As a Jewish wedding planner, I believe it’s fair to say that I am well versed in Jewish wedding traditions. What I plan to share with you here are some of the unique Jewish wedding traditions that I believe help to make Jewish weddings so special and memorable.
Those who know me will tell you that what I don’t know about Jewish weddings can probably be written on a postage stamp. Not only am I an expert Jewish wedding planner, but I am also Jewish myself. Having lived and breathed these traditions all of my life, my couples will tell you that I am well placed to walk you through all of these Jewish wedding traditions. And perhaps more importantly, take you through the process of discussing which must be included and which are optional. And in so doing we create a wedding that incorporates everything that is meaningful to you, and hopefully nothing that is not.
Jewish Wedding Tradition no. 1 – The Chuppah
Top of my list of Jewish wedding traditions has to be the Chuppah. The Chuppah is the canopy that Jewish couples marry under. Four poles support the canopy and the couple, together with the Rabbi, their parents and also their grandparents are all invited to stand underneath for the marriage ceremony.
The canopy signifies the roof of the home that the couple is going to occupy and in which they will hopefully build a family. At its simplest level, it can be a prayer shawl, supported by four poles which are held upright by four invited guests. But these days, the Chuppah is often more of a statement installation at a Jewish wedding. It is often supported by a structure and dressed with beautiful florals.
The term Chuppah is also used to describe the marriage ceremony itself. If you are invited to a Jewish wedding, the Jewish wedding tradition is to invite you to the Chuppah (not the ceremony) at a specific time.
The wedding ceremony itself is typically very moving and emotional. It is one of the reasons why I put this particular Jewish wedding tradition as my number one.
No. 2 – Israeli Dancing
At Jewish weddings, we dance a lot. We dance before, during and after dinner. Israeli dancing – sometimes referred to as Jewish Dancing, or the Hora – usually takes place before dinner.
Guests are typically invited to gather around the dance floor as we wait to greet the newlyweds. The couple joins their guests on the dance floor as the band breaks into Hebrew music.
A very energetic 10 – 15 minutes of Israeli dancing commences. This usually involves the couple being lifted on chairs.
It is a much loved Jewish wedding tradition and really helps to kick start the party.
My advice to every bride ahead of the grand entrance is that she should bustle her train, if she has one. This will enable her to dance easily and unrestricted as the Israeli dancing set can be very frenetic.
For the grooms and other key members of his groom’s party, I advise bringing along a spare shirt to change into following the Israeli dance set. This is particularly important for those who are going to be making speeches. It’s necessary if they wish to look well-groomed, rather than a “hot and sweaty” mess, which can often be the case at the end of the dancing.
I also make sure that there is plenty of water on every table. And that time is allowed before the start of speeches or food service for guests to “recover” from the pre-dinner Israeli dancing.
Jewish Wedding Tradition no. 3 – The “Bedeken”
Please forgive me for not referring to these Jewish wedding traditions in the order of proceedings. As my next favourite of the unique Jewish wedding traditions is the Bedeken. This takes place prior to the wedding ceremony.
The Bedeken is a short ceremony during which the bridegroom gets his first look at his bride and lowers her veil ready for the ceremony. The history of this relates back to biblical times when Jacob unwittingly married Leah because her face was veiled. He was in fact expecting to marry Leah’s sister, Rachel.
Bedeken ceremonies are traditionally held in a separate room and are witnessed only by the Rabbi, the parents and the bridal party. It is usually very emotive and meaningful as this is the bridegroom’s “first look” which he is getting in a very private and intimate setting.
But it means that when the bride walks down the aisle, her bridegroom has already seen her. So, the vast majority of the guests do not get to experience the “first look”. More recently, Bedeken ceremonies have started to take place publicly “on the aisle”. Just before the bride reaches the Chuppah, the groom walks to meet her and the Bedeken ceremony is performed at this point, with all guests in attendance.
No.4 – Smashing the Glass
At the end of the Chuppah, the Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom is invited to smash a glass with his foot.
This is deemed to have several symbolic meanings. The two that I find most relevant are:
- Marriage is a covenant, which in Judaism is represented by breaking or cutting something
- It is a lesson that even in times of joy, we need to remember the pain and loss that has been experienced by the Jewish people
As the glass smashes, the guests applaud and shout the word “Mazeltov” which means congratulations. Usually, this is followed by joyous singing and even some dancing under the Chuppah. (Remember, I did tell you that we dance a great deal at Jewish weddings).
Jewish Wedding Tradition no. 5 – The “Tisch”
I appreciate that it is customary in many communities for the bridegroom to gather with his male friends and family for a pre-wedding drink. But, the Jewish wedding tradition formalises this in something that we call a “Tisch”.
The Tisch is a gathering that includes not only male guests, but also present – and indeed very much “hosting” the event – is the Rabbi.
A table is laid with drink, usually whisky, and some snacks. The Rabbi will speak a few words and the marriage contract (known as the Ketubah) will be signed. And typically there will be some singing and dancing (yes, more dancing!!).
The Tisch takes place 30 – 40 minutes prior to the ceremony and following this the groom will be accompanied to the Bedeken, if taking place privately.
I really hope that you have enjoyed this run-through of my top 5 unique Jewish wedding traditions and that you have found them interesting.
You may also know that I also specialise in Italian destination weddings. And that I love to help my couples to plan a wedding that blends the best of Italian wedding traditions with those of their own culture or religion.
If you are also interested in learning about Italian wedding traditions, you can do so by heading over to this blog post.
Photos by David Bastianoni