Jewish Wedding Ceremonies - A Practical Guide
The Sabbath before your ceremony it is customary to go to a service and receive
an aliyah (going up to bless God for the reading of the Torah. Aliyah is Hebrew
for "going up." Ufruf is Yiddish for the same thing). Some Mizrachi communities
(Persia, etc.) hold the ufruf on the Shabbat following the wedding. Local
congregations are very open to this. If you have been active in Hillel Shabbat
services, then Hillel may have a special Shabbat morning service for you.
Your wedding day is Yom Kippur for you, a day to start fresh and sinless with
each other. If you pray daily, pray the Yom Kippur service. If you don't
normally pray, you can still do the Shema and the "For the sin which I have
committed..." confession from the Yom Kippur service. You could also fast to
make this more meaningful. Start your fast after the rehearsal dinner (or at
sundown) and continue it until the ceremony. If your ceremony is at night then
there is no fasting because the day of your wedding begins at sundown. You could
both also go to mikveh, or to the ocean/bay, to "wash" away your sins and start
fresh. It is a marvelously spiritual occasion. You can go separately, with your
best male/female, or together. Go as close to the date of your wedding, at least
one "clean" day after the woman's period as you can.
Sexual Separation and Consummation
In order to make the marital consummation as exciting and novel as
possible, its recommend that you separate from each other at least a week before
the wedding. Do not sleep or dress or shower together, and, if necessary and
possible, one of you should move to a different place for that week. In order to
be minimally tired when you consummate the marriage, its recommend morning,
noon, or afternoon rather than evening weddings.
When Not To Do The Ceremony
Since there are legal transactions, such as witnessing, document signing, and
exchange of money (rings) to effectuate the ceremony, weddings are not to take
place on Sabbaths or festivals. Some do happen on Friday afternoons so that the
wedding feast is a Shabbat dinner. But it might be inappropriate to mix a
Shabbat or festival theme with your wedding. (Jews traditionally avoid mixing
simchas, in order to more closely focus on each one.) And, in any case, rabbis
are very busy just before Shabbats and festivals. Saturday night weddings, and
those immediately following a festival holy day, should be at least an hour
after sunset. You can start them with havdalah under the chuppah. Again, it
might be better not to hold your wedding production at this time because all the
logistical hassles and worries tend to intrude into the holiness of the day.
Other times not to have weddings are fast days, and some do not do them between
Passover and Shavuot (the Omer period), except for on Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, Rosh
Hodesh Sivan, and Lag b'Omer. Others permit weddings from Lag b'Omer to the day
before Shavuot. Some do the ceremony anytime during the Omer period except Yom
ha Shoah (Holocaust memorial day), and Yom ha Zikaron, (Israel's memorial day
for fallen soldiers). Some do not marry on or between the fast of the
seventeenth of Tammuz (the 586 BCE breaching of Jerusalem's walls by the
Babylonians) and the 9th/10th of Av (the Burning of the Temple in 586 BCE, and
also by the Romans in 70 CE). Others only restrict ceremonies from the 1st to
the 9th/10th of Av. Some not at all. Another day to avoid is April 21, Hitler's
birthday. Also -- time the ceremony as best you can so it doesn't take place
during the bride's period.
You can often rent a synagogue (with chuppah and social hall) or use an indoor
or outdoor area. Problems with outdoors -- shade (you can rent umbrella tables);
heat, wind, airplane or traffic noise, rain (have a contingency plan for this).
If you have a ceremony at a private home, be sure to inform or invite the
neighbors so that they are forewarned of the noise and traffic and so that you
have no competing noises during the ceremony and reception.
You may wish to write a pamphlet or sheet with information about your ceremony
-- what symbols and rituals you are doing, why you are doing them, and what they
mean. It may also include your version of the birkat haMazon, and any songs you
would like people to sing. The ushers can hand these booklets out with the kipot
as people enter.
Other Readings/Poems In Your Ceremony
Within reason, most anything will be acceptable. Check it out first with the
rabbi and find an appropriate place to put them. If you wish the rabbi to make
any announcements please put them in writing.
