Jewish weddings are a joyous affair. They involve not only the couple and family, but in traditional circles include extended community. To dance and sing, entertaining bride and groom is encouraged. Some say that it is required to help the new couple be joyful. Oftentimes, the ceremony takes place in the synagogue, but there is no requirement to do so. Following the ceremony, there is a festive meal where some of the prayers from the wedding ceremony are sung again as part of the special Birkat HaMazon, Grace after Meals.
A wedding can be held almost anywhere, inside or outdoors. Judaism considers every wedding ceremony to be a holy act. In fact, the name for the marriage ceremony is kiddushin meaning “a holy act.” Jews believe that three participants are present beneath the huppah/wedding canopy: Bride, Groom and God. This is made real through praying that the couple be successful in “building a home among (the people of) Israel. In this way, they simultaneously connect themselves to the Jewish community and people as well as to God.
The formal ceremony consists of three parts and there are additional ceremonies that precede and follow the formal ceremony. The first part is called Airusin/Betrothal. This formally unites the couple as a glass of wine is shared and as the groom places a ring of solid metal on the right forefinger of the bride. He declares, “May you be consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” In traditional practice only the man may give a ring. It is a means of “acquiring” a bride using something of value. Today, non-traditional Jewish practice allows the bride to give a ring to the groom as well.
The second part of the ceremony consists of the formal reading of the Ketubah, the marriage contract. This legal document was signed and witnessed prior to the wedding ceremony. The two witnesses may not be related to either the bride or the groom and traditionally must be keepers of Shabbat and observers of Jewish law.
The final part is called, Kidushin or Nisu’in. This is the formal joining together in marriage. It consists of seven special wedding blessings known as the Sheva Brachot that begin with the blessing over wine and proceed to thank God for Creation, for man and woman, for choosing the People Israel and for bride and groom. These blessing are often sung to a special melody. It is common to involved family, friends and teachers by honoring them to come to the huppah/wedding canopy to lead one of the blessings. The ceremony concludes with the bride and groom drinking from the second glass of wine. The groom then breaks a glass by stamping on it. This act is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple and of Ancient Jerusalem as well as a reminder that some moments in life and marriage will be “broken.”
Immediately after the ceremony concludes, the bride and groom go into a room alone with a “guard” outside the door. Called Yichud, literally “coming together”, this is a vestige of when the marriage would be consummated following the first meal together. Today, it is a time for bride and groom to be with one another in a quiet setting prior to joining the festive celebration with all assembled.
There are rules about when a wedding can take place. It never occurs on a Shabbat, festival or holy day. It also should not happened during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, between Passover and Lag B’Omer, or during the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av. Although a Jewish wedding ceremony does not have to be conducted by a rabbi or cantor, this is the overwhelming practice. Most important is the presence of two witnesses who are Jewish and not related to either bride or groom.