Jewish weddings have been around for almost 6,000 years, and they’re chock full of beautiful traditions, old and new. The trick is finding the ones that speak to you. The bride and groom are considered the king and the queen at their Jewish wedding, so while we don’t suggest that you go all bride-or-groom-zilla, you should feel free to create a wedding that’s filled with meaning and joy, whatever that means to you. We’ve outlined the basics for you to use as a starting point.
Jewish wedding. Jewish-ish wedding. We've got you covered.
We’d be lying if we didn’t say we think you should work with a rabbi if you want a Jewish, or Jewish-ish, wedding. You’ll get the benefit of years of experience from someone who’s most likely seen it all. Not to mention that marrying people is one of the great joys of being a rabbi and that joy is contagious. If you’re marrying someone who’s not Jewish, don’t let that stop you from finding a rabbi that you love. While some rabbis don’t perform interfaith weddings (don’t get us started), there are plenty who do. Some prefer to co-officiate with clergy from the other religion. Others, prefer to do the ceremony alone, etc. Some rabbis may ask questions, like whether you’re planning to have a Jewish home or raise Jewish kids. These questions aren’t always easy, but they’re good to think about before you tie the knot.
I need a ketubah and someone to tell me what it is.
You’re gonna have your hands full in the days leading up to the wedding. That could be the reason that according to Jewish tradition, the bride and groom don’t see each other for a full week leading up to the ceremony, but we’re pretty sure it’s not. Or maybe it’s because it’s super romantic for you to have this extra sweetness of missing your beloved right before the wedding. Even though it isn’t really that practical a tradition for couples today, a bit of separation can help make the wedding day seem even more special.
You found your soulmate. That's supposed to be the hard part.
These two traditions take place right before the ceremony:
Ketubah: A ketubah is essentially a religious pre-nup, or a marriage contract that’s signed before the wedding ceremony. It outlines the husband’s responsibilities in the areas of clothing, food, sex and just in case, divorce. Today, it’s seen as an agreement of commitment to each other, signed by two witnesses. Technically, the witnesses aren’t supposed to be blood relatives, so signing is an honor that often goes to close friends. Ketubahs are often beautiful, and lots of couples frame them and put them in their bedroom. The cost of a ketubah varies greatly. You can buy them online, like on Etsy, or in most stores that sell Judaica, which is another word for Jewish stuff.
Bedeken: This tradition, which is when the groom sees his bride and then lowers the veil over her face, started thousands of years ago, when Jacob, who thought he was marrying Rachel, was tricked into marrying Leah, her older sister. (We have so many questions about this, like: Why did they use such opaque veiling back then? And wouldn’t Jacob have noticed that something looked off with his bride? But, that’s all for another time.) The groom is sometimes carried to the bride on a chair surrounded by a group of singing friends and family, which is a fun and celebratory way to start the wedding. Some traditions say that the veiling tradition is a symbol of the groom’s commitment to clothe and care for his wife. Others say that it reflects the matriarch Rebekah, who covered her face before she married Isaac, to symbolize that her character and soul were more important than her appearance, and also that she was no longer eligible to other men. So, while it’s not clear exactly why we do it, all those sweet reasons are good ones to consider including this tradition!
The ketubah used to be like a religious pre-nup, but now it's more like a piece of artwork that many couples hang up in their home.
Here’s how a traditional ceremony might go, but as always, you be you:
1. The Processional (aka entering the chuppah): If you’re more familiar with non-Jewish weddings, you’re probably used to seeing the groom and the officiant waiting at the end of the aisle as the ceremony begins. (Think Georg Von Trapp waiting for Maria to walk down that long-ass aisle in The Sound of Music). Jewish weddings usually start with the rabbi walking down the aisle, followed by the groom and his family, then the bride and hers. There are a lot of variations to the wedding procession. Sometimes the groom is escorted to the chuppah by his parents, followed by the bride with hers. Sometimes the two fathers escort the groom, and the two mothers escort the bride. There are all sorts of ways to customize the processional to include the people important to you — the wedding party, ring bearers, flower girls or boys, grandparents, dogs, etc. Side note: Most Jewish weddings don’t include the standard “Here Comes the Bride” wedding march, because it’s “The Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” and Wagner was a known antisemite beloved by the Nazis.
