From beginning to end, Jewish weddings are steeped in tradition and symbolism. The exact details may vary depending on the strain of Judaism followed by your families and synagogue. Here are a few general Jewish wedding traditions that you might want to include in your wedding ceremony. If you want to delve deeper into Jewish wedding ceremonies, we’ve included some resources at the end.
Fasting and Atonement
For the bride and groom, their wedding day has the same significance as Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Both will fast from dawn until the ceremony is over and include Yom Kippur prayers in their daily devotions. Both want to be forgiven for their past transgressions so they start their married life with a clean slate.
The procession at a Jewish wedding is slightly different from other weddings. It can take two forms. In the first, the bride and groom follow the tradition of not seeing each other for a week before the wedding. Immediately before the ceremony, separate celebrations are held in their honor. The groom is escorted down the aisle by his father, future father-in-law and other men. The bride is escorted by her mother, future mother-in-law and other women.
In the second, each half of the couple is escorted by their parents.
The chuppah is probably one of the most recognizable elements of a Jewish wedding ceremony. It is a white canopy on four posts, often decorated. The chuppah originates from the Biblical wedding of Abraham and Sarah and symbolizes the new home the couple will build together. The four sides of the canopy are open to show hospitality and an oppenness to guests.
The groom arrives in the chuppah first, following the rabbi. He wears a white robe, or kittel. His robe and the bride’s white dress are symbols of purity. In some weddings, the bride and her escorts will circle the chuppah seven times, reminiscent of the seven days it took God to create the earth. Her seven circles symbolize the home she and her new husband are building.
Breaking of the Glass
At the end of the ceremony, the groom shatters a glass. This symbolizes continuing sadness at the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. Another interpretation says that the marriage will last as long as the glass is broken. In jest, some say it is also the last time the groom will be able to “put his foot down.”
The ketubah, or marriage contract, is a document that states the husband’s responsibility to his wife and affirms her privileged status. It is signed by two witnesses and is often artfully decorated. Many couples frame their ketubah and hang it in their home.
After the ceremony, the couple spends a few moments alone together to symbolize their new status as husband and wife and their need for privacy. Their daylong fast will be broken at that point.