The Jewish wedding is a Jewish religious marriage ceremony. A marriage once consisted of two distinct events - the betrothal (erusin) and the actual act of marriage (nissu'in). These events are now amalgamated. Both erusin and nissu'in are performed in the presence of a minimum of two witnesses. After signing the ketuba or marriage contract, the bride and groom are led to the huppa. The groom gives the bride a ring and recites a blessing. The ketuba is read aloud and Sheva brachot are recited. At the end of the ceremony, the groom steps on a glass. The couple then spends a few moments alone before rejoining the wedding party.
|It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article titled Erusin. (Discuss)|
In biblical times, a woman was legally regarded simply as property (valuable property that needed to be looked after), and the betrothal was effected simply by purchasing her from her father (or guardian). The girl's consent is not explicitly required by any biblical law; neither however, is there explicit permission to ignore it. The bible, doubtless on the basis of ordinary human affection, on one occasion portrays a parent as giving their daughter some choice in the matter; but the arrangements about the marriage, and especially about the purchase price, were made with her father (or guardian).
In the most popular modern forms of Judaism (Reform and Reconstructionist), the betrothal is now a more egalitarian arrangement.
The price paid for the woman (who became me'orasa by the act) is known by the Hebrew term mohar. The bible gives very little indication of the usual range of value for a mohar. In the Deuteronomic Code, the only value given is that for a woman with whom the groom has already had sexual intercourse, namely a mohar of silver worth fifty shekels (a weight, rather than a specific coin). However, biblical narratives indicate that it could also take the form of personal service, as with the description of Jacob's service to Laban, or by prowess in war, as with the description of David's exchange of a hundred foreskins (each representing a slaughtered enemy) to obtain Michal in marriage. At a similar period in Greece, oxen could be used as the bride-price.
In the Talmud, it is argued that even a perutah, the smallest coin used in Roman Palestine, was a sufficient mohar; among Orthodox Jews in the modern State of Israel, it is believed that the mohar must be worth at least this amount (or rather, the worth of the modern coin - the pruta - having the same name; the spelling is merely a slight variation). It gradually became customary in many areas for the mohar to be an object whose value is well known, and fairly constant: an unadorned gold ring - without gem or inscription; though in Eastern Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was traditional for a miniature image of a synagogue to be carved on them, together with the phrase good luck. In many places the ring was an heirloom - a child would use the ring of their parents - but in some locations a ring would be made specially for each bride; among the Cochin Jews, a goldsmith manufactures the ring on the morning of the wedding itself, the bride checking that it fits, accompanied by women singing local songs.
It appears to have been customary in early biblical times for the bride to be given part of the mohar; the Book of Genesis denigrates Laban for spending it entirely on himself. Gradually, the mohar lost its original meaning of a purchase money, and the custom arose of giving it to the bride rather than the father. A similar change occurred among the early Arabs, and in the Qur'an, it is regarded as normal practice for the mohar to be given to the bride.
In Jewish religious law, because the exchange of the mohar has significance as a legal transaction, two kosher witnesses must see the mohar being passed from the groom to the bride. For the same reason traditional Jews believe that the wedding ceremony may not take place on Shabbat or Jewish holidays with shabbat-like work restrictions.
The Talmud states that a man should not marry without first seeing his bride.; this has led to a number of formal 'viewing' rituals. In the Ashkenazi community, it is customary for the bride to walk around the groom seven times. This is said to be symbolic of the bride's desire to protect her husband from harm. The bride's consent is required. In traditional Jewish weddings there is no verbal response on the part of the bride. Instead, if she accepts, she would take the mohar (if it is a ring, she might possibly place it on her finger), and then symbolically close her hand. Most forms of modern Judaism, however, including the Conservative and Reform denominations, view sexual inequality as somewhat distasteful, and therefore baulk at the idea of marriage being a purchase of a woman by a man; instead brides from these denominations typically respond to the offer by one of their own, handing a ring to the groom and quoting a suitable biblical passage (the Book of Canticles, a collection of love poetry, being particularly popular - for example, the phrase Ani l'dodi, l'dodi ani (I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me))
It is customary in some areas to have a feast in honour of the bride's and groom's parents (in addition to the week-long period of feasting in honour of the marriage). This feast occurs before the marriage; specifically, on the day before the shabbat before the marriage (in other words, the preceding Friday), or on the shabbat before that. This additional feast was called spinnholz (meaning spindle), or sponsalia, or vorspiel (meaning foreword/preface).
In the Caucasus, on both of the two days prior to the wedding, the bride and groom traditionally dress in mourning costume, to indicate their sorrow at being about to move out of the houses of their respective parents. In this tradition, on these days, the bride visits the friends of her parents' household, accompanied by her female friends; similarly the groom visits the friends of his parent's household, accompanied by his male friends. Each person the bride or groom visits is expected to provide gifts and refreshments for them, and their companions; however, if the bride approaches the groom's house on these days, it is customary for his friends to pelt her, and her friends, with sand and small stones; the same principle applies to the groom if he approaches the bride's house on these days.
