The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is composed of a few fundamental elements, which are essential for a valid binding ceremony, and of many aspects, which are simply a matter of custom. The core of the ceremony is comprised of the signing of the ketubah, the blessings of betrothal and marriage, the giving of a ring to the bride, and the presence of kosher witnesses. It has become an established custom in Jewish communities that a rav should officiate at the ceremony. All other customs (eg. having a chuppah, reading the ketubah aloud, the presence of guests, breaking a glass, walking around the groom, and– according to some opinions – even having a veil and a yichud room) are in effect a matter of your personal decision and tastes, in accordance with your officiating rav. The following is a generalized description of the ritual; there are slight differences from place to place, from rabbi to rabbi and from community to community. If you inquire within your communities and families, you are sure to hear about additional customs, which you can certainly adopt.
Signing of the Ketubah
The first stage of the ritual, generally performed before the wedding, is the signing of the ketubah. This stage takes about a quarter of an hour and is done around a table at the edge of the reception area. Seated around the table are the groom, the officiating rabbi, the two witnesses and, at times, also the fathers, grandfathers and additional guests. Women are not restricted from sitting at the table if they so desire. The rabbi reviews the ketubah with the groom, fills in missing details such as the precise names, location and timing, and has the witnesses sign (and usually the groom as well). Before the signing the rabbi gives the groom a handkerchief; the groom holds it in his right hand, lifts it and returns it to the rabbi. This symbolic gesture, called kinyan sudar “purchase through a shawl,” concretizes the groom’s acceptance of the obligations in the ketubah.
Take note: The ketubah is a legal document, and as such, it must be completed with precision together with the Rav. You should fill in the Hebrew date of the wedding ceremony (which changes at nightfall), the place of the wedding, and the sum which both sides have agreed to. You must also include the full names of the groom and the witnesses, including their middle names and accepted nicknames, and the name of the groom’s father (and mother) (eg. Michael Joseph Mickey the son of Shmuel Moshe Kohen and Sarah). While the groom and his entourage are dealing with the ketubah, the bride generally continues receiving the guests
Escorting the C ouple to the Canopy and Covering of the Bride
It is customary that the couple does not proceed alone to the canopy but is escorted by a group of friends and well-wishers, much like a king to his coronation. Sometimes the couple proceeds together to the canopy, and sometimes they are escorted one after the other, with the groom going first, escorted by his friends and guests with singing and dancing. On his two sides are his escorts, his own parents, or the two fathers (his and hers) symbolizing the sequence of generations and continuity. In the absence of parents (or sometimes, when the parents are divorced), others are given the honor of leading. Some observe the custom of giving the escorts lit candles symbolizing the light and joy they wish the couple.
As the groom’s entourage proceeds, some have the custom that the bride sits on a bridal throne (generally an armchair bedecked with flowers and soft fabrics) with her escorts at her sides and her parents or the two mothers (at times, holding candlesticks). When the groom reaches the bride, he covers her face with the veil (a veil is a white transparent piece of cloth, which is long enough to cover the bride’s face and hair). This custom derives from the Bible, when Rebecca covered herself with a veil when she saw Isaac for the first time: “She took a veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:65). Some people have the custom that the rav, who follows behind the groom, blesses the bride with the blessing given to Rivka, at the time of her betrothal to Yitzchak: “Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands” (Genesis 24:60). If the couple is walking together to the canopy, they stop a moment before reaching the canopy, and the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil.
The groom’s covering of his bride’s face, just seconds before the chuppah, is a very emotional and moving moment. Some couples use the moment for declarations of love for each other, while others receive blessings at this time from parents or grandparents. These blessings can be personal and original, or the traditional one:
May the Lord bless you and watch over you.
May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace.
Couples who wish to add an element of reciprocity to the marriage ceremony sometimes use this moment for the bride’s giving of a present (a ring or otherwise) to the groom. Some people have the custom that the groom asks the bride to marry him at this time, and that she give her consent.
The groom and his entourage continue to the canopy and the bride remains seated in her chair. These moments are considered a “time of grace,” in which her prayers are received. Hence the custom has developed of placing notes in the bride’s hands with the names of people in need of healing or other special requests so that she can petition on their behalf. If the bride and groom are proceeding separately to the chuppah, the groom is left under the chuppah for a moment, and his friends return to escort the bride. Thechuppah, a canopy made out of a cloth curtain supported by four rods, symbolizes the home presently being established by the couple. The groom waits outside of this canopy for his bride to join him in their new home. The Ashkenazic custom is to set up the canopy outdoors, under the star-filled open sky, symbolizing abundant blessing and generations of descendants numerous like the stars.
