A traditional Jewish wedding begins with a groom’s tish, Yiddish for the table. The groom attempts to present a lecture on the week’s Torah portion, while his male friends and family heckle and interrupt him. Meanwhile, the bride is entertained in another room by her female friends and family. Bride and groom may lead the tish together in Conservative and Reform congregations. The tish is not supposed to be serious, rather humorous and fun. It’s a great way to introduce yourselves and set the tone for your wedding.
The Ketubah Signing
In Orthodox communities, after the tish the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) is signed by the groom, the rabbi, and two male witnesses. In Reform and Conservative congregations, the bride may also sign the ketubah, and additional lines can be added for female witnesses, too. Despite its testimony that the groom has “acquired” the bride, the ketubah is all about the bride’s rights and her willingness to take part in the marriage. In fact, the ketubah belongs solely to the bride and is hers to keep as proof of her rights and the groom’s responsibilities to her under Jewish law.
The first time a bride and groom see each other in an Orthodox wedding is during the b’deken, or veiling of the bride. Both fathers and all the men lead the groom to the bride’s room, where both mothers and all the women surround her. The groom lowers the veil over her face, setting her apart from everyone else and indicating that he is solely interested in her inner beauty.
The chuppah, or wedding canopy, dates back to the tent-dwelling Jewish traveling days in the desert. Historically, Jewish wedding ceremonies were held outdoors, and the chuppah created an intimate, sanctified space. The canopy offers one of the best opportunities to personalize your ceremony.
When the couple first enters the huppah, the bride circles the groom seven times, representing the seven wedding blessings and seven days of creation, and demonstrating that the groom is the center of her world. To make the ancient ritual reciprocal, many couples opt to circle each other.
The kiddushin (betrothal ceremony) takes place under the chuppah. It begins with greetings, a blessing over the wine, and a sip taken by the bride and groom. Next, come the rings: The groom recites an ancient Aramaic phrase as he places the wedding band on his bride’s right index finger, the finger believed to be directly connected to the heart. In a double-ring ceremony (not permitted in some Orthodox weddings) the bride also places a ring on the groom’s index finger while repeating a feminine form of the Aramaic phrase, or a biblical verse from Hosea or Song of Songs. The ketubah is then read aloud in English and Aramaic.
The sheva b’rachot, or seven blessings, consist of praise for God, a prayer for peace in Jerusalem, and good wishes for the couple.
Breaking of the Glass
Nothing says “Jewish wedding” more than the sound of breaking glass — a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; a representation of the fragility of human relationships; and a reminder that marriage changes the lives of individuals forever. It’s also the official signal to shout, “Mazel Tov!” and start partying. There’s no law putting the man’s foot to the task. If you’re game, bride and groom can break the glass together with one swift kick in unison.
In a day filled with chaos, the yihud — or “seclusion” — is a standout ritual that lets you focus on the day’s true purpose: your new partnership. Immediately after the ceremony, the bride and groom retreat to a private room for 15 minutes of personal time. No in-laws, no seating arrangement charts, no videographer. Just you and your new spouse staring into each other’s eyes. Its customary for newlyweds to seize the yihud moment and feed each other a bite or two of their first meal together.