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Jewish weddings are wonderful occasions that follow many different styles. Even the most modern Jewish wedding ceremonies usually contain several ancient traditions and provide a beautiful link to the past. We’ll explore some of the most common wedding traditions and also take a look at modern wedding etiquette.
10 things you need to know about Jewish weddings
Jewish weddings combine religious traditions and an element of Jewish civil law. The actual ceremony is generally quite short and follows a few simple and long established rituals. Most people are reasonably familiar with the key parts of a Jewish wedding. Most questions are usually about etiquette – what to wear to a wedding, if male and female guests will be seated separately, what gifts (or how much money) to give, and what kind of food will be served at the wedding party.
A typical Jewish wedding – even many secular ones – will often contain a minimum of 6 basic traditions or rituals.
- The walk to the Chuppah
- Signing the Ketubah
- Reading the Seven Blessings
- Breaking the glass
- The guests shouting Mazel Tov
- The Bride and Groom retiring to the yichud room
The Chuppah is a simple canopy roof that symbolizes the open home that the Bride and Groom plan to create together. Many Jewish weddings (particularly summer weddings in Israel) take place outdoors. The Chuppah can either offer some shade, or a sense of intimacy under the night sky. Traditionally, the Groom, and then the veiled bride, will walk to the Chuppah accompanied by their parents. The wedding guests will already be assembled in front of the Chuppah, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
The Ketubah is a form of marriage contract. It has no religious significance, but is derived from Jewish civil law. The Ketubah is written in Aramaic (the language of Talmudic law) and clearly sets out the Husband’s obligations to his wife. These are the fundamental emotional and financial requirements for being a good husband and building a happy marriage. The Ketubah also defines the Husband’s obligations in the event of a divorce and ensures that the bride has adequate legal protections as she enters her marriage.
The Seven Blessings (Sheva B’rachot) can be read in Hebrew or English and focus on the joys of married life, the power of love and a general celebration of the marriage. The blessings are drawn from ancient traditional texts and remind us that marriage is a joyous event. At most reform or secular weddings, the Seven Blessings are only chanted under the Chuppah over a glass of wine. In traditional families, they are recited again at special Sheva B’rachot meals for seven days after the wedding.
One of the best-known Jewish marriage traditions is the breaking of the glass by the Groom. The meaning of the tradition isn’t entirely clear, but popular interpretations include a remembrance of the destruction of the Temple and the shattering of the Jewish people, the wider sorrows and tribulations that the Jewish people have undergone, and the commitment of the Bride and Groom to support each other during hard times or difficulties. Some couples keep the shards of broken glass as a wedding day souvenir.
Mazel Tov! is traditionally shouted out by the wedding guests after the breaking of the glass concludes the ceremony. Most people translate mazel tov as good luck or congratulations. The deeper meaning of the words is connected to the idea of auspicious fortune or the coinciding of good events to create positive fate. Some Kabbalists believe that a marriage is the union of two halves of the same soul that have rediscovered each other in this life. Whatever you believe, mazel tov are the perfect words to celebrate a wedding ceremony!
After the Bride and Groom have been the focus of public attention at the Chuppah, it’s customary for them to retire to the yichud room and be alone together. It’s not so much to give them a respite, as to allow them an intimate private moment together. They have just taken a life changing step and are now man and wife. The yichud room allows them to talk quietly together and contemplate their new status. At some weddings, the Bride and Groom will also eat their first meal together in the yichud room.
What to Expect at a Jewish Wedding Ceremony
One recurring question – which is probably as old as Jewish weddings themselves – is what is the best wedding gift. People worry a lot about what constitutes an appropriate gift. Nobody wants to seem stingy, and nobody wants to show up with an unwanted or useless gift. Even today, where it’s perfectly normal just to give money, people tend to worry about how much to give, and how to present a gift of money in a tasteful way.
There are no hard and fast rules about what gifts to buy for a Jewish wedding. Every community has its own traditions and etiquette. A lot will depend on your relationship to the bride and Groom, and whether you are eating a meal at the wedding party. If you have any doubts, the best solution is simply to ask the Bride and Groom, or their families. A young couple who are setting up a new home together will be grateful for the chance to request a specific gift that they actually need.