Circling by the Bride
In some Ashkenazic communities, it is customary that the bride, having reached the chuppah, encircles the groom seven times (some have the custom to do three), accompanied by her mother and mother in law. These circles symbolize the growing bond between the couple and the hope for redemption represented by the verse ’A woman will circle a man‘ (Jeremiah 31:21). The seven circles symbolize the seven days of creation and the seven ways in which the bond of betrothal between Israel and God is expressed in Hosea 2:21–22: “And I will betroth you to me forever, and I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in judgment, in loyal love, and in mercy. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” These seven circles are also reminiscent of the seven times the Jewish people encircled Jericho upon entering the land, an act by which they were able to topple the walls. Therefore, the couple prays for success in breaking down the walls that divide them. After completing these circles, the bride stands to the right of the groom, with her parents (or both mothers) at her side. The groom’s parents (or both fathers) stand beside the groom, with the rav and the witnesses next to them.
The first part of the ceremony is the consecration (kiddushin) at which time the bride and groom commit themselves exclusively to each other. Contrary to the common misperception, the legal agreement made at this time does not involve a purchase of the wife by the husband, but rather relates to financial and marital obligations. The rabbi begins the ceremony with the blessing of betrothal over a cup of wine, a symbol of happiness and abundance:
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed women to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and consecration. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and consecration.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קְדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל הָעֲרָיוֹת, וְאָסַר לָנוּ אֶת הָאֲרוּסוֹת, וְהִתִּיר לָנוּ אֶת הַנְּשׂוּאוֹת לָנוּ עַל יְדֵי חֻפָּה וְקִדּוּשִׁין, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי, מְקַדֵּשׁ עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל יְדֵי חֻפָּה וְקִדּוּשִׁין
After reciting the bracha, the rav gives both the bride and groom to drink from the wine (it is customary that the mother of the bride give her daughter the cup).
The rav then asks the witnesses to approach the couple, shows them the ring, and sometimes even questions them and the groom regarding the value of the ring, the manner of its purchase, and the appointment of the witnesses. Despite the apparently active role of the rav, it is the bride and groom themselves who perform the act of kiddushin, with the rav and guests merely serving as their witnesses. The bride holds out her right index finger, and the groom recites the words of consecration and places the ring on her finger, in front of the witnesses. The rav customarily will tell the groom the words of the bracha before the groom recites them, so that he will say them precisely.
Behold, you are consecrated to me by means of this ring, according to the ritual of Moses and Israel
הֲרֵי אַתְּ מְקֻדֶּשֶׁת לִי בְּטַבַּעַת זוֹ כְּדַת משֶׁה וְיִשְׂרָאֵל
The “Shehechiyanu” Blessing and Donning the Tallit
The Shehechiyanu blessing is one articulated at moments of great joy. Some have adopted the custom of saying this blessing at the wedding. In Eastern communities, the groom purchases a new Tallit (or is given one by his wife or father-in-law), and says the blessing when he dons it for the first time. The bride may also say the blessing upon receiving the ring.
The groom or the couple: Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this point in time.
The Congregation: Amen
החתן או הזוג: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶּה
Reading of the Ketubah
At this point the officiating rabbi or one of the other guests to whom you have given this honor reads the ketubah. The ketubah may be read in Aramaic or in translation, according to the directive of the officiating rabbi. If you wish to have only part of the ketubah read, or none of it all, speak about this, in advance, with your officiating rav.
After the reading of the ketubah (or part of it), the reader passes it to the groom who hands it to the bride. The bride can entrust the ketubah to her mother or anyone else for safekeeping. Take good care of the ketubah and make sure not to lose it.
