“The Marriage Ceremony”

by: Michael Kaufman

In: “Love, Marriage, And Family

New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc.  (1996)

pp. 171 - 192



The Structure of the Marriage Service


The Jewish marriage ceremony has undergone numerous changes over the course of the ages. The marriage customs and traditions of Jews are as many and varied as are the communities from which they originate, and they are principally inherited from their ancestors. Since marriage is a central event in the life of the Jew, it is natural that such a diversity of colourful customs evolved in the widely dispersed areas where Jews resided in the world, reflecting their different cultural experiences and backgrounds.

However, the basic elements of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony are similar everywhere. The traditional Jewish marriage service consists of two components: erusin, usually translated as betrothal, also known as kidushin (sanctification), and nisuin, literally, "elevation" or nuptials, that is, the marriage itself.

Originally erusin and nisuin were conducted at different times, sometimes as much as a year apart. Since medieval times, however, the two have been conducted in successive stages within a single marriage ceremony. The ceremonies were combined because of the expense involved in having two feasts. Another reason for combining the two was to minimize the temptation that might result from the long separation between betrothal and marriage. In some communities edicts were enacted in the late medieval period to enforce the joining of the two procedures.

The prime feature in the marriage solemnization is the placing of a ring on the bride's finger by the groom, accompanied by his recitation of the traditional Jewish espousal formula. The public reading of the ketubah, the marriage contract, upon the consummation of the erusin, serves as an interlude between the ceremonies of erusin and nisuin.

The recitation of the seven benedictions for the bride and groom, which constitutes the prime element of nisuin, terminates the second stage of the marriage ceremony and marks the beginning of their married life together.


The Wedding

The traditional Jewish wedding begins with separate simultaneous receptions by the groom and the bride for the wedding guests. The bride's reception is usually the livelier one. It is an old tradition, referred to in the Talmud, for the bride to sit on an attractive throne. Surrounded by her attendants, close family members, and friends, she receives guests and well-wishers. As the musicians play, her friends dance in front of her.

The groom's reception (Yiddish: hoson's tish) for men, is held at a table laden with food and drink. Seated adjacent to the groom are his father and the bride's father, surrounded by the rabbis. Around the table are male guests, relatives, and friends of the groom, who toast the groom and sing. Often, the room in which the groom's reception is held is where the late-afternoon Minhah prayer service takes place.

It is customary for a groom to deliver (or attempt to deliver) a learned discourse at the tish ("table"). But traditionally he is interrupted by his friends shortly after beginning, with lively singing and rhythmic clapping in which all present join to prevent him from continuing. This custom is not intended as an affront or as an act of disrespect to the groom, but is designed to protect the groom who may be less than scholarly, lest he be shamed on what should be his most joyous day.

In many hasidic circles, a badhan, or professional wedding jester, would be employed at the tish to entertain the assembled guests, by toasting the groom in rhymed couplets sung in traditional tunes.

The most crucial procedure at the groom's reception is the completion and validation of the ketubah, the marriage contract. The ketubah is carefully reviewed by the rabbi to determine that all details are correct.

The groom then formally accepts all the unilateral obligations to which he commits himself in the ketubah by executing a kinyan sudar, a traditional legal consent and agreement process. The officiating rabbi hands him a small article of clothing such as a handkerchief, and the groom, before two witnesses (who may not be close relatives of bride or groom), takes it and lifts it up symbolically to affirm consent, before returning it to the rabbi.

At the conclusion of this procedure, called kinyan, a scribe or the rabbi then adds to the end of the ketubah text the Aramaic word v'kanina (and we have properly concluded the legal act of transference), and the witnesses sign to affirm the groom's acceptance, through the act of kinyan, of all the conditions of the ketubah document, thereby validating the ketubah. In some communities, it is customary for the groom also to sign it.


The Veiling Ceremony

The groom is then escorted by his father and the bride's father, the rabbis, the dignitaries, and the others in his retinue, to the bridal reception area for the veiling ceremony, known in Yiddish as the badeken (Hebrew, hinuma). Accompanied by his friends, who dance and sing in front of him, the groom leads the procession to the bride. He approaches the bridal throne and covers the bride's face with a veil (Yiddish, dektich). He is then escorted back to the groom's reception room by the men, to prepare for the hupah ceremony.

The veiling ceremony dates back at least to early medieval times, and some find a reference to the custom in the Talmud. The reason for the ceremony is probably related to modesty; the veil symbolically represents the added level of modesty the bride is expected to adopt with her elevation to the married state. The Torah relates that when Rebecca saw her bridegroom Isaac coming toward her, “she took her veil and covered herself.” The badeken ceremony thus recalls to all Jewish brides the matriarch's gesture of modesty at seeing her bridegroom, inspiring them to emulate their biblical forebears and conduct themselves with an elevated level of modesty in their married lives.