Traditionally, during the week before the wedding-day, the bride and groom were allowed to leave the house only with a chaperone (Hebrew:shomer); in modern times, some Jews only apply this tradition to the day of the marriage itself. In Ashkenazic tradition, although it has become more widespread in modern times, couples deliberately ceased all forms of contact for one week prior to the marriage day. In the Caucasus, the bride sleeps in a special room for this period; on the first day, three or four girls related to her go out, while wearing her clothes, and invite other girls to sleep in the same room with her.
In the classical era, on the evening before the wedding day, the bride was taken from her father's house (where she would usually have been living) to the house of another of her relatives. Among the Cochin Jews, this is performed as an elaborate ritual, and occurs on the Shabbat prior to the wedding; first the groom holds a feast for his friends, after which the entire local Jewish community go to the bride's house, and escort her to the house of one of her other relatives. At this house they are served coffee while they wait for the evening (this is the end of the Shabbat, in Jewish tradition), at which point they then take the bride to yet another house; here they eat and drink until after midnight, then disperse, leaving the bride there.
Timing of the wedding
In the classical era, it was considered preferable for virgins to be married on a Wednesday, and widows on a Thursday; later the traditional time for widows came to be Friday afternoon. This custom is still practiced in parts of the East, and in the Caucasus a bride is always married on a Wednesday. In other areas, such as among the Jews of the Punjab and of Cochin, the wedding is usually held on a Tuesday. In Sri Lanka, it is not held on a specific day of the week, instead being held exactly 10 days after the engagement. However, in all these traditions, it was also usual to try to avoid having multiple weddings on the same day, especially if one of the weddings involved a sibling of another.
Generally, marriages are held in the evening, but in Iraq it is customary for marriages to occur five hours before the sunset, and in a few locations the wedding is held in the morning.
In the Caucasus the bathing, which takes place in the sea (Caspian Sea or Black Sea), occurs immediately before the wedding procession; the bride and groom are individually lead to the sea from their respective homes, and back again, the bride being lead by girls, the groom by young men, and both being accompanied by music. In this tradition, when the bride has finished bathing, and combing her hair, the girls light lamps, and her mother gives her blessing to the marriage; when the groom is returning, a procession of girls meet him, proffering sweets, and holding branches to which coins and silk hankerchiefs have been affixed.
It is traditional for the bride and groom to fast during the wedding day; this tradition originates in the talmud, and is symbolic of their sins being forgiven (some talmudic opinions argue that the act of marriage causes all of a groom's sins to be forgiven). In the Middle Ages, it was argued that this was tantamount to treating the wedding day as a personal Yom Kippur; thus bride and groom sometimes include specific prayers for Yom Kippur in their afternoon prayers. However, Judaism traditionally bans fasting on certain days, including Rosh Hodesh or Hanukah, so the bride and groom would not fast if their marriage occurred on such a day.
In some eastern traditions the groom's hair is cut before the wedding; in Sri Lanka it is cut when the groom has his bath on the day before the wedding; in the Punjab, immediately before the wedding procession, it is shaved completely.
According to the accounts of the two most prolific literary prophets, respectively, the bride and groom wore special clothing during the act of marriage. The exact nature of this clothing isn't specified, and subsequent Jewish traditions vary substantially. One of the most distinct is perhaps that of Egypt, where an element of transvestitism is present; the bride wears a helmet and sword, while the groom and his male friends wear feminine garments and paint their finger-nails (which is not the normal custom for men there).
In Eastern Europe, prior to the holocaust, they mourned the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem - the bride wore a shroud under her celebratory clothing, and the groom wore a garment with an ash covered hood, which he placed over his head. Historically, these mourning garments were not worn at the start of the wedding; the bride was temporarily escorted home shortly after arriving at the wedding, so that she could put on the shroud under her robes; meanwhile, the groom placed the hood of his garment over his head (having previously not been wearing the hood), and covered it in ashes. In America and the modern State of Israel, many Jews of which have primarily European ancestry, the shroud (specifically, a kittel) is still worn by grooms, in Orthodox Judaism; unlike the historic tradition, the groom's men dress the groom in the shroud prior to the ceremony, and as hoods are not so common in modern formal wear, the ashes are placed on the groom's forehead, in these traditions.
In the areas of the Middle East and the Punjab, where people ordinarily walk barefoot, it is traditional for the hands and feet of specific participants to be coloured. In the Punjab the groom's hands and feet are coloured red, on the morning of the wedding, by his friends. In Iraq, the bride's palms and soles, and those of her friends, are coloured with henna, on the night before the wedding.
- Among the Cochin Jews, the groom traditionally wears a white turban, and the bride wears a finely made cap
- In the Punjab, the groom's turban is given to him by the bride. In return, the groom gives turbans to his friends and the bride's brothers.
- In the Caucasus, a rich groom is also obliged to give his bride enough money to make silk wedding-garments for the members of his household. If the bride's father is also wealthy, he too contributes to the cost of this manufacture. It is traditional for these newly made clothes to be inspected at noon on the wedding-day, by a male relative of the groom, some women, and a rabbi, which often leads to quarrels.
Prior to the first century, the bride and groom would also wear extremely extravagant garlands, but now it is only customary for the bride to wear a wreath, and for it to be a simple one made from myrtle.
