Jewish Wedding Traditions

One week before the wedding

Torah Honor to the Groom: It is customary to honor the bridegroom in synagogue by calling him up to the Torah on the Sabbath before the wedding. The rejoicing over the coming marriage formally begins then, with a reception (Kiddush) after services, hosted by his family. Torah Honor to the Bride: The bride may be honored at a Sabbath afternoon women’s gathering, following the oyruf, which is known as the bride’s Sabbath. The guests honor her with stories about their friendship and thoughts about her upcoming marriage.

The Groom’s Visit to the Mikveh (Ritual Bath): To prepare themselves for one of the most important moments in their lives, some men go to the Mekvah and afterwards attend a male only party with friends.

The Bride’s Visit to the Mikveh (Ritual Bath): The brides and converts go to the Mikveh for the first time just before the wedding for ceremonial immersion and purification. A small party for the women in the family usually follows the bride’s visit to the Mikveh.

Seclusion of the Bride: After she has visited the Mikveh, a traditional bride will not see or speak to her fiancée until the actual wedding ceremony, which can be up to a week. This custom has helped many Jewish brides avoid the pre-wedding friction that can occur with their grooms and is also believed to bring good luck to the marriage.

The Stage

The Wedding Canopy: The wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (wedding canopy). The chuppah is usually made of velvet with embroidery and fringes. The chuppah is supported by four poles, which is optionally held during the ceremony by friends or relatives and symbolizes the new home that will be created by the couple. Under the chuppah is a table with two glasses and a bottle of kiddush wine. The Jewish tradition is that both sets of parents are bringing their children to be consecrated to each other under the chuppah.

By custom, all of the immediate relatives are part of the wedding party. The bride and groom are escorted down the aisle by their parents. To lead their children to the chuppah is considered a parent’s highest joy. Their fathers and mothers escort both bride and groom. If there are grandparents, they are given a special place in the procession. Under the chuppah the bride stands to the right of the groom. Under Orthodox custom, the bride may circle the groom seven times (representing the seven wedding blessings) before taking her place at his right. The number seven represents the idea of the seven heavens, the seven wedding blessings and the seven days of Creation. Symbolically, the bride is thought to be entering the seven spheres of her beloved’s soul. The circle created by the bride is regarded as the space the couple will now share, separate from parents.

The seven Jewish wedding blessings praise God for:

Creating the fruit of the vine: the blessing over the wine, or kiddush
Creating the earth and all that is in it
Creating humanity
Creating man and woman in God’s image
The miracle of birth
Bringing the bride and groom together to rejoice and live in harmony as did the first couple, Adam and Eve.

The joy of the bride and groom and the hope for a world that will one day be filled with the joy of lovers and the laughter of children.

The rabbi begins the ceremony by reading the invocation. Then, the rabbi recites the betrothal benediction over a glass of wine, a symbol of sanctification in which the praise to the one God is voiced. The prayer is: We praise you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. The bride and groom sip the wine. During most wedding ceremonies, the groom lifts the bride’s veil after he has tasted the wine.

After the introduction by the rabbi, the groom recites his wedding vow and gives the ring to the bride. The wedding vow he recites in Hebrew is: Thou art consecrated unto me with this ring as my wife, according to the law of Moses and Israel.

Traditionally the ring for the bride is a simple gold band without any engravings. This type of ring is used because it shows the true value and purity of the ring. At the ceremony the ring is placed on the bride’s right index finger because it is the finger that points at the words when reading the Torah. Modern brides that follow this custom will sometimes switch the ring to the left hand after the ceremony.

