and receptions in England are currently limited to 15 people. There will, inevitably, be a number of elements that will be challenging for a Jewish wedding while social distancing measures are in place. Couples are having to face changes to the venue, catering and guest lists as those having large celebrations will need to limit their plans if they want their wedding to go ahead. You may choose to postpone your wedding until a time when you can celebrate fully. On the other hand, you could go ahead with a smaller, legal ceremony now, then have a full celebration when it is safe to do so.
If you choose to go ahead with your wedding, government guidelines currently state that where Jewish marriage rituals or ceremonies are being undertaken under the legal provisions for a wedding reception, these ceremonies also must not exceed 15 people in England, and should adhere to all social distancing and other safety measures provided in this guidance. Those taking part in the ritual or ceremony do not need to remain seated at tables for this, but should be seated for any other aspects of a reception. If a faith or belief marriage ritual or ceremony is taking place as a wedding reception, it should take place within a reasonable timeframe alongside the legal solemnisation of the marriage.
There are some limitations on your date if you are having a Jewish wedding. Jewish weddings are traditionally prohibited on Shabbat. You also can’t get married on major holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Passover or on the fast days Tisha B’Av, the 10th of Tevet, the 17th of Tammuz , the Fast of Gedaliah, and the Fast of Esther. Traditionally, Jewish weddings are also not held during the counting of the omer between Passover and Shavuot or during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. Many of these dates fall during the prime wedding season, spring and summer. So, it’s important to check a Jewish calendar before you select a date.
Although Shabbat weddings are out, many couples choose to wed on Saturday at sundown, so that they can begin their ceremony with havdalah, marking both the end of Shabbat and the end of the time that came before their public commitment to one another. Some couples choose to wed on Tuesdays, believing it to be an especially blessed day, since in the Biblical story of creation, the phrase “God saw that it was good” appears twice on the third day.
A Jewish wedding can take place anywhere, as long as you get married under a chuppah. Take your chuppah with you and travel anywhere! If you have a vision, there is a way to make it happen. It can be indoors or outdoors and it does not need to be in a synagogue or in a licensed venue. The choice is literally yours!
As already mentioned, Jewish weddings do not need to take place in a licensed venue. Any rabbi can marry anyone in the UK or abroad but the couple need to arrange the legal aspects separately. If the couple are both Jewish then they can get married anywhere in England under the auspices of a synagogue.
If a wedding takes place under the auspices of a synagogue then the couple arranges their civil marriage with the synagogue’s registrar. This person is a member of the synagogue who is licensed to look after the legal aspects of the wedding. The couple does not need to get any other registrar in addition.
If you or your partner are not Jewish then your wedding cannot take place in a synagogue or under the auspices of a synagogue. So, such couples need to either go to a registry office before the wedding or get a registrar to come to their licensed venue.
However, some rabbis who are independent of any synagogue can help mixed and interfaith couples who want to include Jewish traditions in their wedding. This can include all of the symbols of a Jewish wedding such as the chuppah, exchanging rings, ketubah, the Sheva Brachot, and breaking the glass.
Jewish wedding celebrations are spread out over time to honour the bride and groom. The celebration may begin with an aufruf, when the bride and groom are called to the Torah for an aliyah. They receive a blessing and then they are showered with candy, a symbol of sweetness to come in their life together. Many couples host a kiddush lunch following services. This can be an ideal time to include the entire community in your wedding celebration.
There are other various traditional pre-wedding rituals you can choose to include. For example, going to the mikvah (ritual bath), separating from one another during the week before your wedding, and fasting on your wedding day. While a Jewish wedding is full of joy, it is also like a personal Yom Kippur for the bride and groom, who want to enter their marriage with a pure heart. Many couples choose to follow an altered version of some of these traditions, such as eating something light before the ceremony to protect against fainting.
There are several different components that traditionally make up a Jewish wedding ceremony. Here we have outlined these elements in a traditional ceremony order.
What is the Signing of the Ketubah?
The ketubah is an ancient document — a marriage contract of sorts — that specifies the groom’s commitments to the bride. The ketubah can also specify the bride’s rights in the case of her husband’s death or their divorce. Many modern couples choose to veer away from the traditional ketubah text, choosing instead a text that expresses their hopes and commitments for their marriage. Some couples write their own text, while others search for a text that speaks to their vision.
Ketubot are often beautiful pieces of artwork that can be framed and displayed in the home. So couples not only have decisions to make about the text, but also the kind of art they want for their ketubah. Some couples even hire an artist to create an original design.