2. Circling: Jewish wedding ceremonies traditionally begin with the bride circling the groom seven times. Seven represents the seven days of creation, and, are you sitting down for this one? Another reason the bride circles the groom is to signify how he is the center of her world. The good news is that there are many ways to modernize this really old-fashioned ritual. The bride and groom can both circle, first the bride then the groom, or vice versa. Some couples choose to hold hands and walk the seven circles together. Sometimes the bride and groom do three circles each, and the seventh circle together. You get the idea. Some say that circling is the symbolic building of a wall of love around the bride and groom. We like that version the best.
3. Blessings Of Betrothal: Next comes the blessings of betrothal, which are usually recited by the rabbi/officiant. The traditional blessings express the commitment of the bride and groom to create a Jewish home. These blessings include the Kiddush, which means everyone gets to drink some wine. Although red is typical, many couples opt for white because what a catastrophe if red wine spills on her white dress. And, no we’re not being sarcastic.
4. Rings: According to Jewish law, the marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value to the bride, aka the ring. Traditionally, a Jewish wedding band is simple, one without stones or a design. Here are a bunch of symbolic reasons for that: (1) to symbolize the hope that the marriage will be one of simple beauty and unharmed by flaw or conflict, (2) the simple band symbolizes a chain that unites generations, (3) the unending circle of the band represents the couples unending love and respect for one another, (4) the circle is a symbol of the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. And who are we to argue with any of those? Some couples use a plain gold ring for the ceremony with plans for diamonds later. Another interesting tradition is that the groom is supposed to give the bride something of value, so it doesn’t really work if the couple exchanges rings, because she doesn’t need to give him anything. But that tradition really seems passé.
5. Reading Of The Ketubah: The ketubah is read out loud by the rabbi, and then given to the groom for him to hand to his bride.
6. The Seven Blessings: The seven blessings are an integral part of a Jewish wedding and a fantastic way to include loved ones by giving them the honor of reading one or more of the blessings. The traditional blessings are about (1) blessing life’s sweetness, (2) the interconnectivity and differences of all, (3) the creation of the world and humanity, (4) the unity of loving people and peace in the world, (5) love and partnership, (6) delight and joy, and (7) blessing the couple. After the seven blessings, the bride and groom share a second cup of wine.
7. Breaking The Glass: Stomping on the glass at the end of the ceremony is one of the most recognized rituals of a Jewish wedding. It’s another tradition with lots of interpretations behind it, like: (1) the breaking reminds us that no matter how much joy we are feeling, we can’t forget the losses suffered by the Jewish people, including the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and that the world is still in need of much healing, (2) the fragile nature of the glass suggests the delicacy of human relationships and that they must be treated with care, and (3) loud noises scare away demons that are attracted to beautiful and fortunate people. It used to just be the groom who stepped on the glass. These days couples also do it together, or they break two glasses. We find it annoying that some caterers use a light bulb instead of a glass because they make a louder pop when they break — it just doesn’t seem right. No matter what, make sure the glass is wrapped carefully before someone stomps on it, because as we all know, it’s all fun till someone loses an eye. If you go on Etsy, you will find sacks made especially for the glasses.
Do Jews say, "I do?"
Yichud is the final part of the service. The bride and groom are supposed to take a few minutes (or more) to have alone time. Back when sex before marriage wasn’t a thing, this is when the marriage would have been consummated.
The important thing is your happiness, not how many bridesmaids you have.
Jewish weddings are not a time to be shy! There are lots of fun traditions and LOTS of dancing!
One of the party highlights is when the guests hoist the bride and groom up on chairs (sometimes with a napkin stretched between them). A few notes on this: First, never, ever try this with a folding chair — smashed fingers/danger! Second, being up in that chair is a little scary, so just a minute or two is plenty. Third, it may seem like you’re not the closest with the bride and groom and it’ll be awkward if you jump in and grab a chair leg — but we’re telling you those chairs are heavy and it’s all in your head and so if you can, just jump in there and help. This is also no time for sexism — women can help too. Sometimes women lift the bride and men lift the groom. Finally, don’t forget that the parents of the bride and groom should also get a ride.
It's your wedding. Emphasis on "YOUR."