Next the ketubbah is read aloud. This is followed by a reading of the seven wedding benedictions by various guests. During this reading the bride and groom sip their wine. The seven benedictions are as follows:

1. Blessed art Thou, O lord our God, King of the Universe who hast created the fruit of the vine.
2. Blessed art Thou, O lord our God, King of the Universe who has created all things for His glory.
3. Blessed art Thou, O lord our God, King of the universe, creator of man.
4. Blessed art Thou, O lord our God, King of the Universe who hast made man in his image, after his likeness, and hast prepared for him out of his very self, a perpetual fabric. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, creator of man.
5. May she who was barren be exceedingly glad and rejoice when her children are united in her midst in joy. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who makes Zion joyful through her children.
6. O Lord, make these beloved companions greatly rejoice even as Thou didst rejoice at Thy creation in the Garden of Eden as of old. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who makest bridegroom and bride to rejoice.
7. Blessed art Thou, O lord our God, King of the Universe, who has created joy and gladness, bridegroom and bride, mirth and exultation, pleasure and delight, love, brotherhood, peace and fellowship. Soon may there be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the jubilant voice of the bridegrooms from the canopies, and of youths from their feasts of song. Blessed art Thou, O Lord who makest the bridegroom to rejoice with the bride.

When the reading is done, the groom smashes a glass with his foot. The breaking of the glass symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem centuries ago. When the wedding ceremony has ended, the guests wish the couple mazel tov, meaning good luck.

 

Since Jews have moved to and from so many countries and have liberal to orthodox views, wedding customs differ. Though many traditional philosophies, prayers and viewpoints remain the same.

The purposes Jewish marriages are procreation, companionship, and the maintenance of family life. Traditionally the Jewish wedding starts with three methods of establishing the marriage. The first is a public signing of a legal marriage contract called ketubah. The ketubah is a document that sanctifies the rights and obligations of the bride and groom. It is signed by the groom and then given to the bride for safekeeping. In modern weddings the bride also signs the contract. The couple at the beginning or end of the ceremony can sign it. The document is often framed and displayed in the newlyweds’ home.

The second method of establishing the Jewish marriage is for the groom to present the bride-to-be with an article of known value (the ring) which she accepts (kinyan). And the last tradition is for the two to spend ten or fifteen minutes together in seclusion or union (yihud).

The Celebration

The wedding party then proceeds down the aisle, led by the bride and groom. At this point, the couple sometimes perform a traditional ritual known as yihud (union). This requires the two going to a private room where they will briefly eat some food (typically a broth) together. They will then go to the reception area for the festivities. A typical celebration includes circle dancing where the bride and groom may be lifted above the circle. In Orthodox communities, where dancing with the opposite sex is prohibited, a special dance may be done where the dance partners will hold opposite ends of a scarf. If either the bride or groom is the last child of the family to be married, another special dance may be performed for the parents to celebrate their success in marrying off all of their children.

 

Interfaith

More than 50% of Jewish men and women are marrying non-Jewish, mostly Christian partners today.

According to Jewish Law, a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is not considered valid.

According to Catholic Law, priests are directed to help with interfaith wedding ceremonies regardless of their personal beliefs.

If you are unable to find a rabbi to conduct your ceremony, contact the Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling in Westfield, NJ at (908) 223-0419.

The average length of a Jewish ceremony is twenty minutes and the average length of a Catholic ceremony, when it is part of mass, runs about an hour.

 

Interfaith Ceremony

Most follow this general outline combining aspects of both Jewish and Christian ceremonies although some interfaith ceremonies can vary – co-officiated by a Rabbi and a Priest – lasts about 45 minutes

Opening Remarks

Explanation of the Chuppah Led by the Rabbi

Acknowledging Loved Ones Who Have Died Led by the Rabbi

Acknowledging Your Two Traditions Led by the Priest

General Opening Marriage Blessings and Prayers Led by the Priest

Sign of Peace Led by the Priest

Readings (biblical and/or secular) by different people

The Blessing over the Wine Led by the Rabbi

Affirmation of the Families and of the Guests

Exchange of Vows (including Declaration of Intent and Consent, when applicable) Led by the Priest

Exchange of Rings Led by the Rabbi

Lighting of the Unity Candle Led by the Priest

The Jewish Seven Wedding Blessings Led by the Rabbi (see Jewish section for more)

The Pronouncement Led by the Rabbi

Kiss

Closing Prayers by the Rabbi and Priest

Breaking of the Glass Led by the Rabbi

Common Conflicts and Solutions to Interfaith Weddings

Day of the Week:

Most interfaith marriages are scheduled for either a Saturday evening or a Sunday since the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) ends at sundown on Saturday and most Christians prefer to have their weddings on Saturdays.

