What are the Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony

  

A Jewish wedding has two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). The central part of erusin is the exchange of rings. The central part of nissuin is the seven wedding blessings. Though erusin and nissuin were originally two separate ceremonies, they now take place one immediately after the other, and together they make up the Jewish wedding ceremony. There are many ways to personalize your wedding ceremony and include elements from other religious traditions. As with all aspects of your wedding ceremony, you should discuss with your officiant what you do and don’t want to include in your ceremony.

Processional

There are no set Jewish rules regarding the processional, just customs, so the processional offers interfaith couples a great opportunity to weave in traditions from other faiths or include other cultural elements.

In traditional Jewish weddings the entire wedding party processes down the aisle, with the rabbi going first or simply starting the ceremony waiting at the chuppah (wedding canopy—you can read more about the chuppah here). In heterosexual weddings, the processional typically continues with the groomsmen walking single file, followed by the best man, and then the groom with parents on either side of him. Then the bridesmaids walk single file, followed by the maid or matron of honor, and then any other members of the wedding party (flower girls, ring bearer, etc.). Finally, the bride processes with parents on either side. It is traditional for the bride and her parents to stop before arriving at the chuppah and for the groom to walk to the bride, and then walk together with her under the chuppah. Under the chuppah, the bride stands to the groom’s right (which is the reverse of traditional Christian or American weddings).

In same-sex weddings, and in many Jewish heterosexual weddings, couples use various processional configurations.

Music for the processional usually includes pre-processional music, to which the grandparents process, followed by a piece chosen for all the attendants including ring bearer and flower girl. The bride and her parents usually come in to another piece of music. Traditional wedding marches including Wagner’s “Here Comes the Bride” are not typically used in weddings with Jewish families/guests due to the musician’s association with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Like all details of the wedding, be sure to clear music choices with your officiant(s) and family members.

Circling

In traditional Jewish heterosexual weddings, at the end of the processional, when the couple has arrived at the chuppah (wedding canopy), the bride walks slowly around the groom, circling him seven times. Circling symbolizes the creation of a new home and the intertwining of the lives of both partners. Traditionally, circling has also been seen as the symbolic transfer of the bride from her father’s house to her husband’s house.

Most liberal rabbis offer couples the choice of whether or not to include circling in their wedding ceremony. Many modern couples adapt this ritual to make it egalitarian, with each partner circling the other. A typical mutual-circling ritual would see one partner circle the other three times in a clockwise manner, followed by the other circling the first one three times in a counter-clockwise manner. They then complete one last circle together. Some modern couples view circling as a symbol of the way they’ll define the home space for the couple, each seeing themselves responsible for protecting and supporting the other.

The circling is usually done while music is playing, before the couple enter under the chuppah together.

The First Cup of Wine

After a brief welcome, the ceremony typically begins with a blessing of the first of two cups of wine (or grape juice). In Judaism, wine is a symbol of joy. In a traditional Jewish wedding, a second blessing is also recited before the couple sips the wine. This blessing is called birkat erusin. To learn about birkat erusin, click here.

After reciting the blessing(s) the rabbi invites the couple to sip from the cup. Traditionally, in a heterosexual wedding, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who sips from it, and then the cup is presented to the bride, who sips from it.

The Ring Ceremony

In liberal Jewish communities, both partners give each other a wedding ring to symbolize their love and commitment. When exchanging rings, each partner recites a verse expressing their commitment to one another. The exchange of rings completes the first part of the wedding ceremony.

The ring ceremony is a good time for couples to exchange vows with each other—something that isn’t part of a traditional Jewish ceremony, but which many couples like to include. Additionally, some couples like to write something personal that they can each say to the other when exchanging rings.

Traditionally, there are no “I Do’s” in a Jewish wedding ceremony. However, if you want to have your officiant ask, for example, if you “promise to love, honor and cherish” your partner, and then respond “I Do,” you should ask your officiant if this is something they are comfortable with. To read a blog about one couple who wanted to say “I Do” in their wedding ceremony, click here.

See sample ring ceremonies here.

The Seven Blessings and the Second Cup of Wine

Most Jewish officiants sing the blessings in the original Hebrew and translate each blessing into English. These blessings are ancient, and a lot of contemporary couples prefer to use modern creative translations. Also, the original wording of the blessings refers only to heterosexual weddings. Creative Jewish liturgists have written modified versions of these blessings, in Hebrew and in English, which honor same-sex weddings.

The first of the seven blessings is the blessing over a second cup of wine, and after all of the blessings are recited the couple is invited to take a sip.

After the seven blessings, some rabbis will recite another set of traditional blessings. These words, known as the “priestly blessings,” ask God to bless and protect, enlighten and give peace to the couple. Some rabbis will ask if the couple want to have a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over their shoulders while this blessing is recited. If this is something you would like to do, you should speak to your officiant about it.

Read more about the seven blessings and sample programs here.