The Seven Marriage blessings
The marriage ceremony concludes with the recitation of the seven blessings. These blessings can be recited by the officiating rabbi or by guests (males above the age of 13) who you honor with their recitation. It is customary to announce the reader of each blessing, for example: “For the first and second blessings we honor So-and-so, the grandfather of the bride” (the first two blessings are customarily given to the same person). The texts of the blessings range from the creation of the world to the creation of man, the ingathering of the exiles and the love of the specific couple, thus establishing an analogy between the Creation and the great new creation, the establishment of a Jewish home:
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for His glory
ברוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהַכֹּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of his likeness and prepared for him – from himself – a building for eternity. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who fashioned the Man
ברוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמו, בְּצֶלֶם דְּמוּת תַּבְנִיתוֹ וְהִתְקִין לוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ בִּנְיַן עֲדֵי עַד, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם
Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gladdens Zion through her children
שׂוֹשׂ תָּשִׂישׂ וְתָגֵל הָעֲקָרָה, בְּקִבּוּץ בָּנֶיהָ לְתוֹכָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי מְשַׂמֵּחַ צִיּוֹן בְּבָנֶיהָ
Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gladdens groom and bride
שַׂמֵּחַ תְּשַׂמַּח רֵעִים הָאֲהוּבִים, כְּשַׂמֵּחֲךָ יְצִירְךָ בְּגַן עֵדֶן מִקֶּדֶם, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי מְשַׂמֵּחַ הֶחָתָן וְכַלָּה
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. Hashem, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gladdens the groom with the bride
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה, חָתָן וְכַלָּה, גִּילָה, רִנָּה, דִּיצָה, וְחֶדְוָה, אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה וְשָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת. מְהֵרָה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ יִשָּׁמַע בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְחוּצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָיִם, קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה, קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה, קוֹל מִצְהֲלוֹת חֲתָנִים מֵחֻפָּתָם וּנְעָרִים מִמִּשְׁתֵּה נְגִינָתָם, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי מְשַׂמֵּחַ הֶחָתָן עִם הַכַּלָּה
The Breaking of the Glass
According to the traditional custom, the ceremony concludes with the shattering of a glass, generally placed under the foot of the groom. The glass should be well wrapped to avoid injury. Before the breaking, the groom recites the verse recalling Jerusalem:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour (Psalms 137:6)
(אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָיםִ תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי, תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי, אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַים עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי. (תהלים קל”ז, 6)
The breaking of the glass is a moment of pause during the celebration and reminds the couple that though the private home is being built, the world still has destruction and evil; hence the celebration is not complete (the verse refers specifically to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem). According to Jewish tradition, it is the integration of the celebration and memory that restores balance to the world. This moment in the ceremony is an appropriate time to recall relatives who were unable to join the marriage celebration. Some people have the custom to read, at this point, the names of those who are missing, or to express hopes for peace. The prevalent custom, in which the groom shows how strong he is by smashing the glass as hard as possible, soliciting the applause of the guests, is clearly not in the spirit of the tradition.
At this point, the chuppah is generally over. If you wish, however, to add some personal or reciprocal touches, such as the giving of a ring to the groom, or speeches, you may add them here. You should, however, clear your plans with your rav, since some rabbis prefer that these additions take place either earlier or later on in the night.
A Mome nt of Intimacy – Yichud
After the ceremony, the couple is led to a private room for yichud (separation). Witnesses ascertain that the couple is indeed alone, and the couple emerges after a short while (minimum of seven minutes) to join the guests. Yichud symbolizes the shared home being established by the couple. This isolation also has the psychological value of giving the couple the opportunity to spend intimate time together before rejoining the celebration. It is customary to leave food in the room for the couple, especially when the couple has fasted on the wedding day. The first course will often be served to the guests while the couple is in the yichud room.
The wedding celebration
The formal ceremony is usually followed by a meal including food, song, dance, speeches, and creative programs as you see fit. If you prefer, you may certainly perform the marriage ceremony before a large crowd of people, while inviting only close friends and family to the meal.
Grace After Meals (Bircat Hamazon)
If you choose to recite Grace after Meals publicly at the end of the meal, you should choose someone in advance who will lead thebracha, and arrange to have benchers given out to all the guests. It is customary (particularly for Ashkenazim) to add the following paragraph to the Grace after Meals:
The leader: Banish pain and also wrath and then the mute will exult is song. Guide us in the paths of righteousness, accept the blessing of the children of Israel, the sons of Aaron. With the permission of those present let us bless our God in whose abode is joy and of whose food we have eaten.
The others: Blessed be our God in whose abode is joy and whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live.
The leader: Blessed be our God in whose abode is joy and whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live.
זמן: דְּוַי הָסֵר וְגַם חָרוֹן, וְאָז אִִלֵּם בְּשִׁיר יָרוֹן, נְחֵנוּ בְּמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק, שְׁעֵה בִּרְכַּת בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן. בִּרְשׁוּת מָרָנָן וְרַבָּנָן וְרַבּוֹתַי, נְבָרֵךְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁהַשִּׂמְחָה בִּמְעוֹנוֹ וְשֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלוֹ
קהל: בָּרוּךְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁהַשִּׂמְחָה בִּמְעוֹנוֹ וְשֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ
המזמן: בָּרוּךְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁהַשִּׂמְחָה בִּמְעוֹנוֹ וְשֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ
At the end of the Grace, it is customary to repeat the seven blessings said under the canopy though the first blessing (on the wine) is now recited last. The person leading the Grace may recite all these blessings, or six other people can be given the honor of each reciting a bracha. However, the leader should recite the final bracha on the wine. He then drinks some wine, and refills his cup of wine and give the new couple to drink, as a symbol of blessing and abundance.Addresses and Telephone Numbers
List of the Marriage Councils (Hebrew)
List of Ritual Baths (Hebrew)
Rabbis Authorized to Officiate at the Wedding Ceremony (Hebrew)