Day of the Year:

Christian weddings may be held on any day of the year, Jewish weddings cannot.

The Jewish religion: Does not permit weddings to be held on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover.

Location of Ceremony:

Most interfaith marriage ceremonies are held in neutral settings, such as nondenominational chapels, historical sites, public gardens, hotels, and private homes in order to appease both sides of the family.

To See or Not to See Each Other Before the Ceremony:

Many brides do not want to see their groom before the processional begins because they believe this would bring them bad luck. If you want to sign an interfaith ketubah before the ceremony, you can have the rabbi or officiate sign your ketubah separately before the music begins. Signing the ketubah after the ceremony is discouraged because you will want to sign it thoughtfully and calmly. After the ceremony, you will be anxious to take pictures and to see your family and friends, so the signing is often rushed.

The Processional:

In the Jewish tradition the bride stands on the right side of the groom and it is the reverse in the Christian tradition. In the Jewish tradition, the groom walks down the aisle with both of his parents and the bride walks down with both of her parents. In the Christian tradition, the groom’s parents and the bride’s mother are escorted to their seats before the formal processional begins, and the bride’s father escorts her down the aisle. In the Jewish tradition, the parents stand near the bride and groom for the entire ceremony. In Christian tradition, the parents are seated for the service. The bride and groom must compromise with both sets of parents beforehand which situation would best suit their ceremony. Unfortunately there is no fast rule to this as families often have different perceptions of how the processional should be carried out.

Do Guests Stand or Sit as the Bride Enters?:

In American Christian weddings it is tradition for the guests to rise as the bride enters and it is a Jewish custom for everyone to remain seated throughout the processional and ceremony. If you do not tell your guests whether to stand or sit, some will stand and others will remain seated as the bride makes her appearance. To avoid confusion, inform your officiate what you would like your guests to do.

 

Millitary Wedding Traditions

Some Preliminaries Couples Must Do Before a Military Wedding:

A one-day pre-course at your local archdiocese. To find your local archdiocese visit: http://www.catholic-forum.com/diocese_homes.html

Completion of a pre-marital inventory examination.

4-6 sessions with the priest or deacon.

Completion of pre-marital documentation to include:
Pre-Nuptial Investigation Form”
Submission of baptism certificates issued within 60 days of the proposed marriage date.
If you were baptized on a military base,
you can obtain a copy of your baptism certificate by writing to
the Archdiocese for the Military Services,
USA, PO Box 4469,
Washington DC 20017.

Please provide your full name, date of birth, father’s first and last name, and your mother’s maiden name. If you were baptized in a civilian parish, contact them and provide them with the same information. Baptized non-Catholics should provide a photo copy of their baptismal certificate or, at a minimum, name and location of the church where they were baptized and the date of baptism.

Permission from the bishop if a Catholic is marrying a non-Catholic.

Completion of an “Affidavit of Free Status” by the parent of the bride and groom.

If neither party to the marriage is active duty military, the bride’s civilian pastor must give written permission for the wedding to take place in the chapel.

 

A military wedding may be officiated by a Christian minister in a church or Jewish rabbi in a synagogue. The military wedding may also be held at a chapel on the base site. Those who marry at a military chapel are military academy graduates, a child of the graduate, a staff member or a faculty member. When the groom’s residence is at a military post, officers and their spouses, as well as civilians are invited to the wedding and reception. The American flag is displayed at the wedding.

Arch of Swords

The outstanding feature of a military wedding that differs from other ceremonies is the arch of swords through which the bride and groom pass at the end of the ceremony. Only commissioned officers are allowed this honor. As soon as the service is over, the ushers (usually 6 or 8) line up at the foot of the chancel steps. Friends and relatives leave the chapel prior to this so that they can watch. At the head usher’s command, “Draw swords”, they hold up their swords (blades up) to form an arch. (Navy ceremonies use an arch of swords and Army ceremonies incorporate sabers.) The couple passes through, the head usher says, “Return swords”, and the men put them back in their sheaths. They then turn and escort the bridesmaids down the aisle. The tradition of the bride and groom walking through the arch of swords is meant to ensure the couple’s safe passage into their new life together.

