Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Wedding Traditions: Jewish Ceremony
The chuppa is a wedding canopy, usually four simple posts holding up a fabric roof. It’s open on all sides, which symbolizes unconditional hospitality. The bride and groom stand underneath the chuppah with the officiant during the ceremony, and it symbolizes the home the new couple will make together.
The ketubah is a traditional marriage contract, and it is read in full during a Jewish wedding. It mainly concerns the rights of the bride, and how the groom must attend to them: he must provide his wife with clothes, food, and shelter. He must also see to her emotional needs as well. After it’s read and signed, the ketubah belongs to the bride. It’s usually written out by hand, with plenty of artsy flourishes, and is meant to be framed and hung up in the couple’s home.
Breaking the Glass
After the ketubah and a reading of blessings, the bride and groom share a glass of wine. Then a drinking glass is wrapped in fabric and placed on the floor, and the groom stomps on it to break it. The breaking of the glass symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Israel, and is meant to be a somber reminder of Jerusalem even during this most happiest occasion (although now it’s also the source of a joke that it’s the last time the groom gets to put his foot down).
After the breaking of the glass, the wedding ceremony proper is over. The newlyweds then go to a small room by themselves for a few minutes, giving them some time to reflect on the day and grab a quick snack before the reception. It symbolizes their new status of living together as a married couple.
While the main point of a Western wedding reception is for the guests to get their party on, a Jewish wedding reception is focused on entertaining the bride and groom. There’s a tradition called the “gladdening of the bride,” in which the guests dance in a circle around the bride and entertain her. There’s also a traditional garlanding of the mother of the bride with flowers, and the horah, a lively circular dance.
Interestingly, one of the elements regularly associated with a Jewish wedding isn’t fraught with deep symbolism. The chair dance, in which the bride and groom are hoisted up while seated in chairs and paraded around the venue, seems to have evolved for the sheer fun of doing it. Some claim that it symbolizes the community supporting the new couple, or lifting the couple closer to the Almighty, but those meanings were added after-the-fact. It seems to be a tradition just because it’s great fun.