Of all the wedding ceremonies in the world today, traditional Jewish weddings are among the most beautiful. There is a sweetness in their ritual, a joy in their performance, and a sincerity in their ceremony which is rare and unparalleled. Although on the surface they may seem formulaic, in their actuality they are truly something extraordinary.
There are some variances among different sects, some observing some or all of the traditions, but here are some descriptions of the more common components of traditional Jewish wedding ceremonies.
For the week before the ceremony, the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) are not to see each other. Separately, each host a pre-nuptial reception – the chatan for the males and the kallah for the females. During these small gatherings, the chatan and kallah are treated like royalty, and seated on throne-like chairs. This is the time for guests to speak blessings over them. The Shomer (similar to a best man) and the Shomeret (similar to a maid of honor) are important parts of this ceremony, and are responsible for keeping the chatan and kallah as stress free as possible by helping them with small details.
Also, at the end of the reception, the mothers of the chatan and kallah break a plate, which is symbolic of the consequences of not fulfilling marriage obligations, as a broken plate, like a relationship, can never be fully repaired.
Oftentimes, during the reception, the Ketubah, or wedding contract, is drafted, witnessed, and signed. It discusses the obligations the husband has to the wife, and that their families have to each other.
After the pre-nuptial ceremonies have finished, the groom leads a procession into the kallah reception room, and the chatan covers the face of his bride with a veil. This is symbolic of the prevalence of inner beauty over outer beauty. The bride’s face will remain covered throughout the next part of the ceremony.
In Hebrew, Chuppah means marriage canopy, and it is the location of where the main part of the ceremony will take place. It is an unenclosed tent, often placed outside, situated atop four poles and decorated ornately. It symbolizes the chatan’s house, his domain, and when the kallah enters, she is, in a way, joining him under his roof, submitting to his will and authority.
In preparation for the Chuppah, neither chatan or kallah wear jewelry or keep valuables on their person. They also untie all knots in their clothing, like ribbons or shoelaces, because they are about to tie a knot to each other.
Like many more modern ceremonies, Jewish traditional weddings involve the giving of a ring. In this case, the chatan gives a plain gold ring to the kallah, and says “Behold you are sanctified to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” The giving of the ring is followed by the reading of the Ketubah.
The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachos)
Recited by a Rabbi over a cup of wine, the Seven Blessings are words spoken to honor the new couple. The couple share the cup of wine, and immediately thereafter…
Breaking the Glass
…the groom steps on a glass to break it! This tradition is honor of the temple of Jerusalem, which has yet to be rebuilt. The couple is to always keep Jerusalem and Israel, and their prosperity, always in their minds.
Next, the chatan and kallah are accompanied to a “room of privacy” by dozens of dancers. According to Jewish custom, if a man and woman are alone together in a closed room, and they are seen by two witnessed, it is considered an act of marriage.
The Festive Meal (Seudah)
After the couple emerges, all the guests and celebrants enjoy a festive meal together.
A traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is a celebration of the new union between Husband and Wife – an alliance that’s not to be broken. It symbolizes the harmony of their marriage, and the duties each will have to the other throughout the course of their lives. It is one of the holiest of Jewish traditions, and certainly among the most meaningful, as it is a personal Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement, for both the chatan and the kallah. Through the ceremony they are cleansed, so that they may become one, a united soul through marriage.