Alternatively, the arch may be formed outside the church entrance. The ushers leave by a side door, hurry to the front of the church, and are waiting, swords raised, when the couple emerges. The bridesmaids walk out two by two but do not pass through the arch.

Any civilian ushers in the party line up beside the others and stand at attention as the bride and groom pass by. Therefore, unless the ushers are all officers, it is wiser to omit this ceremony since it would not achieve the same impact.

 

Renaissance Wedding Traditions

Weddings during the Middle Ages were considered family and community affairs. The only thing needed to create a marriage was for both partners to state their consent to take one another as spouses. Witnesses were not always necessary, nor was the presence of the clergy. The role of the clergy at a medieval wedding was to bless the couple. It wasn’t official church policy until the council of Trent in the 15th century ruled that a third party [c.f. a priest], as opposed to the couple themselves, was responsible for performing the wedding.

In the later medieval period, the wedding ceremony moved from the house of the bride to the church. It began with a procession to the church from the bride’s house. Vows were exchanged outside the church (the priest gave away the bride, not the father) and then everyone moved inside for Mass. After Mass, the procession went back to the bride’s house for a feast.

Weddings of the Renaissance and medieval period were not all that much different in content from weddings today. The structure is customarily similar to traditional religious ceremonies with medieval décor and dress. The challenge in having a modern Renaissance wedding comes in creating a 14th century atmosphere.

There are many historical reenactment groups such as the SCA that you can join to help you plan the look and feel of your ceremony. Many of the members have experience constructing Renaissance weddings and are willing to help others to plan theirs. The SCA or other local guilds will be able to assist you with your costuming, decoration, catering and will probably even volunteer to entertain.

Origins and Traditions

The Origin of the Bachelor Dinner
This appears to have had its source in Sparta. A Spartan groom always invited his close friends to a supper on the eve of his wedding. The custom is very old and many believe it originated in many different lands.

The Origin of the Trousseau
The trousseau can be traced back to the barter-price, purchase-price and dowry systems. It was customary for a bride to come to her husband with a dowry, so that the man might be compensated for his expenses in caring for the children of his wife’s lineage.

The Origin of Members of the Bridal Party
During the ‘marriage by capture’ era, the loyal tribesmen and close friends of the groom within the tribe aided him to invade the enemy territory to capture his bride. While he dashed off with her, his friends stayed behind to fend off or fight the brides outraged relatives. Such were the first ushers and best man. The maid of honor and the bridesmaids, as they are known today, can also be traced back through the centuries to Saxon England. The senior among them would attend the bride for several days before the wedding. She was especially responsible for the making of the bridal wreath, the decorations for the wedding feast, and for dressing the bride.

Origin of the Processional
In Medieval times, the processional was especially colorful. Gaily dressed minstrels sang and piped at the head of the procession. Next came a young man bearing the bride-cup, which was a chalice or vase of silver or silver-gilt, decorated with gilt, rosemary and ribbons. Then the bride walked, attended by two bachelors, and a dozen or so knights and pages. Next came maidens carrying bride cake, followed by girls with garlands of wheat. The bridegroom then appeared, led by two maidens, and walked in the midst of his close friends, including his “best man”. The relatives walked after him, and these were followed by less intimate friends.

The Tradition of Wedding Gowns
In early Saxon days and through the 18th century, it was the poorer bride who came to her wedding dressed in a plain white robe. This was in the nature of a public statement that she brought nothing with her to her marriage and that therefore her husband was not responsible for her debts.

The Origin of the Veil
The introduction of the veil into Europe came through returning crusades. In early wedding tradition in Europe the bride was bargained for through her father. She was swathed in a bridal veil, and revealed to her mate after the ceremony. In Anglo-Saxon times, the bride wore her hair hanging loose as part of the wedding ritual.

