The Wedding Ceremony
It is customary for the Chatan (groom) and Kallah (bride) not to see each other for a period preceding the wedding. This increases the anticipation and excitement of the event.
Bedeken (veiling of the bride)
Bedeken, from the Hebrew word 'to check' is an Ashkenazi Jewish tradition. It recalls the biblical story of Jacob who thought he was marrying Rachel, only to discover that he had been tricked into marrying Leah, her older sister. The groom will go to the bride's room to check that it is his bride who is there, and he will then place the veil over her face.
When the groom veils his bride, he is saying,"I will love, cherish and respect not only the 'you' which is revealed to me, but also those elements of your personality that are hidden from me. As I am bonding with you in marriage, I am committed to creating a space within me for the totality of your being - for all of you, all of the time."
The Chuppah (Wedding canopy)
During the ceremony, the Bride and Groom stand under a Chuppah, the canopy beneath which the ceremony will take place. The Chuppah symbolises their first Jewish home that they will build together and a reminder of the tents of Sarah and Abraham and our nomadic ancestors. It is open on all sides to welcome visitors into their home with unconditional hospitality. The simplicity of the structure serves to remind us that material things alone do not determine the happiness of the home. Some say it represents God's presence hovering above the proceedings, and the bride and groom are especially close to God at this time.
Following the Ashkenazi tradition, the Bride walks around the groom seven times under the Chuppah before the Rabbi begins the wedding ceremony. Various meaningful interpretations have been ascribed to this custom. In particular, it echoes the ancient time Joshua encircled the city of Jericho, after which the walls of Jericho miraculously sank into the ground. In the same way, after the bride has circled the groom, the walls between them will fall and their souls will be united.
Kiddushin (The Ceremony)
The ceremony is divided into two parts, Erusin (betrothal) and Nissuin (marriage). Until medieval times, the two ceremonies would take place a year apart, during which time the couple prepared for marriage and the bride remained in her parent's home. The constant threat of persecution and fear that the couple might as a result, become separated during the year of betrothal meant that the ceremonies were eventually merged and performed on the same day.
The Betrothal (Erusin) Ceremony
Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the Betrothal blessings, recited by the Rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drink from the same cup. By sharing the wine they hope to halve the bitterness and double the sweetness of their future together.
Giving of the Ring
In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the Chatan (groom) gives an object of value to the Kallah (bride). This is traditionally a ring. The continuity of the ring represents the hope for an everlasting marriage. The ring should be plain, without blemishes or ornamentation - just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty.
The groom now takes the wedding ring in his hand, and in clear view of two witnesses, declares to his bride "With this ring, you are wedded to me in holiness according to the law of Moses and Israel." He then places the ring on the forefinger of his bride's right hand.
According to Jewish law, this is the central moment of the wedding ceremony, and at this point the couple are fully married.
Ketubah (Marriage Contract)
Now comes the reading of the Ketubah. The Ketubah outlines the husband's various responsibilities: to provide his wife with food, shelter, and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The Ketubah is the property of the Kallah (bride) and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. The reading of the Ketubah acts as a break between Erusin and Nissuin.
The Marriage (Nissuin) Ceremony
Following the reading of the Ketubah is the Sheva Berachot (the seven blessings), which are sung over the second cup of wine. Each blessing progressively links the marriage with the past, present and the future of mankind and seals the union between them.
The first Blessing is for the wine itself. The next four focus on the creation of the world, humanity and continuity. The sixth blessing is for the bride and groom; that their love and friendship for each other grows, with a focus as exclusive as that of Adam and Eve, when there was no one else in the world. The seventh and final blessing is a prayer that joy and happiness will continue throughout the couple's life together and that the time of the Messiah will come to redeem the Jewish people from exile so that peace and tranquility will reign over the world.
Breaking the glass
At the conclusion of these blessings, the groom and then the bride again drink the wine. The groom breaks a glass with his right foot. This is an ancient custom dating back 2,000 years, symbolising the losses suffered by the Jews over the centuries, especially during the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and identifies them with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at that moment of his or her greatest personal religious rejoicing, is always mindful that even amidst supreme joy and celebration we must always remember the sadder times.
The guests usually shout at this point:
MAZAL TOV!! CONGRATULATIONS!
Immediately following the ceremony, the Chatan and Kallah, now husband and wife, are escorted to a private room where they have an opportunity to spend a few moments in each other's company. (Yichud means alone-together). These moments of seclusion signify their new status of living together as husband and wife.
A few key reminders:
Most people choose to marry on a Sunday or a Tuesday (a particularly significant day, as this was when God blessed His creation doubly).
A few months before you intend to get married, you must register with a synagogue and Rabbi at the Chief Rabbi's office, based in Finchley, London. For more details, contact the Jewish Marriage Council on
020 8203 6311.
There are several days in the Jewish calendar when it is forbidden to hold a wedding ceremony – so please do check your wedding dates with the Synagogue secretary to be sure your celebration is permitted.
Please find below a list of resources that will be useful in planning your wedding:
General Register Office