Breaking the Glass

Jewish weddings end with the breaking of a glass. In heterosexual weddings, it’s usually the groom who stomps his foot down on a thin glass (wrapped in a cloth for safety), though some couples (heterosexual or same-sex couples) will do it together or break two glasses. Many couples also want to have a kiss at the conclusion of their ceremony, which can fit nicely right before or after the breaking the glass. Here you can see a fun short video taken from a same-sex wedding in which we see both grooms breaking a glass. And in this blog post, a groom tests out breaking a glass before the big day.

Progressive or traditional, religious or secular, Jewish weddings almost always include a breaking of glass at the end of the ceremony. The glass-breaking is typically followed by a communal “Mazel tov!,” which means “good fortune” in Yiddish and is the equivalent of “Congratulations!” In addition to the communal congratulations, Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov is sometimes sung after the breaking of the glass. Watch this video to learn the words.

There are countless interpretations for the tradition of breaking a glass. Some see it as a reminder of the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Others say it is meant to remind us that marriage is as fragile as glass. It also has been interpreted to demonstrate how life is so fragile that the couple should enjoy every day as if it were their last together.

Read more about breaking the glass here.

Recessional and Alone Time

Recessional

Read more about Kristin’s Jewish and Japanese wedding here, and visit her site, Nourish. Photo credit: Perfect Circle Photography

At the end of the ceremony, couples typically walk back down the aisle, accompanied by music. The recessional can be deliberately “messy,” with the couple heading off down the aisle and then everyone else simply mixing and mingling with the guests, or it can be structured and more formal.

Couples often take time for yichud (seclusion) after the ceremony. This gives couples an opportunity to have a little time to be alone together in a private space immediately following the ceremony. The rabbi may mention, just before the breaking of the glass, that the couple is going to do this, and may offer any other short practical instructions to guests at this point as well. Taking a little time to be alone together before returning to your celebrating guests can be rewarding and grounding.

Including Elements from Other Religious Traditions

Sometimes couples want to include elements of other religious traditions in their Jewish interfaith wedding. There are many options for doing so as well as sensitive issues that may arise. Some couples decide to have separate wedding ceremonies in order to allow both of their traditions to be fully expressed.

For an example of a multicultural Jewish wedding, click here to read about the Japanese, American and Jewish wedding that Kristin from Nourish planned.

For issues specific to Jewish-Christian weddings, click here.

For issues specific to Jewish-Muslim, Jewish-Hindu and Jewish-Buddhist weddings, click here.

More Resources:

How a Slightly Disorganized and Overwhelmed Interfaith Couple Organized a Jewish Wedding Ceremony

  

I tried incredibly hard to make the wedding planning process as organized as I could. I had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of guest lists and vendors that I shared with my fiancé, Andy. I had folders with links saved and an extensive private Pinterest board of DIY wedding planning ideas that required far more creativity than anything I would ever be capable of and which, closer to the main event, I had completely forgotten about.

As our wedding date loomed ever closer, as our work lives became more hectic, and as we closed on our first home two weeks prior to the wedding, I realized that we were still missing vital last minute details and items.

It was two weeks before the wedding and I had forgotten to buy my shoes, to create the wedding programs, to give the music requests for the ceremony and reception to the DJ, and to top it off, the kiddush cup we had ordered still hadn’t arrived.

Oops.

But somehow, despite a few last-minute glitches, it all came together to be one of the most unforgettable, special, and happiest day of our lives.

As mentioned in my first InterfaithFamily blog post, we started our wedding planning journey with the book A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. Together, we carefully selected Jewish wedding traditions that were meaningful to us:

TenaimTenaim is the pre-wedding ceremony where the families of the bride and groom decide on the financial and logistical arrangements of the marriage. Our rabbi drew up a progressive tenaim document which we and our ketubah witnesses, our two sisters, signed. The document stipulated that we would bring a physical reminder of our love and our spiritual gifts for one another (in lieu of a traditional object of value/dowry) which in our case, was a kiddush cup from our wine fountain set. We had originally ordered a new kiddush cup but soon realized it was not going to arrive in time so we ended up using the cup that we regularly use for Shabbat.

Tenaim includes the pre-wedding tradition of the mother-in-laws breaking a plate together. Two nights prior to the wedding, Andy and I trudged to Pier One to buy the cheapest, most breakable looking plate we could find. The rabbi had warned us to break the plate beforehand and glue it back together but we figured the plate would break easily. Lo and behold, as our mothers, the rabbi and then Andy desperately tried to break the plate in various ways, it was clear that we should have followed instructions. No matter what we did, the plate would not break. I will never underestimate the strength of Pier One plates ever again. We all laughed, the rabbi called it a “symbolic breaking” of the plate and we agreed that our mothers would break it at our house warming in two months.

KetubahA ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract which conveyed our commitment to each other and to building a loving and supportive home together. It requires the signature of the bride and groom, the officiant and witnesses. We each have one sister and while traditionally, witnesses should not be related to the bride and groom, we decided that we truly wanted to honor them in this way. We had purchased the ketubah off of Ketubah.com and made some adjustments to the Hebrew spelling thanks in part to a rabbi friend’s review of the text. The ketubah.com team was more than willing to correct the text. It was a great experience and I highly recommend them. Our ketubah is beautiful and we look forward to putting it up in our new home.