The Tradition of Flowers
The wearing of a wreath of orange blossoms as a crown on the bridal veil was a Saracen custom introduced by returning Crusaders. Orange blossoms were so expensive that only the wealthy could afford them and poorer brides resorted to artificial ones. Flowers also carried special meanings.

The Origin and Tradition of the Wedding Cake
Although it is difficult to tell the specific region that the wedding cake originated in, the early Romans broke a cake made of salted meal over the bride’s head as a symbol of abundance. Various cultures customarily dropped wheat flour or cake upon the bride’s head, then ate these offerings for good luck. The early Britons baked large baskets of small dry crackers for weddings and every guest took one home. This later became known as the tradition of taking the wedding cake home to “dream on”. The tradition of a decorated cake in the shape of an animal, a castle, or basket dates back to the Middle Ages and was called a subtlety. Often coins or silver charms were baked into the cake as prizes for the guests.

The Origin of the Honeymoon
In Northern Europe in the earlier centuries, a newly married couple drank wine made of mead and honey, known as, metheglen, for a month after their marriage. A month was then a “moon”, and therefore the month during which the wine was drunk became known as the honeymoon.

The Origin of Throwing Rice and Old Shoes
The throwing of rice or grain historically symbolized good luck and fertility, or abundance. Among ancient Asyrians and Jews, when a bargain was made, a man gave his sandal as an indication of good faith. A show was the symbol of authority. When the Anglo-Saxon hurled a shoe, it indicated that authority had been transferred.

The Origin and Tradition of the Garter Toss
The garter toss is one of the oldest surviving wedding traditions. It was said that a man who gave his love the garter of a bride would be guaranteed faithfulness. Back in medieval times, it was customary for friends, relatives, guests to accompany the bridal couple to the marriage bed. As time went on, this became rowdier and rowdier to the point that some guests were all too eager to help the bride out of her wedding clothes. To forestall such impropriety, the garters were quickly removed and thrown to the mob as a distraction. As time went on, it has evolved into the tradition we now know.

The Ceremony

Renaissance weddings generally are held outdoors, in a garden park, or modern halls. Traditional churches and cathedrals are also appropriate if properly decorated with banners, heavy wooden chairs and candlelight. Churches or halls are often decorated with grapevine wreaths on the doors, English Ivy, Medieval banners, votive candles set in gold holders, and white flowers as well.

In the early Renaissance Period, the Baron convened the court and the Herald called upon the bride and groom-to-be to present themselves along with their family and supporters. The Herald then read the terms of the dowry and bride price. The Baron then inquired whether they were satisfied with the terms and if each of the couples parents granted permission for the ceremony. Once the permissions were granted, the Baron pronounced the couple to be married and signed the wedding certificate along with the guests present.

The ceremony today is a personal preference and usually a blend of the couple’s religious background with medieval and renaissance customs mixed in. A Catholic Mass could be performed in Latin with the actual vows in English. Though conducting a ceremony in another language often alienates the majority of the attendees. Many couples use the Anglican wedding vows, since they have changed very little over the last four hundred years. The key is to find a minister who can orchestrate a wedding with a renaissance feeling.

Some Ceremony Ideas

Use a parchment scroll that guests can sign in on with a quill pen
Have the music played on a pipe organ, or instrumental Celtic music played with a Dulcimer, Celtic harp, lute, flute etc.
Have the wedding party dress in 14th/15th century costumes.
When the people arrive at the church door, have the men sit on the right side and the women on the left.

Some General Ideas

Have castle or a knight with a horse as a cake top or on the invitations
A catchy invitation phrase:” Medieval attire admired, but not required.”
Since white is not a traditional color for gowns in Renaissance weddings, an example of the type of gown she could wear is a full-length ivory brocade cotehardie which laces up in the back and can be accented with garnets and pearls.
The groom can wear a colored houppelande with a brocade or dress as a medieval huntsman wearing velvet britches, knee-length leather moccasins, a white shirt and a leather tunic.
Use a horse-drawn carriage to escort you to the reception.
Cut the wedding cake with two long swords and toast each other with long-stemmed pewter goblets.
Decorate the buffet table with ivory.

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