Covering the bride
The biblical account of the marriage of Isaac and of Jacob, and Jeremiah, imply that when a bride was in the presence of her groom, she was covered in some way. This lasted from the period before the marriage, until the marriage procession had taken her to the groom's house
In particular, in Isaac's case the masoretic text describes the bride as having taken ...her [tsa'iph] and covered herself. The Hebrew term tsa'iph has often been assumed to refer to a veil, and early English translations rendered it as such, but scholars now regard it as referring to a large, square, body wrapping; in the ancient Septuagint, it is rendered theristron, which refers to a specific light summer garment (but literally means sickle). In Sri Lanka, it is still traditional for the bride to be wrapped in a large cloth, but in several other places, including America and the modern State of Israel, a small veil is now used, and among the Cochin Jews it is merely achieved by the bride arriving under a parasol (carried by her father, if possible).
Among those Jewish communities which like commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, it is traditional for the bride's covering to not contain any silver or gold strands, on account of this. According to the Talmud, the Jewish brides of pre-Islamic Arabic wore something which resembled the modern Arabic niqab; it covered the whole face, except for the eyes.
Once the bride was married, it appears that she was originally still expected to be covered in public; the First Epistle to the Corinthians implies that it was in the first century that the custom became unfashionable, a turn of events with which the Epistle's author expresses repugnance. The Talmud, which was constructed in the late 5th century, reports that only the Jewish brides in Arabia continued to wear a covering after marriage. In many Jewish communities, even in Sri Lanka, the bride is now only covered during part of the marriage ceremony (see below).
The bride has a ritual bath up to two days before the wedding, typically during the night. In a few traditions, the groom also ritually bathes, or has an ordinary bath, before the wedding. The ritual bathings typically take place in a mikveh, and are frequently the cause for further festivities and ceremony. In Sri Lanka the bathing is traditionally spread over the three days prior to the wedding;
- On the first evening, the bride takes a normal bath, assisted by women singing;
- On the second evening the bride is lead, accompanied by music, to a mikveh. After her ritual bathing a rabbi sings a song, and a torah-scroll, opened at the Ethical Decalogue, is presented to her; she is expected to kiss it while averting her eyes (usually by covering them with her hand). The wedding guests, having gathered near her, then sing songs, suitable for the occasion, and eat; the guests subsequently leave after washing their hands.
- On the third day - the day before the wedding - the wedding guests gather for two different meals, between which the groom takes his bath, and changes into his new clothes. When the groom arrives at the second meal (the ajni), the guests sing an appropriate psalm, and then bless him, before he can sit down. After the meal, a rabbi sings a traditional song, and each guest gives a different blessing.
The Act of Marriage
|It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article titled Nissuin. (Discuss)|
The biblical portrayal of the marriages of Isaac and of Samson suggest that marriage (nissu'in) could occur at any point after the betrothal (erusin), including immediately afterwards, whenever the groom desires; the betrothal, after all, is merely a purchase (in the biblical portrayal). In the classical era, the intervening period of time was standardised, and fixed by the Talmud at 30 days; an exception to this was marriage to an under-age virgin, for whom the period between betrothal and marriage was fixed at 12 months (this does not always equate to 1 year; in the Jewish Calendar, some years have 13 months), even if she was still a child at that point.
In the biblical account of Samson's marriage, and a poetic description of the process in the Book of Canticles, the act of marriage is fairly basic, primarily consisting of the groom merely fetching the bride. This is similar to the act of marriage in the adjacent Arabic culture, in the pre-Islamic period, although for the Israelites (unlike the Arabs) it had developed a festive character. The biblical accounts imply that among the Israelites, the act of fetching the bride took the form of a festive procession from the home of the groom to that of the bride, and back again, accompanied by the bride during the latter journey; in later Jewish weddings, this was often quite an elaborate event.
The bible does not mention whether anything significant happened at the point in the procession when the groom first meets the bride, but in later Judaism this point became the occasion of a formal marriage ceremony (see below). The bible does, however, mention another prominent event associated with the marriage act: a wedding feast, which potentially lasted for several days. The account of the marriage of Samson, implies that this occurred in the house of the groom, after he had fetched the bride.
Companions and Guests
The account of Samson's marriage, in the Book of Judges, suggests that the groom was accompanied in the procession by his friends. Similarly, a psalm suggests that the bride was accompanied by her friends.
This continues to be the custom in most areas, but in some the bride is accompanied by a close male relative(s); among the Cochin Jews, for example, it is traditional for a bride to be accompanied by her father. In the Caucasus, however, the tradition is for the bride's parents to stay at home, mourning the loss of their daughter (to the groom); here, the bride is customarily accompanied by her brothers, or if she has no brother, then by her uncle.
Historically, a rabbi was not required at the marriage, although after the 14th century, the presence of one became customary in some areas. In fact, it was usual for an entire Jewish community to be invited to the marriage. In mediaeval Eastern Europe the invitation was made on the morning of the marriage itself, by the schulklopfer. A more elaborate invitation is traditional in the Caucasus; on the morning of the shabbat preceding the marriage, the bride's friends, including at least five adults, wear the bride's clothes, and go from house to house leaving invitations to the feast, being given either sugar, coffee, apples, or eggs, at each.