As far as I am concerned you can have as many pictures taken with or without
flash, video/audio taped, as you want by your official photographer during the
ceremony. An unobtrusive photographer is best. My advice is to take the posed
shots before the ceremony so that once the ceremony is over you can just party.
In addition, photos at this time will show you at your freshest. If you are
withholding seeing each other until the ceremony, then you can still take the
posed shots before the ceremony that don't need you together. Or, as some have
done, take the non-you shots, then take the with-you shots, and immediately as
the finish have the best man and woman shoo everyone out so you can have a
little pre-yichud to appreciate each other. Here is a list of wedding things you
might wish the photographer to shoot:
signing the ketubah
badeken (see #9)
walking around each other
breaking the glass(es)
making kiddush and motzi after the ceremony
the dancing -- chair dance, krenzl putting, krenzl
dance (see #26)
Birkat haMazon blessers (see #27)
You can use any free standing, foursided, flower-covered or not flower-covered
decorated or undecorated canopy, or you can use the four 8' poles with cup hooks
on the ends to hold a tallit or a specially made chuppah cover. You can rent a
canopy from Porter Rents or Abco Rents, or a chuppah from Bob & Bob. If you are
having a wedding in a synagogue they will provide a chuppah. You can decorate
and paint the Hillel chuppah poles any way you want. The chuppah top can be a
tallit or any cloth with any design you like.
For a woman, the questions usually concern white dress or not for a remarriage,
and whether or not a veil. As far as I am concerned, the dress is up to you -- a
wedding is your fantasy, and white or non-white, fancy dress or cowgirl, it is
up to you. The same goes for a veil. And it makes no difference if this is your
first or fourteenth wedding. If you do wear a veil, it is customary for the man
to lift it to check whether or not you are who you are supposed to be (to see if
it is Rachel and not Leah). This is called "badeken", bedecking the bride with a
veil, and can either be done before the ceremony, or just before the bride and
groom together enter the chuppah, as a way of lovingly looking at each other.
For a man (and for some egalitarian women) it is traditional to wear a tallit or
a kittel (a full garment -- robe or shirt -- with fringes). You can wear your
kittles again on Yom Kippur, Pesach seder, and to be buried in. The connections
between these "kittel times" is that they are all new beginnings, and every Yom
Kippur and seder thereafter you will remember your marriage. It is customary in
some communities for the woman to give her husband a new tallit/kittel because
the 32 fringes (four corner bundles of eight) spell "heart" when the number "32"
is written in Hebrew letters. If the bride will wear one, the groom could also
give her a tallit/kittel. Kipot are optional for you both and for your guests.
If you normally wear one in religious contexts, wear one this day. You may wish
to get an extra special kipah to wear, which you can thereafter wear at
festivals, etc. If you offer kipot to your guests, either have the ushers give
them out or put them in a basket by the entry to the ceremony area. You may wish
to put a sign on the basket saying that they are optional or required.
Use good kosher wine for the chuppah. Use white wine if you are worried about
staining, red if you are not. You may have whatever wine you wish for the
reception, but since the chuppah is a Jewish religious ceremony, kosher wine is
the most appropriate. Decant the wine into a decanter with a lid. It is less
tacky this way than pouring from a bottle. And the lid keeps bugs out. You may
wish to buy an extra case of this wine to keep for your anniversaries, or to
give to family or friends that helped and supported you throughout.
There are two wine blessings. You may use two cups or four cups or the same
kiddush cup. You may use new glasses that you can subsequently smash at the end
of the ceremony, or you can inaugurate new kiddush cups for the two of you, or
you can use an heirloom. Whatever you wish.
Glasses To Smash
You can both smash glasses. Women's shoes, however, are usually designed to step
with the toe, so use a long champaigne flute which is easily smashed. Wrap the
glasses in heavy cloth napkins and tape them securely shut. Some people keep a
shard of glass and put it in a keepsake pendant. Light bulbs are also OK. They
make more noise. If your ceremony is on grass, you may wish to have a small
board to use to put the glasses on so that they break.
