The Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The Jewish marriage ceremony reflects a couple’s inner feelings wanting to express privately and publicly their highest values and deepest hopes.It is a joyous and transcendental experience that compels all attending to approach it with a sense of trepidation, awe, joy, and gratitude.
A Jewish wedding is a rich ritual event designed to highlight the seriousness, sanctity, and expectative implicit in the marriage commitment.
The symbols that constitute the ritual aim at transforming what otherwise would be a common, prosaic, even a bureaucratic act into an elevating moment in life.
A cup of wine on a special ceremonial goblet is no longer a glass of wine at a bar or restaurant. Rings are not jewelry accessories. A Ketubah is not a compliance form signed at a government office. Words are not words one says but promises, reflections of dreams and hopes, confessions of one’s feelings.
The marriage ceremony is conducted under a marriage canopy, known in Hebrew as huppah. It is a symbol carrying many levels of meaning.
This canopy symbolizes primarily the home that the bridegroom and bride will build together.
The Jewish wedding ceremony is a public acknowledgment under the huppah and in front of an assembly of two people’s commitment as husband and wife.
Jewish tradition is that the huppah must be a temporary structure.
Its lack of permanency underlines the promise of building a home that this ceremony conveys.
The huppah has four poles, either freestanding or held by family and friends, and has a covering overhead.
This overhead cover may be made of virtually any material, though usually it is made of cloth.
During the ceremony, the family members and friends form the huppah walls, symbolizing the love and warmth the couple is surrounded with.
As the rabbi and cantor (stand beneath the huppah in the center), the bride’s grandparents are seated in the first row on the right side, and the groom’s grandparents are sitting in the first row on the left side, the groom is ushered first. He will wait for his bride at the threshold of the huppah for them to enter together
Jewish tradition considers it an honor and privilege- a “mitzvah”-to accompany the bride and groom to the huppah.
The groomsmen will come in pairs, followed by the best man.
Then, the groom will be escorted by his parents-father on his right and his mother on his left.
Next, bridesmaids (starting with she who will stand farthest from the bride), followed by the maid of honor.
Ring bearer and flower girl.
Though there is no Jewish tradition of a father “giving away the bride,” mystic tradition says, “the father and mother of the bride bring her—the father on her right, the mother on her left.
Because Psalm 45 says: “a queen shall stand at your right side,” – the bride will stand under the huppah to the groom’s right.
The Jewish wedding ceremony proclaims that a couple’s life together begins by expressing gratitude for having encountered each other, for the myriad of hopes this union engenders, for family and friends, and for being alive.
Here, the dominant liturgical form is the “berakha” (blessing), the quintessential form of expressing gratitude in Judaism. Derived from the root word “BeReKh” (the current term in modern Hebrew for “knee,”) “berakha” originally meant “to bend one’s knee” in gratitude.
Gratitude is an I. O. U. that is made public at every momentous passage in life in Judaism.
So, the first words pronounced at the ceremony, as the couple comes under the huppah is the traditional welcome formula
“Blessed be those that come.”
The goblet of wine and the benediction recited over it symbolize the festivity of the ceremony
Wine is symbolic of life.
It starts just fine as grape juice, fermentation sets in, and the process goes on to become sweet and joyful.
During the ceremony groom and bride drink twice from the same cup, symbolizing in this way their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on.
As a symbol of joy and celebration, wine adds significance to the wedding ceremony. Its sweet taste stirs warmth and light hints at life and happiness.
Before drinking wine, a special benediction is recited “for the fruit of the wine.” This blessing over the wine is intended to transfigure the moment conjuring awe and reverence.
The rabbi then gives the cup of wine to the groom, who drinks of it; the cup is then presented to the bride, who drinks from the same cup, symbolizing their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on
After the blessings, the bridegroom places a ring on his bride’s index finger while making the marriage commitment. (The index was once the ring finger; even though this is no longer so, this custom is kept.
Each ring is placed on the right index finger following the tradition that says that the forefinger is connected by a direct line to the heart.)
This presents an opportunity for both bride and groom declare their vows to each other. Or. they may make theirs the words of the Song of Songs: “This ring symbolizes that “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
Just as a ring has no beginning and no end, the exchange of rings during the wedding ceremony symbolizes the wish of the newlywed couple that the devotion and love for each other never end.
In the Jewish Scriptures (the Bible) there are several instances where the presentation of a ring marked the conferring of power and authority. Placing a ring elevates the position that now bride and groom have in life.
Rings are to be free of precious stones, so that the value cannot be misrepresented, nor compared.
A written declaration of love and fidelity, attested by the very public signature of two witnessed
Prominent guests, friends, or family members give an interpretative version of one of these blessings, each of which reflects the traditional Jewish philosophy of life.
Breaking the glass
As now husband and wife prepare to leave the huppah and return to historical time, the long-standing Jewish custom of breaking a glass reminds us that we live in a broken world that needs repair. The Jewish message here is that every human being bears responsibility not only for their own moral, spiritual, and material welfare but also for society’s moral, spiritual, and material welfare at large.