Some ascribe the custom of the bride's veiling to her position of centrality at the wedding, and the possibility that some men, undisciplined in their thoughts, might cast lustful eyes at her. The veiling accordingly underscores that, from this day on, the beauty of the bride is reserved for her husband alone to appreciate.

Others see in the ritual a symbolic act directing attention away from the physical toward the spiritual at the wedding, constituting a public demonstration by the groom that his interest in the bride lies not in her beauty, but in the deeper, inner qualities of her character which, unlike her physical beauty, will not disappear in time.

There is also a rabbinic opinion that the tradition has a legal basis, as it symbolizes the groom's public obligation to clothe his wife, and is thus a procedure which is an integral part of the legal marriage process.

In some communities it is not the groom, but the rabbi who performs the veiling procedure. When the rabbi veils the bride, he often simultaneously recites to the bride the biblical blessing, “O sister! May you grow into thousands of myriads.”

The tradition of Hasidim and some Oriental Jews, and the old Jerusalem community, is for the veil to be opaque, to assure that the bride's entire face is covered for the wedding ceremony, so that she can neither see nor be seen.


The Wedding

When he returns to his reception room from the badeken, the groom is readied for the hupah ceremony by his attendants. As the groom, on his wedding day, is compared to a king, he does not don his garments as he does ordinarily, but is dressed by his attendants. The garment worn is usually a kittel, a simple white cotton robe.

It is customary for the groom to wear a white garment, a symbol of purity for this ceremony, to emphasize that this day is, for him, like Yom Kippur, when he is to repent, and be forgiven for all his sins. The prophet Isaiah declares, “If your sins are like scarlet, they shall become as white as snow.” For the same reason the bride wears white. The white garments serve as a symbolic reminder to bride and groom that they must henceforth take care to keep clear of sin, thereby fulfilling Solomon's directive in Ecclesiastes, “At all times take care that your garments be white.”

The white garments also signify that, apart from the commitment they make to each other on the day of their kidushin, they are also making a solemn commitment to G-d to conduct their lives in an elevated manner.

The kittel the groom dons is also reminiscent of the white shroud he will wear when he dies. It thus serves as a poignant reminder on the happiest day of his life of the eventual day of his death. This pointed recollection of his mortality on his wedding day is designed to bring him down to earth, to underscore that henceforth he should pursue a life of meaning, and not one of empty, petty desires.

There are no pockets in the kittel. Just as the absence of pockets in a shroud indicates that a person takes nothing material with him when he dies, the groom, wearing a pocketless kittel that is compared to a shroud, is reminded of this at his wedding. It also serves as a pointer to the bride that she accepts him for what he is, and not for his possessions. For the same reason it is customary in many circles for the bride not to wear jewelry at the hupah.

The Sages also see the kittel as a symbol that the bridal couple should view their marital bond as a lasting one, continuing until the day of their death.

In some circles, it is customary for the kittel to be worn under the groom's outer garments. In many areas it is customary for the attendants of the groom to place ashes on the groom's head at this time, in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is an ancient custom that is referred to in the Talmud. Some leave the ashes on only during the hupah ceremony, and remove them immediately thereafter.


The Hupah

The marriage ceremony is conducted under a marriage canopy, known in Hebrew as a hupah (literally, "covering"). It consists of a square cloth, usually made of silk or velvet, supported by four staves, and ordinarily held by four men. The hupah is mentioned in the Bible in association with marriage: “As a bridegroom goes forth from his hupah” (Psalms 19:6). Elsewhere it is stated: “Let the bridegroom proceed from his chamber and let the

bride go forth from the hupah” (Joel 2:15).

The hupah symbolizes the new home to which the bridegroom will take his bride. In this context, the appearance of the bride and groom together under a hupah before an assembly who have come to witness the event is in itself a public proclamation by them that they are now bonded together as man and wife. It is a prelude to intimacy, and thus a significant element in nisuin.

The cloth hupah was originally draped around the bride and groom but was later spread out over their heads. In some places, a tallit was draped over the couple or held above them. The single cloth under which the couple are joined thus symbolizes both the new household they are forming and represents the public recognition of their new status as man and wife. The canopy is considered an object of Jewish ceremonial art, and in accordance with the Jewish concept of hidur mitzvah (embellishing the precept), considerable attention is often lavished on it to create attractive hupot.