ChuppahA chuppah is the wedding canopy which represents the home that the couple will create together that will be open to family and friends. To create ours, we purchased four 7-foot birch poles off of Amazon for around 60 dollars and large eye hooks for 10 dollars. Andy drilled a hole at the top of the birch poles and screwed in the eye hooks. Our rabbi brought in his large tallit, tied the corner fringes to the hooks at the top and voila! A chuppah was constructed cheaply and easily. We had also wanted to include and honor our friends and family and had decided to have chuppah bearers. Our chuppah was held up by my best friend, my sister, Andy’s brother-in-law and one of his best friends.

One of the most special moments for me was when my parents walked me to the chuppah. It was great being able to have that time with them before the ceremony.

Circling: Circling is the tradition where the bride circles the groom seven times (or the partners both circle each other). Seven is an auspicious number in Judaism and circling seven times can represent the seven days of creation, the seven blessings and other instances where something happens seven times in the Torah/Talmud. However, for us, the circling meant that we would make each other central to each other’s lives. We decided to keep it equal and circled each other three times.

Birkat ErusinThe Birkat Erusin is the betrothal blessing recited by the rabbi over a kiddush cup of wine. We then drank from the same kiddush cup that we had used in our tenaim ceremony to symbolize our commitment to sharing our lives with each other.

Ring Exchange: Traditionally, the ring ceremony in a Jewish wedding is where the groom gives the bride a ring, constituting the act of gifting an artifact of value to the bride and therefore making the marriage official. However, we decided to do a double ring ceremony where we used my maternal grandmother’s ring for my wedding band and Andy had his paternal grandfather’s ring for his. Neither of us have any living grandparents left so it felt like they were able to participate in our celebration in a way, making it even more special for us.

Sheva BrachotThe Sheva Brachot are the seven blessings which are recited for the bride and groom. Our rabbi read them in both Hebrew and English. We had no strong feelings about the Sheva Brachot and allowed the rabbi to select the wording.

Breaking the Glass: Breaking the glass marks the conclusion of the ceremony and has many interpretations but the ones we chose to add into our wedding programs were that it’s a reminder that there is still suffering in the world and that it represents the breaking of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. After being regaled with stories of over-confident grooms going to the ER after stomping on the glass, I made sure to put the glass into a plastic bag and cover it with multiple cloth napkins prior to the wedding. I was relieved that Andy was able to break the glass without any issues but I’m also pretty sure our wedding pictures captured my anxiety-filled expression. We kept the broken glass and are now trying to decide what to do with it.

YichudAfter Andy broke the glass, and everyone yelled “Mazel tov” and we shared our first kiss as husband and wife, we then left for yichud, a time of seclusion for the bride and groom at the end of the marriage ceremony. We escaped to the bridal suite where we had water, Coca Cola and appetizers waiting for us. We also had a chance to practice our wedding dance one last time. It was an ultimate must-have for us and we are both glad we had those moments to be alone and decompress before heading out to our guests again.

Our wedding ceremony was perfect for us and set the tone for not only the rest of the wedding but for the rest of our lives. It opened our hearts in a way we could never have imagined. It was a celebration of love, of unity and of starting our marriage with our nearest and dearest close by.

Most of all, it was a celebration of us.

Now a week after the wedding, we’re excited to have started our marriage adventure and have mostly stopped accidentally referring to each other as ‘fiancé.’

Looking Back on Our Interfaith Wedding, One Month Later

  

It is hard to believe it has already been a month since our “big day.”

It is finally starting to sink in.

It seems that we have not stopped moving since we got married. Between the holidays, Lisa’s sister getting married, and my new employment opportunities, there has been barely a moment to sit and take it all in. However, this week, we received our photos and have been listening to our playlists from the ceremony and reception. It is certainly bringing us some cheer.

wedding day

Getting Emotional

It was an incredible journey for us both. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We had a lot of help along the way. So thank you everyone who helped. Friends, family, and loved ones. Thanks to all our wonderful vendors too. Thank you all who followed us both on this journey and the whole InterfaithFamily staff who gave us this opportunity to talk about and really explore what having an interfaith wedding is all about and meant to us. (I also apologize to our photographer because I had to resize all the photos to fit into this post, they simply do not do her work justice.)

 

 

 

 

bridesmaids

 

 

 

 

The Kettubah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the wedding, we ended up answering a lot more questions than I thought. We had a lot of members of Lisa’s family asking about the Ketubah ceremony, while others asked about the circling of one another toward the beginning of the ceremony.

We also received a ton of compliments. The donut table (instead of cake) was a huge success. You could not tell the difference between the adults and children because all of them kept staring at the table with hungry eyes, even with a belly full of delicious meatballs. Our Jewish friends also said that when it comes to the Hora, Lisa and I hit it out the park. It was their most fun moments of the wedding.

What’s next in our journey? That is a great question. We are hoping after the New Year to settle down a little bit more. There should be some clarity in our close future. I also hope to attend temple more regularly. For the first time in awhile, we do not have a deadline for our life and maybe that is the best gift of marriage. It is what you do with it after the big day.