Ever wondered about the Chuppah, Ketuba, and other Jewish wedding customs?
Jewish tradition does not considers the wedding ceremony and the ensuing marriage as a mere social arrangement or contractual agreement, but as a full commitment to “sanctification” or “dedication.” The Hebrew word kiddushin, stems from the word kadosh meaning holy. It indicates that what is happening is a holy spiritual bonding and that as of the wedding ceremony and throughout their lives, the couple have an exclusive relationship, that involves complete dedication to each other.
When a Jewish couple, gets engaged to be married, the families usually announce the occasion and the wedding date with an engagement party. There is an almost un-heard of ritual performed by the bride’s and groom’s mothers to emphasize the seriousness of the commitment of the man and the woman who formally announced their plan to marry. It is, the act of breaking a ceramic plate. Customarily, the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother, drop the well wrapped plate onto a hard surface. Breaking the plate indicates that just as breaking the plate is final, so too the engagement is final, not to be terminated.
It is customary, though not frequently practiced, that at that time of the engagement party, the families sign a contract, that declares the obligations of each side concerning the wedding. In the more traditional Jewish Circles, the bride and groom stop seeing each other, one week before the wedding. This, in order to have them miss each other. Thus, enhancing the joy of seeing each other at their wedding.If the ketubah is lost, a new one must be written.
Before the wedding
It is customary that on the Shabbat morning before the wedding, the groom is honored by being called up to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue or temple. After he recites the last blessing, members of the congregation throw candies and raisins at him to wish him a sweet life with his wife. Tradition calls for the bride and groom to fast on the day of their wedding, until after the ceremony. Though the reason given is so they purify their souls, the actual benefit is that though they may be nervous, neither will suffer a queezy stomach.
One of the most essential elements of the legal aspect of a Jewish wedding is the presence of witnesses. Proper witnesses are needed to observe the signing of all documents and contracts, the actual ceremony when the groom places the ring on his brides finger and recites the prescribed statement, and when the bride and groom now Mr, and Mrs. enter the celebration – reception.
The first thing usually done by the groom upon arrival, is the completion, signing and witnessing of the Ketubah – marriage contract. The authentic text of the Ketubah is the text written by Simeon ben Shetach in 80 B.C.E. and is in Aramaic, the language used by Jews during that period. Thus, historically, the ketubah marked a great leap forward in the thinking about the rights of women. You may call this contract an ancient pre-nuptial agreement since it details not only the husband’s obligations to his wife concerning food, clothing, shelter and pleasure, it also creates a lien on all his property to pay her a sum of money and support, should he divorce her.
The document is signed by the groom and witnessed by two people. It has the standing of a legally binding agreement, that in many countries is enforceable by secular law. If the ketubah is lost, a new one must be written. Like everything else, Ketubot (plural) have evolved in their form. In all but Orthodox Judaism The Ketuba can be presented in the traditional Arameic, Hebrew and – or English and both bride and groom can commit and sign. However, they still need two witnesses. The Ketubah is a document of the highest importance yet, thorough out history, it was proudly and prominently framed it and displayed in the home. Hence, since at least the fourteenth century, the Ketubah has evolved into a wonderful form of art. It is often calligraphed on an illuminated and illustrated manuscript that becomes a treasured family heirloom, to pass on to the following generations.
Unveiling the bride
After the signing of the Ketubah, light snacks and some hard liquor for the Lechayim – To Life, are served. Remember the “To life – Lechayim,” scene from the Fiddler on the Roof? In Orthodox Jewish weddings, during this time, in another room, the bride sits like a queen*, on a throne-like, especially decorated chair. She is surrounded by her family and friends, receiving her guests. Following the Lechayim, the groom together with his father and future father-in-law, musicians and male guests walks over to his bride, whom he has not seen for a week and covers her face with her veil. This ceremony is so the groom identifies his bride before the wedding. If Jacob did so, he would not have been conned to marry Leah instead of his beloved Rachel.