The Sages find a reference to the hupah in the talmudic passage in Avot (1:5) referring to the house which is open on four sides. The Jerusalemite R. Yosi ben Yohanan urges, “Let your house be wide open,” and compares the hupah to the tent of the patriarch Abraham that, according to Jewish tradition, had entrances on all four sides to welcome wayfarers, so that no traveller, no matter from which direction he came, need be burdened searching for an entrance door. The hupah, with four open sides, is thus a symbol of the Jewish home filled with hesed (acts of love), an important component of which is hachnasat orhim (hospitality to strangers), a mode of conduct that the newly married couple is expected to establish in their home in emulation of their patriarchal forebear, whose hospitality to strangers was legendary.

It is preferable for the hupah to be outdoors, under the stars, symbolizing the hopes that the couple will be blessed with a large family in conformity with G-d's blessing to Abraham:  “I will greatly bless you, and I will exceedingly multiply your children as the stars in heaven.” The Sages find an allusion to weddings being held outdoors in biblical times in Jeremiah's reference to “the sound of the bridegroom and the sound of the bride . . . in the cities of Judaea and in the courtyards of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 7:34).

Strong reservations have been raised in some circles about holding weddings in synagogues because irreverent revelry might result in the profanation of the sanctity of the synagogue. Nevertheless, it was customary in many areas for weddings to be held in the courtyard of synagogues. Indeed, many synagogues in Germany were constructed with a built-in treustein, or "marriage stone" at a corner of the structure facing the inner synagogue courtyard, which bore the initial Hebrew letters of the above verse from Jeremiah. In these communities, the culmination of the marriage ceremony was marked by the groom throwing a glass goblet and shattering it at the treustein. Some synagogues and wedding halls have a skylight which opens to allow the hupah ceremony to be conducted under the sky.


The Wedding Procession

Following the veiling ceremony, the couple are led to the hupah for the marriage ceremony. The groom arrives at the hupah before the bride. Since the hupah is considered the symbolic home of the groom, he must be there first to welcome his bride to his home. The tradition is said by some to go back to the very first wedding, when, the Torah says, G-d took Eve “and brought her to Adam.” Eve, since she was created after Adam, is considered in Jewish thought to represent a higher form of life than is Adam, since she was able to carry a foetus in her body. As the first one created, Adam is said to have been waiting under the hupah in the Garden of Eden when Eve was brought to him.

In some circles, it is customary for two people to lead the groom to the hupah to the accompaniment of appropriate music. In other circles, however, the groom is accompanied by a larger retinue, since the groom is likened to a king.

There are varying customs regarding who accompanies the principals to the hupah. Sometimes the groom is accompanied by his parents and the bride by hers. Indeed, this custom is cited by the Zohar, which says “the father and mother of the bride bring her to the domain of the groom.” However, there is no Jewish tradition of a father “giving away the bride.”

Among other groups, it is customary for the groom to be accompanied by the two fathers and the bride to be accompanied by the two mothers. Where the custom is for the principals to be accompanied by their parents, and the parents are divorced, great care should be taken that this should not become a source of aggravation in which one of the parents, out of pettiness or seeking to strike out at a former mate, refuses to accompany his or her child to the hupah if the other parent does so. No feelings of hurt or spite designed to hurt the child's other parent can excuse marring the supreme happiness of a son or daughter on a wedding day, and the marrying couple will probably always remember it as an act of supreme selfishness on the part of an immature parent.

It is an old custom for those escorting the bride and groom to the hupah to carry candles in order symbolically to light the way of the bride and groom as they begin their future life together. On a number of occasions the Talmud refers to candles or lamps in association with weddings.

Light is associated with joy in Jewish tradition. The Jews are described in the Book of Esther as having “light, joy, happiness and honor.” The joyous Sabbath and Jewish festivals are ushered in with lighted candles. At Israel's most joyous occasion, its “wedding” with G-d at the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the mountain was surrounded by fire and flashes of lightning. So, too, are Jewish brides and grooms accompanied by light and fire at their weddings. Braided havdalah candles are used, because their torchlike flickering lights are thought to most resemble the lightning at Sinai.

The Talmud says that the Hebrew words for man, ish, and woman, ishah, are identical, except for the letter yod in ish, and the letter hay in ishah. The two letters, yod and hay, together make up a name of G-d. This indicates, says the Talmud, that when there is love and harmony between a man and his wife, G-d is between them. But when there is dissonance and discord, G-d's name is removed, and what is left after the removal of the yod and hay is aish, fire. The lighted torches at the wedding are a reminder to the bride and groom, the Sages teach, that if G-d's name is removed from them as a result of disharmony, their relationship will be as painful as fire. They should make every effort always to maintain a loving and harmonious relationship.

The g'matria (numerical value) of the word ner (candle) is 250, and since two candles are carried, the sum of the two is 500. The biblical blessing to have children, p'ru u-r'vu, “Be fruitful and multiply” also has a g'matria of 500. The candles, therefore, symbolize the hope that the couple will have a fruitful marriage.

