Mazel Tov!

A Look at Jewish Wedding Rituals and Some Modern Updates

Today I’m going to share a brief explanation of some popular, and some lesser known wedding rituals in the Jewish tradition. Additionally, I also explain how I might reinterpret them for modern couples, whether culturally Jewish (but non-practicing), same-sex couples, and interfaith couples.

Perhaps the best known and most beloved Jewish wedding tradition is the ‘Breaking the Glass’which done at the end of the ceremony. This custom, and that is exactly what it is, it is not a religious rite, has many explanations. No one seems to know the exact origin but a minor religious connection is that it is said to represent the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the most holy place in all of Jewish history. With that explanation, I might add that without one’s history your life is not complete.

I like the idea that it represents the fragility of life and love, and that it reminds us that we need to care for each other. Breaking the glass into pieces can signify that marriage should be as difficult to break apart as it would be to put back the pieces of broken glass. Some say the number of pieces represent the number of years you’ll be married. I also prefer the idea that when you break the glass, it you cannot undo that act, and so should it be in marriage. There are several other stories about this custom, but the best part of stepping on the glass (which is wrapped in a cloth) is when everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov,’ meaning good luck, after the feat is accomplished (pun intended).

To modernize this tradition some couples are breaking the glass together, and it doesn’t just have to be a man who does the stomping, I have had brides also do it. Breaking the Glass is a great way to end a ceremony!

The chuppah (there are many alternate spellings, as this is a transliteration from Hebrew) is another well-known element of a Jewish wedding. The chuppah is the canopy that the couple, and often their parents, stand under for the ceremony. It represents the home, and the protection and safety that should reside within your home. It is held up by four poles, and sometimes people actually hold those, even walking it in. Dramatic indeed. It can be difficult to hold the chuppah through the entire ceremony, though, so be sure the poles are long enough to put on the ground and still be able to stand underneath. Most often it is set up ahead of time at the altar area. There are no specific requirements other than that it covers you, or you stand under it, and couples can create their own chuppah, as elaborately or simple as they wish. I’ve seen some really beautiful chuppahs! Some couples use an existing arbor at a venue to represent the chuppah, and that’s ok, too.

The ‘circling ceremony’ is an ancient custom in which the bride walks around, or circles, the groom seven times. It may or may not coordinate to the ‘seven blessings’ (another tradition). It is said to demonstrate that the groom is the center of her life, or that she is the keeper of the home. There are some more egalitarian interpretations of this, and I have also created my own modern re-interpretations of this as well. For example, the groom may circle the bride, then the bride circles the groom. For same-sex couples you could the same thing.  I have written text that defines (or redefines) this ritual act as symbolizing that the bride will protect her husband, and have an equal role in the home, just as he agrees to protect her.

The seven blessings are part of a religious Jewish ceremony, and it’s a nice touch to have friends or relatives read them. They are part of a worship service, exalting God, but I have also adapted them in modern ways. So rather than saying, for example: ‘Blessed are you God, who create life,’ I might say ‘May you be blessed with generosity and giving with each other.’ And then six more variations!

The Ketubah is the marriage contract with ancient roots as well. Historically it spelled out the rights of the woman in the marriage, which I always take to be quite progressive for ancient times. Today many couples choose a Ketubah for symbolism and beauty. Many are works of art, and there are even inter-faith Katubahs. This tradition is one that adapts to modern times rather well, because it is already based in giving women rights.

There are other customs and traditions, but those are my favorites. Wine sharing and blessings can be included, and it is traditional for the couple’s parents escort them in. The veiling ceremony is when the groom sees the bride for the first time. The groom looks at his bride, they share a brief moment, and then he covers her with her veil. I’m not a fan of this one. I do like when the groom wraps his prayer shawl around the bride’s shoulders as a symbol of unity.

If not getting married in synagogue, a couple can still incorporate one or more of these rituals. These beautiful and rich traditions add depth to any ceremony when one or both of the partners identify with Jewish heritage.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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