Jewish wedding traditions explained
By Joan G. Friedman
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Following is a description of traditions that are part of many Jewish weddings.
The Aufruf ceremony usually takes place during the Shabbat service prior to the wedding. The purpose of this ceremony is to publicly recognize the forthcoming marriage. Because the word aufruf means “calling up,” the bride and groom (only groom in Orthodox synagogues) are called up to read a portion of the Torah.
Following the service, they are showered with candies, to symbolize the wish for a sweet, fruitful and prosperous life. At the conclusion of the service, the congregation is invited to a Kiddush—Sabbath refreshments—to fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality and to have everyone share in their celebration.
Before the start of the formal wedding ceremony, they sign their ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. The ketubah usually consists of both a traditional Conservative text and an egalitarian text. The traditional text, written in Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect, is legally binding and states their actual obligations.
Oftentimes, they add an egalitarian text in English that represents expressions of their shared goals, personal commitments and desires for their relationship. Two very special relatives or friends, other than the parents, are chosen to witness the signing of the egalitarian ketubah.
After the signing of the ketubah, the Bedeken or veiling ceremony takes place. This is when the groom places the veil over the bride. There are several interpretations of this custom.
One is that it developed in ancient times as an act of modesty, similar to when Rebeccah veiled herself before she first met Isaac, her betrothed. Another interpretation is that it developed to prevent the recurrence of what happened to Jacob; because he didn’t see the face of his bride, Jacob married Leah instead of Rachel, the woman he loved.
Also by “dressing” his bride with a veil, the groom sets her apart from all others.
The ceremony starts with the processional of the wedding party, beginning with the chuppah, the wedding canopy. It symbolizes the home that they will create as husband and wife and is open on all four sides to signify that family and friends are always welcome. It is also seen as a sign of God’s presence at the wedding.
Kiddush is the blessing over the wine and occurs twice during the ceremony. The two cups are thought to symbolize the joy and sorrow the couple may encounter in life. By both parties sipping from both cups, they are expressing their willingness to face life as equal partners.
Kiddush is part of all Jewish observances, because it is associated with celebrations, festivals and simcha (joy). There is usually special mention of the cups and the importance they have in the couple’s life. For example, it might be mentioned that the bride’s was given to her by her maternal grandparents for her bat mitzvah, and the groom’s is from his bride.
The Sheva B’rachot, or the Seven Blessings, comprise the bulk of the wedding liturgy and begin the next part of the wedding ceremony. The blessings cover many themes—the creation of the world and humanity, the survival of the Jewish people and of Israel, the marriage, the couple’s happiness and the raising of the family.
The ceremony ends when the groom smashes a wrapped glass with his foot. (At this point, the guests all cheer!) This ancient custom has a variety of interpretations. One of the oldest is that one should not be frivolous. When there is joy and celebration, there should also be awe and trembling. A similar interpretation sees the breaking of the glass as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and that we should never be so joyous as to forget that there is much sorrow in the world.
Immediately following the ceremony, it is customary for the bride and groom to spend a few moments alone. This is known as yichud. The yichud experience will give them a peaceful time for shared reflection and marks the end of the wedding ceremony.
Joan Greenberger Friedman contributes to newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, and may be reached at email@example.com.