In modern times, if the groom or the bride has come from a broken or scandalous home, or is a convert to Judaism, it is now sometimes customary for them to be accompanied by an upstanding, righteous couple from their local Jewish community.=
The marriage procession
Historically, the procession usually took place on foot, although the bride herself was occasionally carried. In Sri Lanka it is still usual for a bride to be carried by litter. In the Caucasus, the bride departs on a horse, lead by a relative of the groom, and a mirror (facing her) is carried in front of her.
The procession traditionally occurred in the evening, and in most locations this is still the case; consequently, it is traditional for the procession to be artificially lit. In Roman Palestine, the Jewish tradition was for the lighting to be achieved by means of candles, carried by young girls, and this remained the tradition in mediaeval Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. In the Punjab the lighting is achieved by means of torches, and in Iraq (prior to the American Invasion) it was achieved by lamps, carried by paupers (who were paid for the service). In Arabia the Jewish custom is to affix a light to a long pole, and carry it at the head of the procession.
Breaking the glass
Once the offer has been made (and the bride has accepted, where this is viewed as necessary), it is customary in some areas, including the Caucasus, for the groom to smash the wine vessel; in the Caucasus the vessel is first wrapped in a cloth, and then broken while the bride and groom are each holding an end of the cloth, but the groom stepping on the glass is the most common custom. Among non-traditionalists, the glass may be replaced with some other glass object, such as a lightbulb.)
Breaking a glass has been a Jewish tradition since the first millennium. The act was greeted by those present exclaiming that this is the sign; the resulting shards were often collected by girls for luck. The exact origin of this custom is shrouded in mystery, and various explanations of this custom exist:
- It is a reminder that despite the joy there are still things to mourn - namely the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
- It is a reminder to maintain proper decorum even during great celebration, and that it derives from the medieval interpretation, recorded in the Tosafot, of a Talmudic tale; in the tale, the guests at the wedding of a Rabbi's son began to get carried away by their celebrations, at which point the Rabbi brought out a crystal glass, and broke it in front of them. This principle may be related to the belief that it is best to avoid tempting fate to spoil one's joy. This implies that the custom did not exist prior to the medieval era, or at least not before the Talmudic tale.
- It is a reminder of the broken and fragmentary nature of reality, and hence a reminder to engage in spiritual repair of the world; this is the Kabbalistic explanation, and therefore implies the custom did not exist prior to Kabbalah.
Music and dance
In modern times, it is customary for the procession to be accompanied by music; scholars think it likely that this was also the case in the marriage processions of the ancient Israelites. In the (rare) event of the wedding occurring on a Shabbat - a day on which Jews traditionally did not work - non-Jews were employed to play the music; in a similar way, it was historically the case for Christians to deliberately employ Jewish musicians for certain festive occasions.
In the classical era, the procession also involved dancing - even the most dignified scholars would dance. In some areas, dancing is still part of the procession; in Spain, the women of the bridal procession still dance. The traditional Spanish bridal procession (of a Jewish wedding) is also accompanied by mime-artists, and armed riders, both of which are generally located at the head of the procession.
In the classical tradition, it was also common for nuts and flowers to be strewn in the groom's path; this custom, which was a fertility symbol, was copied from Persia (possibly being adopted by the Jews during the babylonian captivity). In mediaeval Eastern Europe, this evolved into wheat and coins being thrown over the bride and groom at the point at which they meet each other (afterwards, the coins were given to the poor). In the Caucasus, it is rice, and it is only thrown during the part of the procession following the bride meeting the groom.
In Iraq, before the American Invasion, it was the custom to throw live sheep at the groom during the procession; for each sheep he treads on the head of, he must pay its owner a fine (hence paupers usually performed this ritual). Animal-based fertility symbols also feature in other locations: in early classical Jerusalem, two hens were carried in the front of the procession; in other parts of the east the couple must jump over a fish (contained in a vessel).
Formal marriage ceremony
In most parts of the bible, there is no mention of a formal marriage ceremony. However, in the Book of Tobit (which is not regarded as valid by Judaism), which was written after the babylonian exile, and is regarded by most religious denominations as Apocryphal, there is mention of a marriage contract (the ketubah); in this book's account of Tobias' marriage, once the marriage contract has been signed, the bride's room is prepared for the consummation of the marriage, which implies that signing the contract constituted an act of marriage.
In later Judaism, it generally became the custom that once the groom's marriage procession had reached the bride, there would be a formal marriage ceremony, in which the giving of the marriage contract, by the groom to the bride, played a significant part. Often, the subsequent consummation also formed part of the ceremony, at least symbolically.
It is customary in several locations, including Asia Minor and South Asia, for another house to be loaned to the bride for the occasion, if necessary; in these situations, the marriage procession heads to such a 'wedding-house', rather than the home of the bride.
An alternative to borrowing another house, was to hold the ceremony in the open air; some weddings were evidently celebrated in this manner. Although the Talmud subsequently protests against doing this, Jewish weddings were still occasionally held in the open air during the Middle Ages. The custom later came to be interpreted as a symbolic reference, to the biblical account of Yahweh telling Abraham that he should look up and count the stars, as his children would be that numerous. In modern times, many Hasidic Jews prefer to conduct the entire ceremony outdoors.
