Monday, January 27, 2014

Weddings Across the Board: Jewish Rituals and Traditions

I'm starting a new feature on the blog called Weddings Across the Board. It will focus on the traditions of people of certain religions, nationalities, faiths, etc. around the world and I can't wait to share what I'm learning! Some posts will be quick, featuring one or two traditions. Others may be a bit more informative. Each post will have a link to a Wediquette Pinterest Board with more (p)inspiration! We'll start with the Jewish religion, since I was raised Jewish and have some very informative blurbs from my own wedding program (an interfaith, Jewish & Catholic wedding, which incorporated aspects of both religions) and my sister and brother-in-law's beautiful Jewish wedding. Hope it sheds some light on your understanding of Jewish weddings.

In the Jewish faith, there are many traditions and meaningful rituals that may be included in a wedding celebration, as they give expression to the deepest significance and purpose of marriage. They represent the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, their obligation to one another and to the Jewish people. Read about the symbolism of some of these traditions below, and feel free to use/share these brief descriptions for your ceremony programs! Note: Your wedding is a celebration of the two of you, so you may choose to use some of these traditions and not others. Work with your officiant, your betrothed and, when appropriate, your families to figure out what is going to be the best fit for you. It will be perfect :) 

The Wedding Day Fast- 
The dawning wedding day heralds the happiest and holiest day of one's life. This day is considered a personal Yom Kippur for the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride), for on this day, all our past mistakes are forgiven as we merge into a new, complete soul. Both the chatan and kallah fast from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony.

The Ketubah- 
This is the Jewish marriage contract outlining the responsibilities of the bride and groom. The Ketubah confirms that we willingly accept each other and assume obligations to one another. This tradition dates back over two thousand years. Today, most Ketubot are beautifully ornate and spiritual- not legal- covenants which are signed by the bride and groom in the presence of two witnesses, family and friends before the ceremony.
The Chuppah-
The ceremony takes place under the chuppah (wedding canopy), an intimate, sanctified space symbolizing the home that we will build and share together. The sides are left open, so that it is always  open to loved ones. It requires support to hold it up by the people in our lives and our love for each other.

The Kippah & Tallis- 
The Kippah (yarmulke) is the Jewish head covering and the tallis is the prayer shawl. Both are worn as a sign of respect during services and ceremonies. In some Jewish traditions, the tallis is wrapped around both the bride & groom to symbolize our unity. In an extra special layer of symbolism and aweosmeness, some brides and grooms use a tallis from a loved one as the 'roof' over their chuppah.

Seven Circles- 
The bride circles the groom seven times and then stands to his right under the chuppah. Just as the world was built in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of our new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that we cannot attain separately.

Kiddushin (Blessings Over the Wine- during the ceremony)
Wine is a traditional Jewish symbol of simcha (joy). We share our first cup of wine symbolic of the simchot we were share in our marriage. On our wedding day, the wine is served in a Kiddush cup, which is reserved for the Sabbath and special occasions.

Wedding Rings-
The ring exchange is the most important part of a Jewish ceremony. The groom gives the bride a plain ring without blemishes or ornamentation, representing a marriage of simple beauty and everlasting love. The ring is placed on the index finger of the bride's right hand, which stems directly from the ancient belief that the right index finger is directly connected to the heart. At this point, the couple is fully married.

The Seven Blessings- 
The second part of a Jewish wedding ceremony consists of the recitation of the Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) to santify our marriage.  The Seven Blessings serve to link the chatan and kallah to our faith in God as creator of the world, bestower of joy and love, and the ultimate redeemer of our people. At the conclusion of the Seven Blessings, we drink wine again.

Breaking the Glass- 
This Jewish tradition has a few interpretations. It warns us that love is fragile like glass and must be protected. It represents the destruction of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Some joke that this is the last time that the groom gets to put his foot down. After the glass is broken, we shout, "Mazel Tov!" (Congratulations) and that is the conclusion of the ceremony. Let the party begin!

The Yichud (Time of Seclusion)- 
Immediately following the ceremony, the bride and groom retreat to a private room to share their first few moments alone together as husband and wife and recognize the sanctity of their new life together. If the couple has been fasting, they may take this opportunity to enjoy a bite to eat.

The Seudah (the Festive Meal)-
It is considered a mitzvah (the fulfillment of a divine commandment) to rejoice with a bride and groom on their wedding day. in fact, the wedding couple is likened to a king and queen and is treated with great honor and fanfare today and for the week following the wedding. As the couple enters the reception to join their guests in a festive meal, they are met with singing, dancing and music.

The Horah- 
A fun Jewish dance, typically to the tune of the song Hava Nagila (which means 'Let Us Rejoice')! This dance often includes as many people as possible, dancing around in circles and lifting the bride and groom (and sometimes parents) up on chairs!

Hamotzi & Kiddush (at the reception)- 
The Hamotzi (the prayer for the bread/food) and the Kiddush (the prayer for wine) are traditionally recited before a Jewish meal to give God thanks for sustaining and providing for us.

Good to know as a guest-
- If the ceremony is taking place in an Orthodox synagogue, it is inappropriate to bring cash. Plan to mail it, give is beforehand or afterward.
- Dress: It is customary for men to cover their heads with a kippah (there are often bobby pins or clips to attach them to your hair) as a sign of respect and to remind Jews that God sees all that we do. Women cover their shoulders out of modesty in the holiness of the sanctuary and in the presence of the Torah. No matter what the custom is at the particular synagogue, one should always dress respectfully and modestly. Avoid revealing clothing or clothes with images that may be deemed disrespectful.
- It is inappropriate to applaud in synagogue. As a moment of blessing and holiness, a more traditional wish of congratulations and signs of support are shown when we shout, Mazel Tov! altogether.
- Don't eat until after the hamotzi! If the prayer will be said at the beginning of the reception (but after cocktail hour), wait to start bread/salad/entree but enjoy those hors d'oeuvres!
- It's good luck to give monetary gifts in multiples of 18, or with the number 18 in them ($36, $72, $118, $218)

Find more photos and information about Jewish weddings on my Jewish & Multifaith Weddings Pinterest board. Questions? Have some traditions to share? Leave a comment! 

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