Building a home together can require a considerable amount of money – and always did. One reason why large elaborate weddings were always popular was that they allowed communities to come together and give a newly married couple a helping hand.Immediately after the wedding, the Newlyweds would have basic items like furniture, kitchen equipment, bed linen and all the basic necessities for a comfortable life. In many communities, gifts also include ritual and religious items for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Generosity was reciprocated over the years and the whole community benefited.
Many couples simplify things by setting up a wedding registry. An online wedding registry is a convenient way to publish a detailed list of presents that the couple wants. They can get right down to specifics like sizes and colors of individual items and draw up a full wishlist. A good online wedding registry will be fully secure and will never allow guests to see who bought what, or how much they paid. All the financial details will be strictly between individual buyers and the Bride and Groom.
Couples have always needed household items when they marry (or the money to buy them). These days, modern boutique Judaica collections include many items of tableware, silverware and home decor. An online Judaica store like ICOJ has a huge range of artwork, luxury items like Jewish candelabra and candlesticks, silver trays and Pesach plates, and traditional and contemporary Judaica. Many couples will ask for items, in addition to consumer durables and appliances like microwaves and washing machines.
How much money do you give at an Israeli wedding?
It’s perfectly normal to turn up at an Israeli wedding with an envelope full of money or a cheque. Wedding venues even provide a special strong box at the entrance for guests to drop their envelopes in. Newly married couples are happy with just a signed card and a cash gift. It’s definitely convenient for all involved, but there’s still the question of how much to give.
Some families keep records of who gives what over the years and will attempt to match previous gifts and keep everything fair. Where there are close relationships between families, people will give as much as they can reasonably afford. If you’ve been invited to a colleague’s wedding or someone else who isn’t a close friend, there are some rough formulas that people tend to follow. These usually depend on whether you’ll be staying for the meal and enjoying a free bar.
If you’re attending an Israeli wedding, and you’re not a family member or close friend of the Bride or Groom, it’s usual to give around ₪300 or ₪400 . If you’re coming as a couple, you double the gift. There are no hard and fast rules, and it’s normal to give more money in some social circles. The idea is that you give enough to cover the cost of the meal that you eat, and leave the Newlyweds with enough money to buy something for themselves.
These days, a lot of wedding guests won’t even bother with cash or a check. Buyma vouchers, other e-gifts and wedding registries are a convenient alternative. It’s a lot easier to manage your wedding gifts online than to go to the bank with 100+ checks, or worry about walking around with thousands of shekels in cash.
What to Expect as a Guest at a Jewish Wedding
What do you wear to an Israeli wedding?
Israel – or at least the non-Orthodox part – is one of the least formal countries in the world. Tel Aviv is a city where young hipsters expect to wear shorts and flip flops to business meetings and irons are considered obsolete. People do make more of an effort for weddings, but not in a way that would be recognisable in North America or Britain. In many cases, a man’s wedding day will be the first time (and the last time) he ever wore a tie. Wedding preparations can include a visit to YouTube to learn home to tie a tie knot correctly!
If you want to strike the right balance at an Israeli wedding, you’ll usually be fine with US style smart casual. Don’t be surprised to see male guests wearing jeans. A pair of chinos or slacks with a pressed dress shirt is the epitome of respectability. A lot of Israeli weddings take place outdoors during the spring or summer. The last thing you will want to wear is a suit, or even a sports jacket. Women are traditionally expected to cover their shoulders, but plenty of people don’t follow the rule. If in doubt, ask beforehand. A popular choice for weddings is a stylish dress and shoes that you can dance in.
The main thing to remember about Jewish weddings is that they are celebrations and joyous events. That’s true of weddings generally, regardless of religion or culture, but Jewish weddings are still very much community events. This is especially true in Ultra Orthodox weddings where it is still common to see a small number of poor people invited to join the wedding meal, even if they have no connection to the families or the means to provide a wedding gift.
If you are attending a Jewish wedding a small personal gift can be a special extra touch. Even if your main gift is money or an e-gift card, an extra like a Judaica mezuzah case, or an Jewish Painting is a great way to show your love and celebrate the wedding.
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