In other areas, following the invention of synagogues, the formal marriage ceremony often came to be held in one. Sri Lanka, though, exhibits an intermediate tradition: there, the tradition is for the procession to travel to the 'wedding-house' via a synagogue, at which the groom, and his best men, merely light four candles.
In some such areas, including mediaeval Germany, the marriage procession came to travel via a synagogue, before collecting the bride, and deposited the groom there; after the procession had collected the bride, it would return via the synagogue, the marriage ceremony being held on its arrival; it would then continue to the groom's house, taking the bride and groom with it.
In the other areas which came to hold the formal ceremony in a synagogue, the procession came to be split; instead of the procession taking the groom to the synagogue and then collecting the bride, one procession would take the groom to the synagogue, and a different procession would take the bride there. Among the Cochin Jews, the custom is for the bride to be called to the synagogue (by the use of trumpets, shouting, and drums), by the groom's procession, once it arrives there. In the Caucasus, however, the tradition is for the two processions to be completely independent of each other. In both cases, the two processions are combined at the end of the formal ceremony, for the procession away from the synagogue.
In synagogue-based marriages, it is sometimes customary for the ceremony to coincide with the morning or evening prayer service (as appropriate to the time of day). In such a case the prayer service is usually performed between the arrival of the groom and that of the bride.
It is often customary, in a synagogue-based marriage ceremony, for the bride and groom to sit beside the Ark of the law or the bemah. Sometimes it is traditional, in a synagogue-based marriage ceremony, for the bride to be seated to the right of the groom or of the Ark; this is an obscure reference to a psalm containing the line upon thy right hand did stand the queen (in the masoretic text, the last letter of each of these words, in reverse order, spells the Hebrew word for bride).
Signing of the marriage contract
Before the ceremony, the ketubah is signed by the groom and two witnesses. Under the huppa, it is read out by the presiding rabbi or another designated person and then handed to the bride. In some communities, the groom announces here is your ketubah as he hands it over.
In the Indian subcontinent, a presiding official (Hazzan or rabbi) symbolically obligates the husband to fulfil his duties specified in the ketubah, by making him take hold of the presiding official's outer garment, either once or thrice; the traditions vary in regard to whether this occurs just after the ketubah is handed over (as among the Cochin Jews), or just before it is (as among the Jews of Sri Lanka).
The nuptual chamber and canopy
Historically, as with many cultures, additional significance and ritual was associated with the first sexual intercourse, after marriage, between the spouses; in the adjacent Arabic culture, this historically took place in a special tent, and among the Israelites this tent appears to have evolved into a booth (see below), known as a huppah (also spelt with a leading c and/or without the final 'h', depending on dialect; the plural is huppot/chuppot).
This tradition appears to be referenced by the second part of the account of the heresy of Peor, in which a man is described as taking a woman into the alcove of a tent, for the implied purpose of sexual intercourse. The word used for alcove, by the masoretic text of this passage, is kubbah, from which the English word alcove itself ultimately derives (via the Arabic al-kobbah), but textual scholars suspect that this occurrence is merely a corruption of the word huppah (the phonetic difference between the words is mainly just voicing).
With the development of the formal marriage ceremony, isolation of the bride and groom in the huppah came to be a part of this formal event. In those traditions where the ceremony came to be held in a special venue, rather than bride's or groom's home, the huppah often came to be symbolically represented at the venue. In medaeval Christian weddings, a piece of cloth was spread over the bride and groom; a few centuries later, it was customary for Jews living in Christian areas of Europe to form a huppah from a garment still being worn by the groom, such as his tallit (a prayer shawl designed to specific ritual rules), or the cowl of his hood (particularly in mediaeval eastern Europe, in which cowled hoods were commonly worn).
Later, the symbolic huppah took the form of an elaborate tent-like structure; this is essentially a rectangular sheet, or large tallit (a prayer shawl designed to specific ritual rules), supported/stretched by four poles (one at each corner). Typically it would be large enough to accommodate additional people - not just the bride and groom, but also the witnesses, and/or the presiding official (where there is one) together with some of his assistants. In many of the traditions that use this type of huppah, it is customary to have open sky exactly above it; thus the ceremony, in these traditions, is often held in a courtyard, or in a hall in which a special opening has been built into the roof.
Historically, the bride and groom only entered the nuptial chamber at the end of the marriage procession, once the guests had been fed. Consequently, in areas where a symbolic huppah was in use, the bride and groom were only isolated in it (or at least under it) at the end of the formal ceremony, once the bride has been given the marriage contract (ketubah); this is still the tradition among Orthodox Jews in America and the modern State of Israel. However, in several areas, including Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, it later became customary for the entire marriage ceremony to occur under the huppah.
In modern times, many Jews regard sexual connotations of the huppah with disfavour, instead offering alternative interpretations. The most popular is that it represents the couple setting up a house together. Other suggestions include that it is a reminder of the tent of Abraham - which is alleged to have been open on all four sides as an invitation to guests -, or that it represents the presence of God at the ceremony (or at least its allegedly divine origins, and those of the institution of marriage as a whole). Nevertheless, one psalm uses the word huppah to denote a bridegroom, much like the Hebrew word for marriage bed ( 'eres ) being closely related to that for bridegroom ( 'arris ).