Among many Jews, it is customary for the bride to be escorted around the groom under the hupah three times, or seven times. Many consider the customs to relate to an eschatological passage in Jeremiah in which the prophet speaks of a time in the future when relationships between men and women will be reversed and “the woman will court the man” (Jeremiah 31:21-22). The Hebrew term employed in the passage for “will court” is “t'sovev,” literally, “will encircle.”

Others see in the custom of the bride circling her groom a symbol of the wife creating a metaphoric wall around her husband to guard against him from outside desires and influences. This is in keeping with a passage in the Song of Songs referring to a woman as a wall, and a talmudic teaching that “whoever lives without a wife lives without a [protective] wall.” The Sages comment that a man's wife is like a wall, protecting him from external temptations. After her circling, the bride, by stepping into the symbolic circle she has created, marks the couple's new status in society as a married couple; she has created a community of two, around which there is an intimate wall of privacy, independent and shielded from the rest of society.

Some see in the bride's three encirclements of the groom a symbolic reminder to him of the three primal obligations the Torah requires of him as her husband - to provide her with sustenance, clothing, and conjugal relations. Others find in it an allusion to the threefold expression of G-d's betrothal to the Jewish people in Hosea, “And I will betroth you to me forever; and I will betroth you to me with a righteousness and justice, and in loving-kindness and compassion” (Hosea 2:21-22).

The prevailing custom of seven circuits probably has kabbalistic origins and may relate to the seven revolutions of the earth during the biblical seven days of Creation. Since every marriage is a re-enactment of the process of Creation, the bride's encirclement of the groom is an allusion that the seven cycles of Creation being repeated.

The bride stands to the right of the groom under the hupah, an allusion to the verse in Psalms, “a queen shall stand at your right side” (Psalms 45:10). They stand facing the guests during the marriage ceremony, while the officiating rabbi stands facing the bride and groom and looking in an easterly direction, with his back to the guests.

All those under the hupah stand and in many circles it is traditional for the assembled guests to stand as well, in deference to the bride and groom who are standing. It is customary for the parents of the couple to be present under the hupah. Others may also be present.

A minyan, or quorum, of at least ten Jewish males over the age of  thirteen is required to be present during the ceremony for the legal validation of the marriage in accordance with Jewish law.


ERUSIN – The Prenuptial Blessing

The ceremony of erusin begins with the prenuptial blessing, recited over a cup of wine by the rabbi who performs the service. It is preceded by a benediction over the wine. The rabbi holds the cup, filled to the brim, in his right hand, and recites:

“Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”

Wine is used for the blessing because it is a prayer of sanctification at a joyous religious occasion, much like the kiddush prayer of sanctification which is recited over a cup of wine that introduces the Sabbath and the festivals. Indeed, the relationship of the bridegroom and bride is compared to that of the Jewish people to the Sabbath, who are betrothed and sanctified to each other Friday evening.

Wine is considered to be a significant beverage that symbolizes joy; it also contributes to the element of joy on religious occasions. “And wine causes the heart of man to rejoice,” sings the Psalmist. A wedding is a joyous occasion for God and man, and its celebration in accordance with age-old Jewish traditions; this is highlighted by the presence of the traditional cup of wine raised for the recitation of the prenuptial of sanctification.

The prenuptial blessing is:

“Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us regarding the sexual prohibitions, and has forbidden to us those who are merely betrothed, but permitted us those who are married to us through hupah and kidushin. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, who sanctifies His people Israel through hupah and kidushin.”

Like most of the blessings, it is talmudic in origin and probably dates back to the Knesset HaG'dolah, the Great Assembly, about the third century B.C.E. The obligation to recite the blessing is the groom's. So as not to embarrass on such an occasion a groom who might be unable to recite it, and those who may be too nervous at the time to recite it properly, someone other than the groom often the rabbi does so. The rabbi and the groom should be aware, during the recitation, that the blessing is really the groom's to make, and it is being recited on his behalf, and the groom's response of Amen at its conclusion is the equivalent of his having recited it himself.

Since the rabbi recites the blessings on behalf of the bridal couple, it is they who first drink from the cup without reciting an additional blessing over the wine. Then the rabbi drinks. Some say that the rabbi should sip first since he recites the blessing. However, the rabbi need not drink from the cup at all, as the blessing he recited was for the bridal couple.



Following the prenuptial blessing, the ceremony of kidushin, or sanctification, is performed. Since it involves the transformation of the couple's status to that of a married state, it is vital that the legal steps be properly observed. Through the act of the man reciting the traditional Jewish marriage formula while presenting a ring to the woman, which she accepts in the presence of two witnesses, the two are considered married.

