Jewish wedding traditions: Clothing, flowers, food and decorations
Jewish weddings are rich with customs that vary from community to community. Learn the events and traditions involved in a traditional Jewish wedding.
Jews are dispersed all across the globe. Due to this fact, traditions and customs vary from community to community. In America, the Jewish community immigrated mostly form Europe, so the celebrations of America’s Jews have a very European flavor.
When a couple announces their engagement, a party is thrown announcing the to mark the moment. In some communities this is no more than a chance for the friends and family of both sides to meet each other and to offer mutual congratulations. This party is called a “vort” in Yiddish, which means “word,” due to the fact that there is usually a speaker. In other communities this announcement party takes on a more official tone, and official statements of obligation are made on both sides. This party is called a “tennaim” in Hebrew which means “conditions for the marriage.” At a vort, light refreshments are served, whereas a tennaim is often accompanied by a meal.
In some communities it is customary for the bride and groom not to see each other until the day of the wedding. In other communities, they can still see each other up to the week of the wedding.
On the Sabbath before the wedding, the groom is called up before the congregation for and Aliyah, which means he is called up to make a blessing on a particular reading for the Torah. In some communities, when the groom is finished with his Aliyah, he has candy thrown at him as a sign that he should have a sweet life with his soon-to-be bride. Children especially like this custom, as it is a chance for them to stuff their pockets with free candy.
On the actual day of the wedding (or “chasunah,” in Hebrew), it is customary for the bride and groom to fast.
Before the wedding, there is usually a light smorgasbord of cold cuts or sweets, or the like. The groom, or “Chosson” in Hebrew, has a special table in another room. This is called the “Chosson’s Tisch” or the groom’s table and is a special place for male friends and family to gather and give the groom their final blessings and congratulations before the ceremony. There are usually finger foods and sweets as well as alcoholic beverages here. Also, often either musicians or the groom’s friends will sing traditional wedding songs. The wedding contract (“Kesubah” in Hebrew) is signed with the aid of a rabbi and witnesses at this point.
After the Kesubah is signed, the friends of the groom escort him to see his bride (“Kallah” in Hebrew). She is usually seated in another room in a nice chair flanked by her mother and her soon to be mother-in law. Often there are large flower arrangements decorating the area where the bride is waiting for her groom. The flowers themselves are not chosen for their symbolism, but more for their colors, to match the wedding colors, and are often white. The groom is accompanied by singing and dancing and sometimes musicians to see his bride. Upon verifying that this is in fact the woman he intends to marry, the groom does the “bedeken” or the veiling of the bride (this ancient custom is connected to the biblical story of Isaac being tricked on his marriage night into marrying Leah instead of her sister Rachel, his intended bride). In some communities the veil is thin and sheer, and is just a symbolic nod to the tradition of a bride going to her wedding in a veil. In other communities a thick veil that cannot be seen through is placed over the bride’s face.
After the bedeken, the groom and bride separate again to make the final preparations for the actual wedding ceremony. The crowd disperses and goes to take their seats in the room where the ceremony will be performed.
It is a universal Jewish custom for Jewish couples to be married under a 4-cornered canopy, or “chuppah” in Hebrew. It represents the new home that the bride and groom will make together. This can be as simple as a sheet or prayer shawl spread out over the heads of the couple, or it can be an elaborate canopy made of silk or velvet and decorated heavily with flowers. In some communities 4 male friends of the bride and groom are given the honor of holding the poles that support the four corners of the chuppah. In other communities, the wedding canopy is free standing. Some communities have the custom to marry during the day, and others have the custom to marry at night outside under the stars.
When the wedding ceremony is ready to take place, music will start. The Groom comes down the aisle first, with his father and mother on either side of him. In many communities the parents of the groom carry candles. This is especially beautiful with nighttime outdoor weddings. In some communities it is customary for the groom to wear a white robe, or “kittel,” to the wedding canopy. Upon reaching the canopy the groom faces the audience and the parents stand to the side. There are customary prayers for the groom to say while waiting for his bride. Then the bride and her parents come down the aisle. The bride has her face covered and her parents lead her to the wedding canopy to be with her groom. When the bride reaches the groom it is customary in most communities for the bride to walk around the groom 7 times to symbolize the bride’s love for her groom and the new creation they will make as husband and wife. In some communities the two mothers join the bride in walking around the groom.
When this is finished, the ceremony begins. A blessing is said over wine by the Rabbi and both groom and bride are given to drink. The groom places the ring on the woman’s finger and declares in Hebrew, “Behold, you are betrothed to me in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.” Then the Kesubah is read aloud and given to someone for safe keeping, usually the mother or sister of the bride. Another cup of wine is poured and a series of seven blessings are made over it. Various members of the audience are called up for the honor of making a blessing.
At the completion of this ceremony, a glass is broken, to symbolically remember the Jews are in exile form their land, and the audience says “Mazel Tov” – a Hebrew phrase that is hard to translate, but means something like congratulations.
The new husband and wife are escorted by singing and dancing to a room where they can be alone for a while and have some refreshments. The friends that are invited to stay for the wedding feast take a seat and begin eating. The wedding feast usually consists of a salad course, then sometimes fish, soup, and a main course of fish or beef and side vegetables. (Dessert and coffee are usually served at the very end of the festivities, after all the dancing.) In the middle of the meal, the new couple are announced and come out. Fast music is played and the bride goes to dance and rejoice with her girl friends and the groom dances with his friends. The dancing can go on into the night and is often the highlight of the entire wedding for most in attendance. The revelers often devise silly skits or perform funny dances or juggling to add to the happiness of the newlywed couple.
After the dancing is over, everybody takes their place to finish the meal. At the end of the meal 7 special blessings are said by honored guests.
The bride and groom are then treated to seven nights of feasting and celebration held at different homes of family and friends. At then end of this period new couples sometimes go on a honeymoon or just settle in to their new lives and spend some quiet time together.