Unveiling of the bride
It is traditional for the bride to wear a veil as she is escorted to the huppa. The veil is lifted during the marriage ceremony when the bride sips from the wine. Before the ceremony, a Badeken ceremony may be held in which the groom is brought to the bride accompanied by joyous singing, and he lifts the veil to ascertain the identify of his bride.;
The Wedding Blessings
In the seventh century, it was traditional for seven specific wedding blessings to be said at the groom's house, and at the house where the bride had spent the night previous to the marriage; this is still the tradition among Jews in some parts of Asia, but in most regions the wedding blessings are now said at the end of the formal marriage ceremony. However, if the bride and groom have both been previously married, only three blessings are recited
If there is a presiding officer (a Hazzan or Rabbi), it is they who pronounce the seven blessings, but otherwise they are sung by the wedding guests en-masse, unless someone is specifically invited, as an honour, to pronounce them. In many traditions, the groom, and (if there is one) the presiding officer, hold a cup or glass of wine during these blessings, and drink from it either after each blessing, or after all seven.
Traditions vary as to whether additional songs are sung before the seven blessings; some traditions (including some of those which sing before these blessings) add a final song or psalm after the seven blessings.
In the Middle Ages, the gap between betrothal and marriage gradually became unfashionable; consequently it is now the custom in most Jewish communities for the marriage to follow the betrothal immediately. In practice, this means that these Jewish communities prefix the betrothal ritual to the formal marriage ceremony. In these combined ceremonies, the offer of the mohar begins the formal ceremony, the wine vessel is then broken (or the bride drinks some of the wine), and these are immediately followed by the handing over of the marriage contract, and the rest of the formal marriage ceremony.
Household dominance and property ownership rituals
In many areas, there exists a superstitious belief that if the bride is able to place her feet on the groom's feet, during the seven blessings, she will have mastery over the couple's household (and vice-versa).
In mediaeval Eastern Europe, however, the result was already fixed by custom: here, when the couple reach the groom's house, at the end of the marriage procession, it was traditional for the groom to place the bride's hand on the upper doorposts of the front door; this act signified that the bride had been made mistress of the house. A similar ritual exists in the Caucasus: after the procession, when the bride reaches the house, it is traditional for honey to be smeared on the doorposts, and for the men of the procession to then discharge their pistols.
In some areas, it is traditional for the groom to attend the morning prayer service at a synagogue, on the Sabbath following the wedding. When the groom returns to the bride, after this service, it is sometimes customary for him to hand his mantle, girdle, and hat, to his bride; the purpose of this was to signify that the bride had the right to share the groom's property.
In the biblical account of Jacob's marriage, and in that of Samson's, the celebration of the marriage is implied to last for a week. In later Judaism, the standard duration for marriage feasting also came to be a week, usually beginning on the evening following the wedding. However, in the Punjab it begins on the next Shabbat to occur after the wedding. In the Caucasus, it is held during the week prior to the wedding; here, the wedding night itself is the last day of the week, and on that day there is only a simple meal for the wedding guests, unaccompanied by music.
As the number of guests at the marriage could be quite large, it is now customary in some areas for the feast(s) to be held in a suitably large alternate venue, rather than the groom's house. Among the Cochin Jews, for example, it is traditional for the largest house in the local Jewish community to be loaned to the couple, without charge, to be used for the wedding feasts. In areas where it is customary to hold a formal marriage ceremony in the bride's house, or in a house specially loaned for the purpose, these venues are sometimes also used for the feasting; in such cases, which include the traditions of Iraq (prior to the American Invasion) and Sri Lanka, the marriage procession does not travel beyond the bride's house once it arrives - for these places, there is no procession after the formal marriage ceremony.
As with many cultures, most of the costs of the feast are now usually borne by the bride's father. Among the Cochin Jews, the groom's father supplies the wine and meat; this traditionally including an amount of beef equivalent to forty cows, which is given entirely to the servants (the guests eat poultry). However, the Cochin Jews are magnanimous with their wealth; if the fathers in question are poor, rich members of the local community provide anything which the fathers cannot afford.
The week of feasting in detail
During the wedding night meal, the men and women are sometimes customarily segregated; among the Cochin Jews the men sit on one side of the bride and groom, while the women sit on the other; in the Caucasus, the women eat in a completely different room to the men. After the second century, it became customary for the groom to give a Talmudic discourse (Hebrew: derashah) at this meal. A religious speech might additionally be given by a rabbi at this point. In eastern Europe, before the holocaust, a jester (Yiddish: marschalik) might also give a serious speech at this feast; jesters were still typically present even in the late 19th century. Plays are also sometimes performed.
The first day of the feast week (the wedding night in many places, but 6 days before it in the Caucasus) is usually an occasion for dancing. The tradition of the Caucasus is quite distinctive in this respect; the groom holds a feast for his friends, and sends meat and rice-flour to the bride and her friends. But the rice-flour is not for eating; the Caucasian bride and her friends go out and sprinkle it on young people, who dance while other youths clap (musically).
