Are you celebrating a wedding?
If you’ll soon be celebrating an upcoming wedding with friends or family members, or you’re interested in learning more about how Neveh Shalom can help you prepare for your own wedding, including having CNS clergy officiate, feel free to explore the following information, and if you have any questions, please contact Lisa Richmond, Clergy Assistant at 503-293-7317 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wedding Traditions & Symbolism
Like all Jewish celebrations, each element of a traditional wedding has a symbolic history all its own. If you’re attending a Jewish wedding for the first time, the explanations listed below may help you understand each component a little better. Please note that some of the descriptions may refer to a “bride” or “groom.” This is simply to explain the traditions and terms used. At Neveh Shalom, weddings of same-sex couples can include all of the same traditional components in whatever way is most suitable to the couple.
This literally means “greeting faces.” Couples may choose to hold two simultaneous events or greet everyone together.
Tish – Yiddish for “table” – is the couple’s (originally just the groom’s) opportunity to share words of Torah. The guests/friends at a tish will often enjoy the custom of purposefully interrupting the teaching with lively humor and song to lighten the mood and distract the couple (or individual) from any nervousness.
Literally, “caring for the bride,” originally this was a rabbinical commandment to celebrate the bride as a queen on her wedding day, and guests might offer congratulations and offer blessings.
Typically guests join together as the couple, along with the clergy and four witnesses, sign their Jewish marriage contract. Although there are standard texts for the document, the size, shape, and design can be chosen by the couple.
The couple sees each other prior to the processional. Originally this is when the groom placed the veil over the bride’s face, recalling two Biblical stories: Rebecca veiling herself before seeing Isaac and Jacob being tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. This act also symbolizes that even though they are joined together in marriage, the couple will still retain the inner beauty that makes each of them unique.
The openness of the wedding canopy, under which the ceremony usually takes place, symbolizes the welcoming and inviting home which the couple will build together. Sometimes the material used for the chuppah is an old table cloth or tallit that has been handed down or borrowed for the occasion.
Weddings are usually associated with the color white, and one or both of the couple may choose to put on this traditional white cotton robe, worn only at the holiest of times, as a symbol of the seriousness of the commitment of marriage.
Hakafot – Hebrew for “circling” – can refer to the holiday of Simchat Torah when we dance seven times around with the Torah. At a wedding it holds special, but similar significance. Originally the bride would circle the groom seven times. Many couples now choose a modern interpretation in which each person circles the other a certain number of times, or they circle each other at the same time. The number seven occurs often in Jewish tradition and text, including the days of creation, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, and the seven circles marched around Jericho before the walls tumbled.
This is the betrothal portion of the ceremony, which used to occur separately from the Nissuin. Erusin includes a blessing over wine and the exchanging of rings. Traditionally, the couple places a solid gold ring on each other’s right index finger, which is thought to be a direct line to the heart. The officiant will then usually read the ketubah.
The second part of the ceremony includes reciting the Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) over a second cup of wine. These blessings are about the creation of the world and humankind and the joy of marriage between two people.
Breaking the Glass
Probably the best-known Jewish wedding custom, breaking a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony has several meanings. Just as the glass cannot be returned to its original state, the new bond we have formed is everlasting, and the hope is that in as many pieces as the glass is shattered, so may the couple’s happiness be multiplied. When the glass breaks, it is customary to shout “Mazel tov!”
Before the couple greets their guests afterward or joins the reception, they will typically enjoy a few minutes of alone time (literally, “seclusion”) as a brand new married couple in a room “guarded” by friends.