From a legal point of view, the rabbi does not make the marriage valid. Indeed, according to Jewish law, he is not even needed at the wedding. The rabbi's function is to ensure that all of the required legal acts validating the marriage are executed and that they are performed in full accordance with all requirements of Jewish law.



There must be two legally proper witnesses to validate the marriage. They should be religiously observant males over thirteen years old, and may not be related to either the bride, the groom, or each other. A rabbi or a cantor may serve as a witness, provided he fulfils all of the conditions listed above.

The witnesses should be specifically designated as such, to differentiate them from all others present, and should preferably stand at the hupah to witness the proceedings.


The Recitation of the Marriage Formula

The rabbi takes the ring from the groom or his designates and asks the groom whether it is his. The groom has to respond audibly in the affirmative.

The rabbi then shows the ring to the witnesses and asks them whether it has the minimal value of one prutah. (The prutah was the coin of the lowest value in ancient times. Its value today is less than one penny.) The witnesses should audibly respond in the affirmative. If the bride's eyes are covered with a veil, she then lifts her veil.

The groom turns to the bride and recites the formula for kidushin:

“Ha-rey at m'kudeshet li b'taba at zu k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael, Behold! You are consecrated to me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”

He should say it in Hebrew. If necessary, he should repeat it word for word after the rabbi. The formula may also be repeated in the vernacular, to assure that everything is understood by the couple.


The Presentation of the Ring

With his right hand, the groom places the ring on the index finger - the most prominent finger - of the bride's right hand, in full view of the witnesses. (This is the preferable manner of the ring presentation. However, any manner of presentation and acceptance before witnesses validates the procedure.) The ring should preferably be placed on the finger itself, so that if the bride is wearing gloves she should remove her right glove in readiness.

A double-ring ceremony should be avoided. This may not be a valid kidushin according to Jewish law, since the exchange of rings may appear to be a barter. The essence of the procedure involves the giving of a gift by the groom, and its acceptance by the bride. Although the custom of a man wearing a wedding ring is not a Jewish one, if a man wishes to wear a ring he should put it on after the wedding, and not include it as a part of the marriage ceremony.


The Reading and Presentation of the Ketubah

With the presentation of the ring completing the ceremony of kidushin, it is customary to read the ketubah, the marriage contract. The ketubah reading is inserted at this point to create a hiatus between the prenuptial ceremony of erusin and the concluding marriage ceremony of nisuin.

The purpose of the reading of the marriage contract at the hupah is to impress upon the groom the gravity of the obligation he has undertaken toward his wife and to emphasize to him its legal import. These are underscored by the solemn nature of the ceremony. The assembled guests, all of whom hear the conditions of the ketubah read to them, thus bear communal witness to the groom's agreement to fulfill those obligations.

The ketubah is read aloud by the rabbi or by an honoured dignitary who is able to read the Aramaic text.

The ketubah is then handed to the groom who presents it to the bride. She is expected to keep it in their home, although in some circles it is customary for the ketubah to be held by her mother for safe-keeping.


The Seven Blessings

The recitation of the Sheva B’rachot, or Seven Blessings, follows the reading of the ketubah. This act is the second part of the marriage ceremony, and constitutes nisuin, the procedure by which groom and bride fully become husband and wife.

As with the prenuptial blessing, a cup of wine is required for the recitation of the Seven Blessings, although the custom is for two cups of wine to be used, including one not previously employed for the prenuptial blessing. If a cup used for the prenuptial blessing is also used for the Sheva B'rachot, any remaining wine must first be emptied before the cup is reused, since the same wine may not be used for two separate rituals. The two cups are reminders that the ceremonies of erusin and nisuin were originally two separate rituals performed at different periods.

The blessings are recited by the rabbi, or by as many as six designated dignitaries who are accorded the honour of reciting b'rachot. Each comes up to the hupah and recites the blessing while holding a cup of wine.


The Seven Blessings are:

  1. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
  2. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who created all things for His glory.
  3. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, King of the universe, Creator of man.
  4. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who created man in His own image, after His own likeness, and Who prepared for him a structure to last for all time. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, Creator of man.
  5. May the barren one rejoice and be exceedingly happy when her children are gathered together with her in joy. Blessed are You, O G-d, Who causes Zion to rejoice in her children.
  6. May You grant joy to these beloved companions, just as You granted joy to Your creations in the Garden of Eden of yore. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, Who grants joy to bridegroom and bride.
  7. Blessed are You, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, King of the universe, Creator of joy and happiness, bridegroom and bride, rejoicing and song, delight and good cheer, love and harmony, peace and friendship. Soon, O Ha-Shem, our G-d, may there be heard in the cities of Judaea and in the courtyards of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a bridegroom and the sound of a bride, the sound of rejoicing from the bridegrooms at their weddings and youths at their feasts of song. Blessed are You, O G-d, Who grants joy to the bridegroom with the bride.