On the Shabbat during the feast-week there is usually another large feast (in the Punjab, this is the first day of feasting). In addition to the meal, this is often includes music/singing by the women, and sometimes (as among the Cochin Jews) dancing by the men, before and/or after the meal. For the Cochin Jews it is also traditional for the bride to dress grandly for this feast, wearing a wreath of pearls on her head, with a throne behind her.
On the last day of the feast-week, it is traditional to hold yet another large feast; in the Caucasus this is held on the penultimate day (the final day of the week, in the Caucasus, is the wedding day).
Feasts are not always held on the other days of the feast-week, but when they are they are usually small. In the Caucasus, for example, the fourth day (which is usually a Sunday) is the occasion for the bride to hold a small feast just for her friends, while the groom holds one for his.
It is in keeping with the joyous occasion of a wedding that the invitees dance in front of, entertain and praise the new couple. During the main feast, there are several dances; many traditional dances exist:
- A dance in which the bride and groom hold opposite corners of a handkerchief while they are lifted up on chairs by the guests and whirled around.
- The Krenzl, in which the bride's mother is crowned with a wreath of flowers as her daughters dance around her (traditionally at the wedding of the mother's last unwed daughter).
- The Mizinke, a dance for the parents of the bride or groom when their last child is wed.
- The gladdening of the bride, in which guests dance around the bride, and can include the use of "shtick"—silly items such as signs, banners, costumes, confetti, and jump ropes made of table napkins.
- The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance in front of the bride (or sometimes with the bride in the case of a father or grandfather), often holding a gartel, and then dancing with the groom. At the end the bride and groom dance together themselves.
Form of songs
In the first century, passages from the Book of Canticles were sung at a few banquets; this text is widely regarded as erotic love-poetry, and parts of it might even be constructed from ancient wedding songs. A few traditional wedding songs are still based on passages from this book. A popular choice is Aishet Chayil, sung to the bride by the groom, accompanied by his friends.
Following the precedent set by the riddle in the Biblical account of Samson's wedding, it is also traditional for some wedding songs to take the form of riddles; in mediaeval Europe such songs were often improvised by a jester. Derived from this tradition is the custom of singing songs containing acrostics, particularly acrostics of the names of the prominent figures from the Book of Genesis whose marriages it partly describes.
Mournful songs are also sometimes customary. The Talmud contains mournful wedding-songs grieving about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; wedding-songs of this nature, written by Judah ha-Levi are still sung in the Punjab on the Shabbat preceding the wedding. Similarly, as the fate of Jewish communities in the Middle Ages became more unpleasant, the songs composed in the groom's honour became more solemn and less joyful.
The biblical accounts indicate that the consummation of the marriage was in the household of the bridegroom; as with the adjacent Arabic culture, this was regarded as the most civilised arrangement.
Early nomadic communities practised a form of marriage known as beena, in which a wife would own a tent of her own, within which she retains complete independence from her husband; although this independence faded in later Arabic society, it remained traditional for the wife to have such a tent on the first night of the marriage, in which the consummation takes place. This latter tradition appears to be the background context of the pitching of a tent in the biblical account of Absalom's sexual activity with David's concubines.
The original meaning of the Hebrew word for a marriage bed ( 'eres ) is uncertain, but its Arabic cognates appear to suggest that it was some form of booth (perhaps like a four poster bed with curtains), and hence derived from the marriage tent; the Arabic term 'irris means thicket, and the Arabic term 'arrasa means booth-making.
Isolation (Hebrew:yichud) of the bride and groom, in a private room on their own, still forms a key moment of the act of marriage; it is regarded as imperative that a certain amount of time is allowed to elapse while the couple are isolated like this, in order for the marriage to be valid.
In the Caucasus, after the meal after the wedding, the bride is secluded in a room and the groom is led to her. After a suitable amount of time, he is called out of the room by young men symbolically discharging their pistols; these men are given a cock and hen by the bride's mother (otherwise the men steal all of her chickens). The bride and groom are then given fruit, which they eat in the bride's room.
Among the Cochin Jews, the groom goes to the bride on the day after the marriage ceremony. The bride wears a white gown for this, and once the groom has gone, the gown is taken away by other women. Having examined the dress, the elder women gather on the following day to pass judgement on the bride's virtue.
The biblical account of the marriages of Isaac and of Jacob, indicate that in the early first millennium BC it was sometimes (but not always) customary for the bride to also be given presents (Hebrew: mattan). Although in the account of Isaac's wedding these are given at the betrothal, as if they were an act confirming the betrothal arrangement, in the account in the Book of Judges of the wedding of Samson, these are clearly a morgengabe (a gift given by the groom to the bride, on the morning after the marriage is consummated). It is thought by scholars to be extremely likely that the gifts in Isaac's case was also ultimately derived from a tradition of giving morgangabes; among Arabs it was traditional for a morgangabe (known as the tsadak), to be given.
In some Jewish traditions, wedding gifts are given by the groom to his bride after the day of the marriage; in the Punjab, for example, they are given during a feast on the Friday after the betrothal (Friday being the day before the next Shabbat). However, in most Jewish traditions, it became customary for prominent members of the local Jewish community to take the groom's gift(s) to the bride, on the day before the betrothal.