*In Jewish tradition, a bride and groom are akin to king and queen and sit on chairs that are highly decorated to resemble thrones. It is a Mitzvah – commandment and an obligation, to cause the bride and groom to rejoice. This is why in many Jewish wedding celebrations the bride and groom are lifted on their special chairs, by their friends who sing and dance with joy. The best way to rejoice with the bride and groom is to express your joy, love and best wishes.
The actual Jewish wedding ceremony is conducted under a Chuppah or canopy. The chuppah, which is either a tallit – prayer shawl, or a decorated* square of cloth held up by four poles, symbolizes the new home being created by the couple. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome friends and relatives in unconditional hospitality. It is customary for the bride and groom to honor four of their best friends and – or siblings ro hold the poles during the ceremony. This adds love, warmth and intimacy to the ceremony. The bride and groom stand under the chuppah during the ceremony, with the bride to the right of the groom. Traditionally, Jewish wedding ceremonies were held out doors under the stars as a reminder of God’s blessing, bestowed upon Abraham that his children shall be will be as numerous “as the stars of the heavens.”
In Orthodox Jewish weddings that separate men from women, the groom is led to the chuppah by the 2 fathers or other 2 male relatives, while the bride is led by the mothers. In Conservative and Reform – less restrictive Jewish weddings, the groom is accompanied to the chuppah by his parents and the bride is accompanied to the chuppah by her parents.
Under the chuppah, the Rabbi recites the marriage blessings and a blessing over wine, and then a blessing that praises and thanks God for giving us laws of sanctity and morality to preserve the sanctity of family life and of the Jewish people. Both the bride and the groom then drink from the wine.
But instead of creating a quilt, create a chuppah.
Circling the groom
Traditionally, though it is not obligatory that the bride alone or with both her mother and the mother of the groom circle the groom. That is go around and around him. Because the number 7 is so significant in Judaism 7 circlings have become the norm. The most beautiful explanation is that in circling him 7 times, the bride enters the 7 spheres of her beloved´s souls.
The Wedding Ring
The groom, now takes a plain solid gold ring and places it on the index finger of the bride’s right hand and in the presence of two witnesses, recites “Behold you are sanctified to me with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel.” The ring symbolizes the concept of the groom encompassing, protecting and providing for his wife. After the ring was placed on the bride’s index finger, the Ketubah is read aloud and given to the bride. At this point, the bride can place a ring on the groom’s finger. The ring symbolizes the concept of the wholeness of th union and of the groom encompassing, protecting and providing for his wife. The reason for the solid plain unblemished gold ring is three fold.
1. A solid, un-blemished ring represents complete wholeness in the marriage with no holes or obstacles.
2. The bride and groom should consider the marriage and devotion to each other without considering wealth.
3. So every groom could afford to buy a ring for his bride.
If the groom is too poor, someone from the community would buy it for him, as the ring given to the bride must belong to the groom and no one else. After the ring was placed on the bride’s finger, the Ketubah is read aloud and given to the bride.
The Rabbi recites seven blessing over a full cup of wine. After this, the couple again share in drinking the cup of wine, and the groom breaks a glass by stamping on it.
Breaking a Glass in Jewish Weddings
This custom puzzles many who seek explanation. Actually, this custom dates back to Talmudic times, to remind us of the destruction of the holy temple in Jerusalem. Another interpretation given is that the smashing of the glass is irrevocable and permanent. So too should the marriage be. As the bride and groom bond together, the glass should be the last thing to break, between them. Yet another interpretation is that uniting a man and a woman and creating a new family is divine. Thus, even at an occasion of such great rejoicing, one must take measures to ensure that the celebration remains within bounds of propriety and holiness. After the breaking of the glass the musicians play and the guests shout “Mazal tov! Mazal tov” – Good Luck. When the bride and groom arrive at the reception, as Mr. and Mrs., everyone joins in dancing around the “king and queen.”