Among all the good wishes showered upon bride and groom on the occasion of their marriage, none is as important as those expressed in the Seven Blessings. These are not, as some may think, the blessings of the rabbi to the marrying couple, and they constitute more than congratulatory wishes to the couple on their private bonding. They contain cosmic elements, discussing the creation of the world and the coming of the Messiah, the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and they convey the approach of Judaism toward life and love, marriage and family, and its view of the nature of the ideal marital relationship. 

True happiness, Judaism teaches, is symbolized by the wedding ceremony. The relationship between G-d and Israel is constantly compared in the Bible to that of a bridegroom and bride. In a similar vein, G-d says to Israel, “I remember you for the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your espousal, how you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” What married couple cannot reminisce about their early days of marriage in a similar vein?

The blessings, first and foremost, bring G-d into the marriage ceremony. Henceforth the relationship is to be characterized as a religious one, hallowed by G-d. To be successful, a marriage needs G-d's help. In the Torah's discussion of the destiny of Isaac and Rebecca, the passage appears, “This thing proceeds from the Eternal.”

All blessings in Judaism provide a momentary pause for contemplation and reflection on a religious act so that it is not performed in a perfunctory or off-hand manner, but with the proper intent. The Seven Blessings acknowledge G-d's place in the marital relationship, praise and thank G-d for His goodness and bounty, and pray for His help in granting them marital happiness.


The Meaning of the Blessings

First Blessing: Looking at the blessings, it is read there are not seven but six of them, and it is only when the benediction over wine is added that there are seven. Indeed, the Talmud lists only six blessings, as does Maimonides in his Code, with the wine benediction not mentioned. One reason given for the blessing over wine is that the blessings should total seven, which is considered a very significant number in Jewish tradition.

Judaism considers every marriage to be a human emulation of the divine Creation of the world, which took seven days to complete. Thus each of the six blessings represents one of the six days of Creation, while the seventh, the added blessing on the wine, represents the Sabbath. Rabeinu Bahya ben Asher says:

“Marriage is analogous to the Creation of the world . . . Just as there were seven days-including the Sabbath-at the creation of the world, so the Sages ordained seven blessings, including the blessing over wine. The latter corresponds to the Sabbath, for wine is used in proclaiming the sanctity of the Sabbath both at the commencement and the conclusion of that day.”

Second Blessing: This blessing, declaring that everything in the universe was created for the glory of G-d, is simply praise of G-d, thanking G-d for our having survived until this moment and being permitted to partake of this great joy. The blessing places life in clear perspective for the bride and groom; life is neither meaningless nor purposeless, nor is it to be lived selfishly and for one's fame and glory. It tells them that they have a clear purpose in the overall plan-to perpetuate life on this earth and be concerned with others aside from themselves. Thus, they glorify G-d who created them for this purpose.

The benediction is based upon a verse in Isaiah, “I have created everything for My glory; I have created it and I have made it.” The literal translation of the Hebrew, kol hanikra bishmi v'lichvodi b'rativ, y'tsartiv af asitiv, is “I have created all which is called in My Name; I have created it, I have made it.” In the context of the passages around it the verse is seen by the Sages as an eschatological promise to the righteous of Israel. Those who are called in G-d's Name and who recognize G-d as their creator, and whose task it is to proclaim the glory of G-d, that is, to spread the knowledge of G-d's religious and moral teachings in the world, and who have consequently suffered the travails of exile and dispersion – G-d has prepared all that is necessary for their ultimate redemption.

Third and Fourth Blessings: G-d, the Creator, has granted His creature, man, intelligence and free choice, and the divine ability to join Him in the continuous process of Creation. In creating man in His divine image, G-d has imbued him with attributes of godliness that he is bidden to bring to bear in his life in order to attain godliness. Man has no greater obligation than to strive to behave as a being created in the image of G-d.

Apart from their sexual differences, both man and woman have been created equally in the image of G-d. The married couple who rejoice with each other as the one being they once were, prior to their primordial separation, are to behave in an elevated manner as moral beings, and to become partners with each other and with G-d, in Creation and in helping to bring perfection into the world.

