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Return to the Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples.
There are many answers to this question. In its most basic form, a Jewish wedding simply codifies a contract between two individuals. From the standpoint of Jewish law, all that is required for a Jewish wedding to occur is either the signing of a ketubah in the presence of two witnesses, or the groom giving the bride a simple metal ring, with words of promise of a life together, in the presence of two witnesses. The rest of the rituals people commonly associate with Jewish weddings--the huppah, the breaking of the glass, the presence of a rabbi or cantor--are all traditions, and are lovely, but not required for a wedding to be a "Jewish" wedding. It should also be noted that a cantor, the one who mainly leads prayer through music, is as qualified--and legitimate-a wedding officiant as a rabbi. Many rabbis are also singers and many cantors are also orators.
Modern progressive and secular Jews may have a more elaborate conception of what a Jewish wedding entails. For modern Jews, a Jewish wedding usually includes, at minimum, the presence of a rabbi or cantor, a huppah, a ketubah, breaking of the glass, a ring ceremony and recitation or chanting of the seven blessings.
Modern-day Orthodox Jews may have a different view of a Jewish wedding. While a rabbi's or cantor's presence is not required, many Orthodox weddings include a rabbi or cantor.
There are also a whole series of Jewish rituals available proceeding and following the actual wedding ceremony. Ketubah signing in a private space, immersion in water (as a way of signifying a life transition) and making donations to a charity of choice in response to the upcoming gift of marriage are some of those available. Some of these rituals have been adopted and adapted by interfaith couples.