Rings Or No Rings
Jewish custom, not law, was to have a plain gold band without stones so that the
stipulated marriage contract prices could be verified by simply weighing the
amount of gold instead of subjectively appraising the stone. This was only
important in an arranged marriage that was not a love match in order to avoid
contractual wranglings and recriminations that might lead to annulling the
marriage on the grounds of fraud. But you can use any kind of rings you like
with or without stone, stones, or designs. You can wear them on your left hand
like Americans or on your right like Israelis. You can also choose not to use
rings by exchanging any present(s) worth at least a dime. If you exchange
presents, the wedding vow uses the word matanah, "gift", instead of taba'at,
Keep your art ketubah under a plastic sheet to guard against spills. You can
have any ketubah you wish (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Egalitarian). Discuss
this with the rabbi. You can get a pre-printed ketubah or have an art ketubah
commissioned with various text that you can write and have translated into
Hebrew. In an Orthodox or Conservative standardized ketubah check whether or not
the word "virgin" has already been printed to describe the bride. Get one where
the phrase "bride" can be filled in. Also, make sure that the bride price and
the groom's "additional" pledge amount have not been pre-printed so that they
can be appropriately filled in. Think, in shekels, how much extra you would like
to pledge, if anything. 1000 is a nice number.
You need two, non-related (at all) to either of you, Jewish, and over bar/bat
mitzvah age to witness the signing of the ketubah. For the California document,
any two adults will do. The ketubah witnesses need to know their Hebrew names.
Sign all the documents half an hour or so before the ceremony.
Under the chuppah you will need a small, sturdy table to hold the wine, kiddush
cups, decanter, glasses to smash, and the ketubah if it is small. Otherwise I
recommend an easel to hold a large art ketubah.
Best Men, Maids Of Honor, Ushers, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen
You may have as many or as few of these as you wish. They can be the same as the
witnesses, they can read things, or not. They can usher people in, or they can
be honorary ushers (with no job).
What Best Men/Maids Of Honor Are For
They hold your rings, and will be your aides-de-camp to make sure things run
smoothly. Don't be afraid to use them to get things done so you don't get too
frazzled. They are there to help you enjoy yourself.
You can still have a sibling or two, or other relatives fill in under the
chuppah. You may wish to say kaddish the day of your wedding, as it is a Yom
Kippur Yizkor for you. You can have a small service, or you could just say it
Use your best judgement and do what you need to do in every situation, from
processional to chuppah to head table, krenzl dance (see #27) etc.
Anything is OK, from all of you just gathering, to long formal parades. Be
sure to have a good rehearsal beforehand. The rabbi will not conduct rehearsals
-- you will do this. It is also good to have one person who is not in the
wedding party send each person/couple down the aisle, letting everyone know when
it is their turn. Suggested order:
rabbi with chuppah holders (if you are not using a freestanding chuppah.)
Sometimes if the groom is not coming out with his parents, he comes out with the
grandparents ushered to their seats
ring and flower bearing children
wedding party males and females leading up to the ....
best male and female (together or maid of honor first)
groom, flanked by parents, then ...
bride, flanked by parents.
Parents kiss their child then enter the chuppah, the groom escorts the bride
into the chuppah and the ceremony starts. In all cases, men on the left, women
to the right. Parents end up under the fringes of the chuppah on the side of
their child. Best people stand by the front pole of the chuppah on the
appropriate side. Others usually flare out from the front poles, (closest to the
congregation) facing the crowd. They can also ring the chuppah around back. A
recessional order is: the bride and groom, parents (bride's then groom's),
wedding party in reverse order, rabbi, and chuppah.
Mendelssohn was a Jewish convert to Christianity, and Wagner is considered a
proto-Nazi, so these two composers are in very bad taste at Jewish weddings.