If your guests aren’t experts at Jewish weddings yet, let them know that they have a job to do. Seriously, copy and email this next part to your family and friends or ask someone in your wedding party to.
The Hora And Other Circle Dances: No one cares if you know the steps. Have a drink or two if that helps! Just get on the dance floor. Be generous with your Jewish circle dancing — it’s a mitzvah for the bride and groom. Don’t let the band or DJ just do one song and get back to Gloria Estefan — nothing against Gloria, but circle dancing can be the most enjoyable part of a wedding. (True story/note about getting over yourself and dancing: We were guests at a Greek wedding. The line/circle dance looked super hard. We were intimidated and didn’t want to look stupid, so we sat in our seats. The bride saw us sitting there and beckoned us over. We got in there and gave it a shot. Did we catch on? Hell no. Was it the best part of the wedding? For sure!)
Entertaining The Newlyweds: This is a custom that is making a comeback. In the old days, guests were expected to entertain the newlyweds and that sounds like a damn good tradition. So, bring props, learn a dance, sing a song! Do that old sorority clap or college cheer. Whatever will make the bride and groom smile. As a guest, it’s considered part of your job because they are the king and queen for the day.
Passive guesting (you know what we mean!) isn't a thing at a Jewish wedding!
The blessing recited over wine or grape juice. Some families just do the first line (up to “Amen”) and others do the full blessing. As always, do whatever feels right to you!
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen. Amen. Last line: Blessed are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen…
This blessing is traditionally made over a challah, a sweet braided bread. If you don’t have a challah, use different bread, or even a cracker or pizza crust. Making the blessing is more important than the actual bread.
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz. Amen. Last line: Blessed are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen…
The Shehecheyanu is a great generic catch all prayer that’s basically saying, “Wow! We are really happy we got to this moment!” Like for example, after we have been working our asses off for months, when the new release of the JewBelong website goes live and doesn’t crash with all the high-fiving, we will say the Shehecheyanu.
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. Amen. Last line: Praised are You, Spirit of the Universe, who keeps us alive, sustains us, and brings us to this moment. Amen…
Breaking a glass or breaking the plates...
So here is the thing, half of the Jewish families that we know are headed by a couple where one of them is not Jewish. And we think eureka! That is great! Why isn’t there a blessing for that person who is not Jewish but participating in a Jewish home/life! And… there is! And we love it and hope you do too!
First line: May everyone who shares in a Jewish life feel welcome and integrated. Last line: With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your love and willingness in giving the ultimate gift to the Jewish people. Amen…
David Gregory from CNN, NBC, MSNBC, etc. wrote a book called How’s Your Faith? where he writes about finding his. Gregory’s wife, Beth, is not Jewish, but they are raising their kids as Jews. Anyway, the point of all this is that this relevant blessing is in his book and you are gonna love it!
First line: Many of you have made the historic and unprecedented decision to raise Jewish children. Last line: Your presence here makes us stronger and wiser…
Wow. Perfect for when your priorities are a mess. And whose aren’t?
First line: Most importantly love like it’s the only thing you know how. Last line: How you touched the people around you and how much you gave them…
Poet Sandra Sturtz Hauss captures what so many of us parents wish for our children. Yes, even when our children are acting awful, and they all do, (because why should they be any different than us)… we still want them to feel love.
First line: May a kind word, reassuring touch, and a warm smile be yours every day of your life, and may you give these gifts as well as receive them. Last line: May you always feel loved…
Who knew your spin partner was also your soulmate?
This song is the perfect tearjerker to share at any happy Jewish occasion. L’chi Lach essentially means “go into yourself” in Hebrew. The lyrics tell those that are being celebrated to go begin the life journey they are meant to have, and to be a blessing in the world, which is essentially the journey all Jewish people are meant to have.
First line: L’chi lach, to a land that I will show you. Last line: L’chi lach…
Traditional? Modern? Whatever. It's your wedding not a kitchen table.
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Because why use any of your precious brain cells to remember where you kept those great readings that you’ll use someday at Jeffrey’s B Mitzvah? Make an account, keep the readings there. Easy peasy. The only thing you’ll need to remember is your password, and from personal experience that’s hard enough.
Hey, can you watch the phones on Friday? We have a thing.