Traditions of the Jewish Marriage Ceremony

    January 2010            
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Customs and Traditions for the Bride and Groom

By Nachum Mohl

Customs for the Day of the Wedding

The day of the wedding is a special day for the bride and groom. It is considered like Yom Kippur for them since on this day G-d looks down upon them and forgives their sins. Since G-d judges them on their wedding day the custom is for the bride and groom to fast. If the wedding takes place during the day, they fast only until after the marriage ceremony. If the wedding takes place long after the night has started they may eat before the ceremony.

There are days on which it is customary not to fast such as Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the Jewish month), the entire month of Nisan, the days between Rosh Chodesh Sivan until Shavout, during Chanukah and special days such as Lag B'Omer, the fifteenth of Av, the fifteenth of Sh'vat, and the two days of Purim.

There are places where it is the custom of the parents of the bride and groom to also fast. Many have the custom on the day of the wedding to go to visit righteous men of the community to request blessings for the success of the marriage.

In many places the bride gives a talit to her groom as a present. In the Sephardic communities, the groom will take the talit to the marriage canopy and there he makes the special "shehechianu" blessing (thanking G-d for meriting to come to such a joyous time).

Although it is mandatory for the bride to go the mikva before the wedding, some have the custom for the groom also to purify himself in a mikva so that the marriage should begin in the purest manner. Some go to the mikva in the morning and others will go in the afternoon.

Some bride and groom pray the mincha (afternoon) prayer and include in it extra prayers from the Yom Kippur liturgy that requests forgiveness from G-d. Other brides and grooms add in their own prayers that G-d may help them make a successful marriage. In addition, since the prayers of the bride and groom have a special power to come before G-d, it is customary for people ask them to pray for specific individuals such as those who are sick, in trouble, or need help in finding their mate.

It is important for the bride and groom to give tzadakah (charity) on this day. Many people who make weddings in Israel give money to soup kitchens to provide meals for the poor; others have meals set aside at the wedding feast for poor who come to the weddings.

Immediately before the wedding, the custom is to have separate receptions for the bride and groom so that others may come before the wedding ceremony and give them blessings. This can be done in the wedding hall. In many places the bride has a special chair made that is fashioned with lovely arches of flowers which surround her.

It is customary for the bride to wear white. The groom may also wear white although generally a dark suit, white shirt and tie is standard today. In the orthodox communities the groom may wear a kittle (a white garment that is worn on the high holidays). In other communities he may only wear a white tie.

Before the wedding ceremony, ashes are put on the forehead of the groom that he may mourn the destroyed temple even on the day of his greatest joy. Only a very small amount is put on. Some have the custom to also put some ashes on the forehead of the bride. This is to fulfill the verse: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither." In some communities they say the verse as they put the ashes on the groom.

It is customary that the parents bless their children before the marriage ceremony. Some bless them under the Chuppah and some before the Chuppa.

Immediately before the chupah, the custom is that the bride and groom remove all of their jewelry and untie their shoelaces. The valuables should be given to a trusted person for safe keeping.

The people who escort the bride and groom to the chupah are called shoosbeenin. In most communities it is the two fathers that escort the groom and the two mothers that escort the bride. Where the parents are divorced or dead, they are replaced by married relatives or close friends. It is customary that each escort carry a lit candle which is placed in a special holder so that the wind should not blow it out and to prevent any fires.

As the ceremony starts, and before the groom goes to the chuppah, the groom is first escorted from his place to visit the bride who sits in her place. Here the groom covers her face with a thick veil. As he turns to leave, it is customary to throw confetti or rice. The groom is escorted now to the chupah. In many places it is customary for the people who have come to attend the wedding to sing traditional songs as they too escort the groom to chupah and as they await the coming of the bride. The groom faces towards Jerusalem, which is generally east.

The chupah in ancient times was the residence or domain of the groom, therefore the bringing of the bride to the chupah means the entry of the bride into the residence of the groom and the beginning of their living together. Although the Ashkenazic Jews prefer to make the chupah outside under the heavens (by day or night), the Sephardim make the chupah in the wedding hall itself. Sephardim make the ceremony in the middle of the meal whereas Ashkenazim make it before the meal begins.

After the groom is in the chupah, the bride is then escorted to there. Upon arriving at the chupah, the groom's male escorts move aside and the bride together with her escorts walks around the groom. The prevalent custom is to circle the groom seven times, but some only circle him three times. At this time a cantor sings the special songs, such as "mi adir al hakol" and "baruch haba".

It is customary for the people who have come to witness the wedding to stand. They should not talk during the ceremony as it is most disrespectful. Many join in humming or singing with the cantor.

It is imperative that the person who performs the ceremony be knowledgeable in the Jewish laws of marriage. He must insure that proper and kosher witnesses are designated to witness the ceremony, especially the giving of the ring. In most communities the groom will place the ring on the first finger (next to the thumb) on the bride's right hand.

Part of the ceremony includes breaking a glass in remembrance of the temple.

After the ceremony the bride and groom are escorted amidst joyful singing and music not to the wedding hall, but to a small private room where they will stay together and alone for about ten minutes. The room is normally set with food and drink so that the bride and groom can break their fast together, or at least partake of some food together. No one is to be allowed in this room at this time; this is called the yehud (getting together) room. Two men are appointed to guard the door that they not be disturbed and that no one be permitted to enter during this time. When they emerge from this room, they are accompanied to the wedding hall to begin the dancing and celebrations.

(Please note that as with all Jewish customs there are variations and divergences in the customs that have been written here. It is essential to speak with a knowledgeable rabbi before your wedding to clarify the various customs in your area.)


from the January 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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