In mediaeval Eastern Europe, the traditional gifts were, like those at non-Jewish weddings, clothes - girdle, veil, mantle, and wreath; later these also included a prayer-book, known as a siflones (this word is a corruption of symbolum, a loan-word from Latin, meaning symbol), which was inscribed with the phrase Love, fraternity, peace, and good-fellowship. Among the Jews of Greece and western Anatolia, a ring was additionally included. In Sri Lanka, however, it is customary for the gifts to include gold and silver objects, which the bride subjects to examination by a goldsmith, to ensure they are each worth at least the same as the peruta.
The Dowry, and gifts for the groom
In most parts of the Bible, there is no indication that the concept of a dowry existed. It is true that in the account of Jacob's weddings, his two brides are each given slaves (some translations render handmaidens) by their father, and in the accounts of Othniel's marriage to Caleb's daughter, she is given a whole city - Debir - by her father, but these gifts remain the personal property of the bride, and do not pass to the groom.
However, in books written after the babylonian captivity, such as Tobit and Ecclesiasticus (both of which are usually regarded as apocrypha), dowries appear, and it is mentioned that some women had enough wealth to support their husbands. But in the classical era it was still frowned upon both to marry a woman for her wealth; this continued to be the attitude of respected rabbis in the Middle Ages.
In mediaeval times, it had become the custom in some Jewish communities for a bride to give a gift to her groom. Traditionally this was a ring, and some shoes; later it became a tallit (a prayer shawl designed to specific ritual rules) and a shroud. In Poland, before the holocaust, the groom was also given a special type of cake (chosenbrod) each time he visited his bride. In the Caucasus, in the 19th century, instead of the bride and groom giving each other gifts, other people bring gifts to the couple. These are traditionally made only from gold, and are presented at the meal on the night of the betrothal; each gift-giver is blessed by a presiding rabbi.
Reading about Isaac's marriage
On the next Shabbat after the wedding, it was traditional for the biblical account of Isaac's marriage to be read to the groom, usually at the synagogue, during the morning prayer service. This tradition ceased within Europe during the seventeenth century (and hence it is not customary in America), but in Asia it continues, sometimes with slight variations; in Asia Minor it is repeated in Arabic (except among migrants to the modern state of Israel, and their descendants); in Sri Lanka it is recited by the groom; in the Punjab it is read on the Shabbat before the wedding.
- Jewish view of marriage
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage", a publication now in the public domain. Cite error: Invalid
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- This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "MARRIAGE", a publication now in the public domain.
- Homer, Illiad 18:593
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage laws", a publication now in the public domain.
- Kiddushin (Tosefta) 9a
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage ceremonies", a publication now in the public domain.
- Salomon Rinman, Mas'ot Shelomoh, 1884
- Choshmas Adam 129:16
- Choshmas Adam 129:13
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 148:4
- Kiddushin 41a
- Sefer Taamei Haminhagim 967
- Joseph Judah Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot, 1884 (published posthumously)
- Sefer Haminhagim (Lubavitch), page 79
- Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. Made in Heaven, page 67.
- Yebamot 63a
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 146:1
- Choshmas Adam 129:1
- Responsa Maharam Mintz 109
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 146:4
- Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer Moses Isserles 61:1
- Orach Chayim 573:1
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 147:4
- Choshmas Adam 129:17
- This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "VEIL (VAIL)", a publication now in the public domain.
- Paul de Lagarde, Semitica (1878), 24
- Genesis 24:65, LXX
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 126:2
- Shabbat 65a
- Ketubot 57b
- William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 81
- (verse 15 in some english versions)
- http://clevelandjewishnews.com/articles/2009/11/10/weddings_magazine/doc49833257b8efb451184459.txt Get smashed… & mazel tov
- Berakhot (Tosefta) 31a
- Berakhot 31a
- Gittin 57; the district of Jerusalem appears there under the name tur Malka, an archaic Aramaic transliteration of the phrase Har HaMelech, meaning hill of the king
- King James Version, this appears as verse 9 instead ; note that in the
- William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 167-168
- William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 291
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- Chochmas Adam 129:1
- Levush, Even Haezer 54:1
- Vilna Gaon, Even Haezer 55:9.
- Aruch Hashulchan, Even Haezer 55:18.
- ; note that in some English versions this appears as verse 6 instead
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- Even Haezer, Ramoh 31:2
- Tosafot Talmud Yoma, 13b, "ulechada"
- Choshmas Adam 129:4
- Choshmas Adam 129:3
- Choshmas Adam 129:6
- Sanhedrin (Tosefta) 12
- Sanhedrin 101a
- Peake's commentary on the Bible, s.v. The Song of Solomon
- Julius Wellhausen, Die Ehe bei den Arabern, in Goettingische Gelehrte Anzeigen (1893), p. 442
- This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "TENT", a publication now in the public domain.
- Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 148:1
- This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "GENESIS", a publication now in the public domain.; under section 6, 'Age of J and E...'
- Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (1997)
- Kiddushin 70a
- Shulchan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 3, 1 (gloss by Moses Isserles)
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