Crashing a Jewish Wedding 101
If you aspire to be like John and Jeremy (Wedding Crashers, 2005), this might help you out enormously. A Jewish Wedding Celebration is filled with humongous deep spiritual meanings in every step. I hope you enjoy reading about them.
1. Kabbalat Panim or Pre-Chupah Reception
On the wedding day, the bridegroom is like a king and the bride is like a queen. This day is considered a personal Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) for the groom and the bride, for on this day all their past mistakes are forgiven as they merge into a new, complete soul. By tradition, the bride and groom refrain from seeing each other for a full week prior to their wedding, so as to increase their love and yearning for each other. The mothers of the bride and groom break a china or glass plate to show the seriousness of the commitment. Mazal Tov!
A procession headed by the groom goes to the bridal reception room, where the groom covers the bride’s face with a veil. The custom of covering the bride’s face with a veil originated from Rebekah, who covered her face when meeting her groom, Isaac (Genesis 24:64-65).
The veil emphasizes that the groom is not solely interested in the bride’s external beauty, which fades with time, but rather in her inner beauty, which she will never lose.
3. The Chupah or Marriage Canopy
The chupah is a canopy which sits atop four poles and is usually ornately decorated. The marriage ceremony takes place beneath this canopy which is open on all sides. This is a demonstration of the couple’s commitment to establish a home which will always be open to guests, as was the tent of Abraham and Sarah. The chupah is the groom’s domain. After all this preliminary activity, the actual marriage ceremony begins.
4. The Betrothal or “Engagement”
According to Torah Law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called kiddushin, loosely translated as “betrothal,” and the second step is known as nisu’in, the finalization of the nuptials after the Seven Blessings . Nowadays, both kiddushin and nisu’in are accomplished successively beneath the chupah.
Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings, recited by the rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup. They are now betrothed. This finalizes the kiddushin. The marriage contract is read and the Seven Blessings are recited. The first blessing is prayed over the cup of wine. Then, the couple drinks from the second cup. This finalizes the nisu’in. They are finally married.
It is very interesting to note, however, that in ancient times, the two stages of marriage (kiddushin and nisu’in) were done on separate occasions. They were separated by a full year -or even more- which the groom would devote to Torah study. There are Biblical accounts for this like Samson’s Marrriage, the wedding of Isaac and Rebekah, and the wedding of Jacob and Rachel.
There were negotiations involved for the arranging of the marriage, which were conducted by the members of the two families. The negotiations involved the marriage contract (ketubah) and the price of the bride. The groom would pour a glass of wine and would offer it to the bride. If she drank from it, the proposal was accepted and they were betrothed (kiddushin). After drinking from that first cup of wine, they were to be considered as man and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except that of actual cohabitation. It was an agreement only to be dissolved by a formal divorce.
In present-time weddings, after this betrothal stage is finalized, the groom then places the wedding band on the bride’s finger. While putting the ring on her finger, the groom says: “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” Then the ketubah is read aloud.
But tradition tells us that after the betrothal, the groom would return to his father’s house to make a place suitable for his bride. He would only come back to get her with his father’s approval. Meanwhile, the bride would be making herself ready so that she would be pure and beautiful for her bridegroom. During this time she would wear a veil (badeken) when she went out to show she was spoken for – she had been bought with a price.
After a year, the groom went to the house of the bride at midnight, creating a torchlight parade through the streets. He was accompanied by his male friends. The bride would know in advance this was going to take place, and so she would be ready with her maidens. They would all join the parade and end up at the bridegroom’s home (the chupah). The couple would drink from a second cup of wine because they were finally together. They would live together as husband and wife.
This explains why nowadays the couple are in different rooms at the beginning of the ceremony. They re-act the whole thing. He goes, veils her, and everybody takes them to the chupah. Once there, the betrothal and finalization of the wedding is done. The ceremony tries to represent all the stages that had to take place in Biblical times. That’s why it is so full of meaning.
5. The Ketubah or Marriage Contract
The ketubah details the husband’s principal obligations to his wife to provide her with food, clothing and affection, along with other contractual obligations. The ketubah document is reminiscent of the wedding between God and Israel when Moses took the Torah, the “Book of the Covenant,” and read it to the Jews prior to the “chupah ceremony” at Mount Sinai.
The first blessing is the blessing on the wine (as we already saw) to finalize the nisu’in, and the remaining six are marriage-themed blessings, which include special blessings for the newlywed couple. They drink and they are finally husband and wife.
A cup is then wrapped in a large cloth napkin, and placed beneath the foot of the groom. The groom stomps and shatters the glass. The shattering of the glass reminds them that even at the height of personal joy, they must, nevertheless, remember the destruction of Jerusalem, and yearn for their imminent return there. Mazal Tov!
7. Yichud Room
After all the public pomp and ceremony, it is time for the bride and groom to share some private moments. Inside the room, the couple traditionally breaks their wedding day fast. It is also a time when the bride and groom customarily exchange gifts.
8. Reception and Grace after Meals
When the bride and groom emerge from the yichud room to join their guests, they are ceremoniously greeted with music, singing and dancing. The men with the groom, and the women with the bride, traditionally dance in separate circles.
Indeed, on a Jewish Wedding, there exists a deep mystical connection between wine and marriage.
AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVERY AFTER…
I started to write this blog to share the struggles of my faith. But if Jesus is who He claimed to be, I have drunk from that first cup of wine. I am married to Him.
In the middle of my present circumstances, am I seriously considering a formal divorce?