The ketubah is traditionally signed by two appointed Jewish witnesses, who must not be blood-related family members to the bride and groom. However, modern couples can have more consideration about who they want to invite to sign their ketubah. Some rabbis may accept women as witnesses, though most still prefer that the witness is also Jewish.
What is the Badeken?
The badeken occurs straight after the ketubah signing. It’s a short but meaningful ritual where the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. Some contemporary couples are now balancing this tradition by having the bride place a kippah (yarmulke) on her bridegroom’s head too!
What is the Chuppah?
Next, the wedding party enters the main ceremony area where all the guests are seated. The bride follows the groom and both are usually escorted by their respective sets of parents. They make their way towards the focal point of the ceremony – a canopy held up by four poles. This is known as the chuppah.
The chuppah represents the shelter and privacy of the home that the bride and groom will create following their marriage. The bride and groom stand at the centre of it, and the walls are formed by those closest to them, representing support and security. When planning your wedding, think about what kind of chuppah would be special for you. Some are covered in flowers, others are made of fabric squares that friends and family decorate for the couple.
What is Kiddushin?
Once the bride and groom join the rabbi under the chuppah, the ceremony of kiddushin (“sanctification”) begins. This was originally a betrothal ceremony that has been incorporated into wedding tradition.
The rabbi blesses a glass of wine and hands it to the groom, who sips from it. He then gives his bride a sip and her mother has a sip, too. Then the groom recites in Hebrew: “Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel” and places a wedding band on the bride’s right index finger.
The couple is now engaged, according to Jewish law. At this point the rabbi will read the ketubah out to the crowd and often give a short speech. Once this is done, the actual wedding ceremony begins.
What is Nisu’in?
The nisu’in (Hebrew for marriage or literally “lifting up”) consists of the recitation of seven benedictions, all but the first of which are listed in the Talmud. The Seven Blessings are recited over a cup of wine. Sometimes the rabbi recites these, but it is customary to have different friends and family members do it. These blessings are very ancient and set the bride and groom into a wider social and sacred context. They are arranged as follows:
- Blessing over the wine — symbol of joy
- Blessing praising God to whom all creation proclaims praise
- God is praised as Creator of humanity
- God is praised Who created humanity in the Divine image.
- Hope for the messianic future
- Prayer for the happiness of the bride and groom
- The individual hope for happiness for the couple is combined with a prayer for joy in the messianic future.
After the seven blessings, the bride and groom share a second cup of wine.
What is the Breaking of the Glass?
The conclusion of the ceremony is marked by the groom reciting two verses from psalm 137 and then smashing a glass with his right foot. The crowd shouts “mazel tov!” (literally “good luck” but also congratulations). There are several different interpretations for this tradition, such as:
- A representation of the fragility of human relationships; and a reminder that marriage will change your life (hopefully for the good) forever.
- A superstition and the loud noise is supposed to drive away evil spirits.
- A break with the past: the marriage is to last as long as the glass remains broken, ie. forever.
- Symbolises the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.
- Symbolises a hope that your happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass, or that your children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass.
Over time, it has instead become the official signal to cheer, dance, and start celebrating!
What is the Yichud?
The Yichud occurs after the newlyweds process out of the ceremony area and is considered to be one the most intimate and private parts of the day. The bride and groom will take leave for 10 or 15 minutes of “unification”, a brief period when they are alone together. This signifies the real beginning of their shared life together.
The couple then rejoins the guests for the remainder of the festivities. As it is a great mitzvah to make the bride and groom merry on their wedding day, music and dancing traditionally accompany the Jewish wedding ceremony.
- Our Latest Blog Posts
- Most Popular
- Start Planning
- Ultimate Guides
- Covid 19
- Wedding Venues
- Bridal Wear
- Mother of the Bride
- Beauty, Hair and Makeup
- Cakes, Fountains and Sweet Treats
- Caterers and Catering Equipment
- Celebrants and Toastmasters
- Church Weddings
- Discos and DJ's
- Health, Fitness and Weight Loss
- Flowers and Florists
- Gift Ideas
- Gift Lists
- Guest Accommodation
- Hen and Stag Do
- Legal, Financial and Insurance
- Photography and Photographers
- Planners and Co-ordinators
- Spas and Treatments
- Stationery and Invites
- Transport – Cars to Carriages
- Venue Decor and Furniture
- Videography and Videographers
- Weddings Abroad
- Wedding Fairs
- Planning a Wedding
- Wedding Party Advice
- Other Articles