Fifth Blessing: This blessing is for Zion and Jerusalem. It is incumbent upon the Jew to place Jerusalem above his chief joys, and a blessing is included here to express the centrality of Zion in Jewish thought. Indeed, the blessing of Jerusalem is given precedence over the blessing of bride and groom which follows. Isaiah refers to a depopulated Jerusalem in its sufferings and humiliation as an akarah, a barren woman, and this blessing is, in reality, a prayer for the ingathering of the exiles, the return of the Jewish people to Zion, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The prophet speaks of Jerusalem's rejoicing at a glorious time in her future, when her children, Israel, will be reunited with her in joy. The last words of the benediction, which speak of G-d who causes Zion to rejoice, are based on the passage in Isaiah, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall G-d rejoice over you,” which is incorporated into the Sabbath eve L'cha Dodi hymn celebrating the betrothal of the Jewish people to the Sabbath.

Sixth Blessing: This blessing of bride and groom as beloved friends reflects a deep Jewish understanding of the ideal relationship of husband and wife - that they be beloved and warm friends and companions. Zeh dodi v'zeh reyi, “this is my beloved and this is my friend,” sings Solomon in the Song of Songs.

This is a blessing of personal joy to the bride and groom that their relationship be idyllic and full of joy, as idyllic as that of the primal couple, Adam and Eve. All of Israel rejoices with them, as G-d rejoiced with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Seventh Blessing: This blessing contains no less than ten expressions of joy for the couple, ending with good wishes for “love and brotherhood, peace and friendship.” The Sages find parallels with the ten utterances by means of which the world was created, thus indicating that marriage is analogous to the Creation of the world, which was completed with the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

With the conclusion of the seventh blessing, the cup is given to the groom and the bride to sip.


Breaking the Glass

The completion of the Seven Blessings marks the culmination of the marriage ceremony. The custom is for the groom to terminate the proceedings under the hupah by smashing a glass. This is usually done by wrapping a thin glass goblet in a cloth napkin and placing it on the floor: the groom shatters the glass with his right foot.

The original custom was for the glass to be shattered by throwing it at a wall. As mentioned earlier, a special stone built into the exterior of the synagogue wall known as a treustein (German), and bearing the initial letters of the passage in Jeremiah, “the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride” was used for this purpose throughout much of Europe.

The purpose of the breaking of the glass is to temper excessive, uncontrolled joy at the wedding with a measure of seriousness and sobriety. The Sages were concerned with the dangers involved in people giving free rein to unbridled joy. Commenting on the passage in Psalms, “Serve Ha-Shem in awe, and rejoice with trembling,” the Sages query, “What is meant by ‘rejoice with trembling’?” The reply is: “Where there is rejoicing, there should also be trembling.” The Sages of the Talmud explain this as meaning that even rejoicing must be tempered with discipline, and restraint.

A wedding is a time for rejoicing, but this does not give license for wild, boorish, or boisterous behaviour. Thus, at a time of rejoicing, a person should perform an act to remind him of his duties toward G-d. The Talmud relates that Mar, son of Ravina, made a wedding for his son, and when he saw that the merriment was exceeding the bounds of propriety, he smashed a precious white goblet worth four hundred zuz, whereupon the wedding guests were immediately brought down to earth from their excessive revelry.

A similar experience is related regarding the great biblical and talmudic commentator Rashi in the eleventh century who, upon seeing that dignitaries present at his son's wedding had become too boisterous, took a glass goblet and shattered it before his guests, inducing instantaneous propriety. The Sages of the Tosafot talmudic commentary take note of such situations and relate that, “As a result of such incidents, it has become customary to break a glass at weddings.”

The breaking of the glass is, as indicated above, also a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and underscores dramatically that no Jewish joy can be complete since that time. This is one of a number of similar practices, on other occasions, that Jews are required to perform in order to recall the destruction.

Although there has been a Jewish state since 1948, and Jewish sovereignty has been restored to the Temple Mount since 1967, the Temple has not yet been rebuilt and the bulk of the Jewish people is still living in exile. The breaking of the glass thus continues to symbolize the yearning of the Jewish people for the restoration of the Jewish people to its land and for the rebuilding of the Temple.

Among some, it is customary, when the glass is broken, to say “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning.” In many circles in Israel today, these words are sung to a poignant tune by the assembled guests, along with the following verse, “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you; if I do not set Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”

Immediately thereafter, the guests cry out Mazal Tov! (good luck), and the orchestra strikes a lively wedding tune.


The Seclusion Room

Amidst singing and dancing, the bride and groom then weave their way through the congratulating guests to the Yihud (seclusion) room. It is customary for bride and groom to be alone for a period of time immediately following the marriage ceremony. The complete seclusion of the couple in a closed room is a public act symbolizing their new status as husband and wife. Since this act, more than any other, signifies that they are truly married, a public awareness of their seclusion is required, and it must be attested to by qualified witnesses. The witnesses remain outside the door to ensure that no one enters until the couple have been alone for a reasonable period of time.