Otherwise, the processional and recessional music is up to you. I highly advise
against any music during the ceremony, as it is excruciatingly boring to all
involved to stand there doing nothing. Also make sure your processional songs do
not last longer than the processional itself, or you'll be standing there just
waiting for them to finish. If you are going to be circling each other under the
chuppah following the processional, have the musicians play through the
Standing Under The Chuppah
You can hold hands or put your arms around each other, standing close during the
ceremony -- you need not stand rigid like two statues on a cake. If one of you
wears a tallit, pull it over the shoulder of the other one during the ceremony,
and leave your arm around him/her.
Yichud (Being Alone Together After the Ceremony And Receiving
Lines/Table Hopping) Instead of the American custom of jumping straight from the
chuppah into the receiving line, the Jewish tradition is to let the marriage
"set in" privately for a few minutes before going out to greet your guests. Have
the caterer leave two plates of food for you to break your fast (see #2) and
stay in a lockable isolated private room until you're good and ready to come
out. Your guests can be sipping wine and nibbling hors d'oeuvres until you come
out. Then, you can either have a receiving line into the meal area, or skip the
line and greet your guests by hobnobbing at tables, etc.
After the ceremony/yichud, you may wish to lead your guests in a kiddush over
champaigne. (You could have had only wine served during your yichud). Before
eating (you are served/go through the line first) you may wish to lead your
guests in motzi. There are four to six feet long challot you can get for this.
If you are accustomed to the traditional motzi, the caterers can set up hand
washing stations for you (bowls with water, empty bowls, cup, paper or other
towels). Be sure to let the caterer know you'll need a slat shaker by the
challah in order to salt the challah just after you make the blessing. After you
eat a bite, the caterer cuts and distributes the rest.
Jewish Dances Keitzad Merakdim (Hebrew for "How do we dance?")
It is traditional to dance around the bride and groom while they are seated, and
to clown around while we dance to make them laugh. If you let the band know
this, they will help get it going. Let your wedding party also know what you
want. Any old freilach (Yiddish style) or hora (Israeli style) music will do for
any of these dances.
Chair Dance. This is to make you a king and queen by enthroning you on
flying thrones. You will need a cloth napkin or scarf to hold hands (if you try
to hold hands, you will pull the light one off the chair!). Also women can hold
up the bride's chair as men do the groom's chair. Make sure your best person
and/or the biggest, tallest, strongest person is in the front of the chair,
keeping it tipped back. Then you won't fall out!!
Krenzl Dance. If either of you is the last one in your family to be
married your parents merit a krenzl (crownlet) dance! The bride and groom put
floral wreaths on their heads and seat them in the middle of the room and lead
everyone in a dance around them just as everyone danced around you. That makes
them a king and queen. If both sets of parents merit this, do them together.
Birkat haMazon/Sheva Brachot
If you are accustomed to praising God after you eat (birkat haMazon -- the
blessing after food), you are entitled to add the seven wedding blessings all
during the first "honeymonth" of your married life. You end with the borey pri
hagafen instead of the way it is done during the chuppah ceremony. It is also
customary to have different friends, or groups of friends, each lead (in English
or Hebrew -- God understands both) one of the blessings. The wine cup is passed
around from blesser to blesser.
Only you two drink the wine. The blessers just get to hold the cup!
The wine is first poured into one cup from two cups. (Have the caterer set that
up on a little tray, preferably with a flower or sprig on the tray). And this
one cup is taken around, and finally brought back to you to drink. It is also
customary, if you are staying in town or near friends after the wedding, to have
friends continue the wedding partying by having people (and you) over to dinner,
and every night having people who were not at the wedding participate by saying
these blessings over the cup. You can also have 7 or 14 people or couples
participate in the wedding ceremony seven blessings. Be sure to write out
everything for the readers, including who they follow when reading. Also station
them in the order they will read. It is much less confusing that way.
Since you may or may not have the chance to eat your fill at your wedding feast,
and, since when you get back home/to the hotel you may be hungry anyway (and why
should you have to go out for pizza?) I recommend asking the caterer to pack you
generous helpings of the wedding food to take along with you that first night