Mazel tov, congratulations and blessings on your upcoming wedding!
This overview of the Jewish ceremony is intended as a preliminary guide. Couples may choose to have all or some of these rituals. We can also discuss the inclusion of rituals and readings from outside of Jewish tradition.
A note for interfaith couples: Our goal when working with interfaith couples is to offer a ceremony that reflects the integrity of both individuals and is accessible to and inclusive of people who are not Jewish. During the ceremony all rituals are introduced and explained and all Hebrew is translated. The details will vary from couple to couple and will be worked out in conversation with Rabbi Brian or Caryn.
Before the Ceremony
Ketubah (wedding contract)
A ketubah defines the rights and responsibilities, as well as expresses the hopes and dreams of both partners. A wide variety of ketubot are available. Couples can purchase a ketubah or create their own.
The ketubah is traditionally signed before the ceremony, in the presence of two witnesses. If the couple prefers, the ketubah can also be signed during the public ceremony, after the exchange of rings. Before the ketubah is signed, the officiant reads it aloud and ask the couple if they are willing to assume the obligations stated in it. The witnesses sign the ketubah, followed by the couple.
Bedeken: Seeing One Another
Bedeken is the traditional ceremony of “unveiling.” Bedeken originated because the wedding couple need to truly see each other before the wedding, regardless of whether a veil is worn.
Blessings from Parents
Parents may appreciate the opportunity to send their children to the huppah with their personal blessings.
Raising the Huppah
In common Jewish practice, a couple is married underneath a huppah, which represents the couple’s first covenantal space. A huppah is a canopy consisting of 4 poles with a cloth cover. If the huppah is not a free-standing structure, it can be walked forward during the processional.
Processional and Welcome
When the couple arrives at the huppah, the officiant greets them and welcomes the guests. It may be that there are beloved family members or friends who cannot attend the wedding in person because of infirmity, prior commitments, or reasons beyond their control. There also may be loved ones, deeply significant to the couple, who are no longer alive. These individuals can be named, remembered, and included as witnesses to the ceremony.
The following rituals express the transformation of the couple from two individuals into a covenanted couple.
Birkat Erusin: Blessings of Betrothal
The blessing over the first cup of wine is followed by a blessing of the couple’s intention to sanctify their relationship. The couple then drinks the first cup. Many couples adapt this blessing to acknowledge and welcome each other’s parents or others who have been crucial in making the wedding possible.
Each person individually circles around the other seven times in a ritual that evokes the Biblical story of creation and symbolically places each person at the sacred center of the other.
Exchange of Rings
Facing each other, each recites a vow and then places the ring on the other’s forefinger. The recipient then moves the ring from his/her own forefinger to their ring finger symbolizing acceptance of the betrothal. Couples can also elect to place the ring directly on the other’s ring finger.
Reading the Ketubah
The ketubah is read and/or signed if it hasn’t been signed already.
Sheva Brachot: The Seven Blessings
The sheva brachot invoke the blessings of creation as Judaism imagines they were enjoyed by the first couple in the Garden of Eden. We sing these blessings in Hebrew and read them in an English translation of the couple’s choosing. Alternatively, guests may offer one or several of these blessings. Several translations are available. The Hebrew can be modified to reflect the genders of the couple. The sheva brachot concludes with the couple sharing a second cup of wine.
Between the seven blessings and the smashing of the glass, some couples elect to have the Shehecheyanu blessing (for celebrating a sacred moment or experience) and/or the priestly blessing (from Numbers 6:24-26). This blessing is one of those few passages sacred in both Judaism and Christianity.
Breaking the Glass
The ceremony ends with the smashing of a cloth-wrapped glass. There are many popular interpretations of this dramatic act. Among them, this act
- Dedicates the marriage to tikkun olam (repairing the world);
- Symbolizes the irrevocability of the marriage covenant;
- Demonstrates the fragility of human relationships;
- Evokes an explosion of joy and love, echoing the very creation of the universe.
At the moment the glass shatters everyone shouts “Mazel Tov” (Congratulations)!
The couple recesses to a private room before re-joining the guests. Yichud offers the couple a precious gift: their first solitude as a married couple, allowing them to begin their married life alone and together.