Planning your Jewish Wedding & including Jewish customs in your ceremony can mean more than just breaking a glass or dancing the Hora. From the signing of the Ketubah to Yihud there are many meaningful customs and traditions for you to consider and celebrate.
Our Wedding Blueprint will first cover the Have-To’s (AKA, they’re required) & then we’ll add the fun, traditional and romantic choices Judaism allows you to include in your special day.
The Ketubah (the world’s first pre-nup agreement)
The ketubah is a Jewish legal document that confirms the religious bond of marriage. Historically, the ketubah was a very progressive document. It provides women with legal status and rights in marriage and in case of divorce.
Today, they are beautiful works of art worthy of framing. A modern Ketubah not only recognizes a legal commitment, but also the love, friendship and communication that are necessary commitments for a successful marriage. You can find a Ketubah that speaks to your comfort level of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Interfaith and Same-Sex.
Prior to the chuppah ceremony the bride, groom and rabbi will sign the Ketubah, along with two Jewish witnesses. It is a great honor to be asked to be a witness for a Ketubah signing. Think about it—the witnesses name is likely to be hung on the couple’s wall for everyone to view!
Once the Ketubah is signed the couple is actually married. The rest is just ceremony!
The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is composed of two distinct sections. The first part of the ceremony is generally known as erusin (betrothal). The betrothal is the legal part of the ceremony. The second part of the marriage ceremony, known as nisuin (nuptials) is when the ceremony includes mentions of love, spirituality and a connection to God.
Erusin / Betrothal
The first required wedding element under the chuppah is a blessing over wine. In Judaism, reciting a blessing over wine sanctifies it and therefore changes it from an ordinary ceremony into something sacred and holy. The final part of the Erusin ceremony is the act that both formalizes the marriage as well as legally creates a married couple: the exchange of rings and the declaration of consecration.
The wedding ring used in the ceremony is a perfect circle, having no beginning or end and without any precious stones. Traditionally the groom will place the ring on the index finger of the right hand that, according to ancient folklore, is thought to contain an artery that runs directly to the heart.
Today, Erusin has changed to be more egalitarian. Brides usually also present a ring to the groom and speak a declaration as well. An interfaith bride or groom can declare his/her love by repeating in Hebrew, “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.”
The betrothal and nuptial sections of the ceremony are separated with the reading of the ketubah and a few brief words from the rabbi.
Nisuin / Nuptials
During this part of the ceremony the focus shifts from the legalities of marriage to the sacred relationship of two people joining together in a loving commitment. It begins with the chanting of the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings). The seven blessings begin with the Kiddush, a repeating of the blessing over the wine, and then increase in intensity and imagery. Significantly, the final blessing culminates with imagery of the entire community singing and celebrating with the bride and groom.
Many contemporary couples use the theme of "blessing" to creatively interpret the reading of the sheva brachot: they may invite seven friends or family members to each recite one of the blessings or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer seven blessings in English.
Breaking of the Glass
The final ritual in the Jewish wedding ceremony is probably the best-known one of them all! In fact, it is so well known most couples don’t even realize it is a tradition and not a requirement to the marriage ceremony.
Although there are many explanations for the ancient custom, a modern theory is my personal favorite: “The moment the glass is broken, the bride and groom’s separate lives end and their new life as a married couple begins." The act of breaking the glass is a reminder that relationships are fragile and must be treated with great care, love and mutual respect.
Many couples today collect the shards and create a Mezuzah for their home. Couples can chose to interpret this custom in an egalitarian fashion by each breaking a glass!
Bedeken (veiling of the bride)
Bedeken means “covering” in Yiddish. Traditionally, the groom will place the veil over his bride’s face. The custom refers to the biblical account of Jacob’s first marriage, when he was deceived and ultimately married to the heavily veiled Leah instead of Rachel, his intended bride.
Now it is a moment when the couple can look into one another’s eyes and have a brief moment to reflect upon the love that has brought them to this moment.
There are no rules regarding who is allowed to be present for this moment. Traditional families invite all the guests to be present for this moment; while others prefer for it to be a moment of quiet for just the couple. Some brides may prefer not to wear a veil and skip this traditional all together.
The Hakafah (around & around she goes)
The bride’s circling of the groom prior to entering the Chuppah is not a part of the wedding liturgy, but rather a very old custom. In a traditional Orthodox wedding not only the bride, but also her mother and the groom’s mother circle behind the bride.
One explanation is the bride’s circling of the groom can be a way of binding the groom to her. Her circuits symbolically create a new family circle, demonstrating her primary allegiance has shifted from her parents to her husband, and that her husband is now more intimately bound to her.
Today many couples choose to do the Hakafah by each completing circuits around one another (without the Moms).
The word yihud is derived from a Hebrew word which means “one” and has come to represent the transition when two individuals become one. After the ceremony, the couple adjourns to a room for a few minutes of private time. This is a time for bonding, privacy and reflection before the public celebration!
Because this is typically the only time the bride and groom are not pulled in several different directions, this tradition has experienced a great deal of crossover into non-Jewish wedding ceremonies.