Jewish Wedding Traditions
Heading to a Jewish wedding? Even if it's held at a brand new space or venue you'll likely witness some traditional ceremonies and rituals that date back thousands of years! From the signing of the Ketubah to the dancing of the Hora, we're here to highlight and explain some of the most treasured matrimonial customs that make Jewish weddings so special!
SIGNING THE KETUBAH
The Ketubah is a Jewish wedding contract that is signed by both spouses before the ceremony, traditionally with two witnesses by their side. Traditions and rules on the signing vary based on how observant the couple is but one rule holds true for all: witnesses are required to read the ketubah out loud before it is signed. As the tradition and document dates back thousands of years, some couples choose to update it or personalize it. Traditionally, the ketubah lays out the responsibilities of the bride, groom and their families. It is generally signed shortly before the couple meets at the chuppah to exchange vows!
While many Chuppahs today are ornate, personalized and intricate, the tradition behind them are quite simple! Since ancient times, Jewish couples have met under the "chuppah" which translates to "covering" in Hebrew, to symbolize the new home they will build together as spouses. Symbolically, this is the first time the community or wedding guests will see the couple together as a unit, in their own home. The canopy is considered an object of Jewish ceremonial art and is often decorated lavishly to honor the Hebrew concept of Hiddur Mitzvah, or "embellishing the precept."
SHEVA BRACHOT (THE SEVEN PRAYERS)
The seven blessings, or the "sheva brachot" are traditionally recited by the rabbi for the bride and groom but in more recent times, couples have invited honored guests to recite them during the wedding ceremony under the chuppah. The tradition dates back thousands of years and historically calls for the prayers and celebratory hommages to play out over a weeklong period, but now are largely done all at once, on the wedding night. Separately, but not unrelated to this tradition, the bride may circle the groom seven times. This is more common among Ashkenazi Jews and is meant to correlate with the seven blessings and also build a mystical wall of protection around the marriage.
BREAKING OF THE GLASS
There's an old joke that says a Jewish man breaks the glass on the night of his wedding because "it's the last time he'll ever put his foot down." Anecdotally, this might be true, but traditionally the breaking of the glass holds many traditional sentiments and meanings. This custom is done under the chuppah right after the couple says "I do." The now husband is invited to step on a glass inside a cloth bag or garment and shatter it. Some experts say this act represents the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem while others say it also honors the reality that marriage and love can often come with sorrow, marking the couple's commitment to standing by each other through the good times and the hard ones. The shattered glass is usually collected after the ceremony and many couples choose to preserve it or incorporate it into a relic or keepsake to remember their wedding night.
THE HORA AND THE LIFTING OF THE CHAIRS
The hora is a festive dance in which the party joins hands together in a circle around the newlyweds and their families. There are often many tiers to the circle, with the innermost circle being closest relationally to the bride and groom. More religious ceremonies call for men and women to dance the hora separately, but more often than not, you see the party at large partake in it together. During this dance, the newlyweds are often lifted up on chairs as an extra layer of celebration. Once in the air, they usually cling to the seat with one hand and hold a cloth napkin together with the other, as a means of staying connected. Some say this is a way to make them feel like they are royalty on a throne while others say older traditions called for the couple to be carried on the shoulders of their guests.