Jewish weddings have some significant rituals that add meaning to the ceremony. In today’s times, Jewish couples often choose to have one, some or all of the rituals present in their wedding. Here are some of the rituals one would find in a Jewish wedding…
Couples stand under a canopy, called a chuppah. A chuppah can be a simple cloth held on four poles over the couple’s head, or may be made of a tallit, or prayer shawl that has significant meaning to the family of the bride or groom. The tallit may have belonged to an ancestor or family member, or it may be one that the groom when he was a baby was wrapped in for his brit (circumcision ceremony) or Bar Mitzvah. The chuppah represents the home that the couple will live in together as a married couple.
There is a tradition of the bride wearing a veil that goes back to the bible. In the biblical story, Jacob thinks he is marrying Rachel, but ends up marrying her sister, Leah, because she is wearing such a thick veil that he cannot see her face until the ceremony is over. Jewish brides wear a veil, but before the ceremony, the groom lifts it up and verifies that she is his love, the one he intends to marry.
That ceremony is called bidekin.
Another Jewish wedding tradition is the marriage contract, called Ketubah. It is often a beautiful piece of art in which the couple’s vows are written, along with the date and place of the marriage. Traditionally, the wording was an agreement almost like a contract, but today, the wording may be modernized to be more of a vow of mutual love, respect and devotion.
During the ceremony, traditionally the bride will circle the groom seven times. This represented the husband being the center of the bride’s life, with seven representing the seven blessings that are a part of the marriage ceremony. Modern couples may choose to have the bride and groom circle each other separately or circling together to represent their being the center of each other’s lives.
A prayer over wine, called kiddush, is said during the ceremony. Wine, in Jewish tradition, is used to represent joy, and is present at many Jewish happy occasions and holidays.
Seven blessings are said or sung during the Jewish wedding. Each blessing thanks God for creating a part of life: the universe; people; man and woman; Israel; love; the joy of song and celebration of marriage; and wine.
Rings are exchanged during a Jewish wedding. Jewish wedding bands are traditionally an unbroken circle, representing a circle with no beginning or end. The marriage vow itself is a sentence which means that the couple is pronouncing that they are now marrying each other, according to the laws of Moses and the Jewish people. The groom may say it to the bride, or both to each other in turn.
Finally, the groom steps on and shatters a glass (which is inside a small bag). This represents several things: that the love should last as long as it would take to put shattered pieces back together (forever, in other words). The glass also represents that in every joy there is a small measure of sadness when violent things occur, such as the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, or the Night of the Breaking Glass at the start of the Holocaust. The couple is obligated to care for each other through joy and sadness.
After the Jewish wedding ceremony, the couple may retreat for a couple of minutes of "alone time" before the celebration begins. This alone time allows the couple to share a bite to eat and a glass of wine and represents the beginning of their life as one married couple. It’s called Yichud.
Today, a couple that is considering incorporating Jewish rituals into their wedding has many meaningful rituals to choose from.