Yihud provides a period of respite for the newly married couple, an interval of tranquility for them to enjoy together in total solitude amidst the turmoil of the wedding. It is customary for the two to have their first meal as husband and wife together in the Yihud room. Both will have been fasting all day, and this food will be their first of the day.

It is important that the Yihud room be prepared before the wedding. It should provide absolute privacy. It should also have food for a light repast for the couple.


The Festive Wedding Meal

The wedding feast is a s'udat mitzvah, a festive religious meal integral to a wedding, participation in which is considered to be a mitzvah. In many areas, it is customary for a table to be set aside at the wedding feast for the poor and indigent of the community so they can participate fully in the wedding. It is also customary for the poor to be allowed to collect alms from the wedding guests, or for the parents of the new couple to give them a substantial sum.

The wedding meal is a joyous feast, punctuated by lively Jewish wedding tunes and dancing in accordance with Jewish tradition. When bride and groom leave the Yihud room to enter the banquet hall during the wedding feast, they are greeted and raised up on chairs by their friends, as the assembled guests dance around them.

It is considered a great mitzvah, in the category of hesed (obligatory acts of love for others), to cause the bride and groom to rejoice at their wedding. The Talmud declares that whoever gladdens the bridal couple is considered as if he had brought a sacrificial offering at the Temple in Jerusalem, or as if he had rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem.

Accordance to Midrash, G-d and his angels served as exalted exponents of this mitzvah when they participated in the wedding celebration of Adam and Eve and caused the couple to rejoice:

“The Holy One, Blessed be He, made ten wedding canopies for them in the Garden of Eden, of precious stones, pearls and gold ... the angels were playing upon timbrels and dancing with pipes ... the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the ministering angels, “Come, let us descend and render acts of love to the first man and his wife, for the world rests upon acts of love ... And the ministering angels went to and fro, [dancing] before Adam . . .”

“Ketsad m'rakdin lifnei hakalah? - How does one dance before the bride?” - asks the Mishnah. Following the example of the talmudic Sages Hillel and Shammai, Torah scholars usually take the lead in actively participating in the dancing in honour of bride and groom. Friends of the couple vie with one another to enliven the festivities through acts designed to make the bride and groom rejoice at their wedding.

In the words of R. Shlomo Ganzfried, author of the Kitzur Shulhan Aruch, the Condensed Code of Jewish Law, “It is a mitzvah to gladden a groom and bride, and to dance before the bride, and to declare that she is attractive and performs acts of loving-kindness, and indeed we find that [the talmudic Sage] R. Ilai would dance before the bride.”


Grace after the Meal

Upon the conclusion of the wedding feast, Birchat Hamazon, Grace after Meals, is recited by the assembled guests, concluding with the recitation once again of the Sheva B'rachot, the Seven Blessings.

Two cups of wine are required, one of which is held while the grace is recited, and the other for the Seven Blessings. Like the earlier Seven Blessings recited under the hupah, these may either be recited by the person who leads the Grace after Meals, or they may be treated as honours which are distributed among different guests.

The person who leads the guests in the grace then recites the blessing over the wine, pours wine from the two cups into a third one, and drinks from the original cup, while the other two cups are given to bride and groom to sip from them.

It is customary in some circles for those closest to the married couple to remain with them after the other guests leave, and have a "mitzvah dance" with the bride and groom. Rabbis and other dignitaries take turns dancing with the bride, with the rabbi holding one end of a handkerchief and the bride the other. This custom, which may relate to the mishnah that discusses “dancing before the bride,” is ascribed by some as a means by which the rabbis and scholars express to the groom their confidence in his choice of a bride. 


The Week after the Wedding

In Jewish tradition, bride and groom do not embark upon a honeymoon immediately after the wedding; they remain for a full week (three days if it is a second marriage for both) to celebrate. These Shiv'at Ymei Mishteh, or Seven Days of Feasting, are said to have been ordained by Moses, and are a custom that is thought to go back to Patriarchal times.

These feasting days serve as a focal point for communal rejoicing and for the couple to begin their married life together while in the lap of the community. During the Seven Days of Feasting, the bride and groom do not work, nor may they be involved in business transactions of any kind. They only eat, drink, and rejoice with each other. Each day, close relatives or friends host the married couple for a festive meal, which is punctuated by singing and rejoicing. It is customary for the groom, if he is learned, to deliver a dvar Torah - a learned discourse. Again, in most cases, it is also customary for the groom to be interrupted with singing as he begins, so that he will not be shamed if he is not capable of delivering it.

At the conclusion of the meal, Sheva B'rachot are recited. A minyan, or quorum, of at least ten adult males is required for each meal, at least one of whom was not present at the wedding and at previous Sheva B'rachot for this couple.