Jewish Wedding Ceremony and Chuppah Guide
There are quite a few different ways in which Chuppah ceremonies take place depending on the culture and preferences of the family, Here is a basic outline for the purposes of planning the music around the ceremony.
Background music is played whilst guests are waiting for the ceremony to begin, whilst guests are waiting as the couple are signing the register after the ceremony and as guest leave the room to go to the reception.
The Ketuba signing usually takes place with the Men/Groom in the mens “Tish” room,and the Bride and entourage may have their own Tish. The Bedeken is either done in a private room before the chuppah, or during the processional.
There are diffeent “musical movements” for the ceremony.
- Prelude music as guests are waiting
- Entrance of Groom and Entourage
- Entrance of Bride and bedeken(if not done in Tish room), then circling 7 times, either half way up the aisle(groom meets halfway) or at the chuppah
- Ceremony(sung by the Rabbi/Chazan, e.g. Sheva Brachot, Im Eshkachech)
- Breaking of Glass/Chosn Kale Mazaltov and post ceremony as guests are waiting for register signing or leaving the room
Usually there is only enough time for one tune to accompany Groom and Family entourage procession, plus one tune for the Bride’s procession.
Typical ceremony song choices are as follows, either instrumental or vocal renditions.:
Groom: Mi Bon Siach, Mi Adir (from the Siddur marriage section)
Bride: Eshet Chayil, Ani Ledodi, Boi Beshalom etc, or a folklore tune e.g. Erev Shel Shoshanim
Other more popular modern tunes are also appropriate for either, eg. Fiddler on the roof melodies (e.g. Sunrise, Sunset instrumental), or Tum Balalaika in Yiddish, folk songs of modern Israel and so on.
Aufruf (Oyfruf): Torah honor to the groom (and in some congregations to the bride as well) on the Sabbath before the wedding. In many synagogues, while the groom is reciting the blessing of the Aliyah, the rest of the participants in the prayer services throw candy and other sweets at the bimah. A symbolic act, denoting the crowds wishes of a sweet life for the new bride and groom.
Badeken or B’deken: veiling of the bride by the groom before the wedding (chuppah) ceremony. This symbolizes the primary importance of the betrotheds’ inner qualities, in contrast to physical beauty, which is only skin-deep. The ritual also recalls the biblical story of Jacob, who intended to marry Rachel, but discovered after the wedding that he had actually married Rachel’s sister Leah. This ceremony removes all doubt.
BaShow: A brief pre-arranged in-home meeting between potential bride and groom.
Bentch: Yiddish for saying Grace after meals.
Bentcher: A booklet containing the text of the Grace after Meals. At some Jewish weddings, a bentcher is included with every place setting, and serves as a wedding momentum for the guests.
Bimah: The platform on which the Torah reader’s desk is located. The Bimah is usually found in front of the Ark, however in some Sephardic synagogues the Bimah may be located in the center of the room.
Birkat Hamazon: Grace after Meals
Breaking of the Glass: This is probably the best-known Jewish wedding tradition. After the reciting of the Seven Blessings, the groom smashes a glass with his foot. The wedding guests then joyously call out, “Mazel tov!” There are numerous interpretations for the breaking of the glass. The most commonly known is that it represents the destruction of the Holy Temple, reminding all in attendance that pure joy can only exist once the Temple is rebuilt someday. Another idea is that the fragmenting of the glass represents the end of the couple’s lives alone and the beginning of their new lives together. Ancient Kabbalah texts — the mystical Jewish teachings — speak of the world beginning with “breaking of vessels,” and that our purpose on earth is to piece everything back together. This concept is known as “tikkun olam,” repair of the world. Nowadays, many couples take their broken glass and have it encased in a piece of Jewish wedding art, such as a Kiddush cup, menorah or candlesticks.
Chatan or Chossen: A bridegroom
Chuppah: The wedding canopy, which is supported by four poles. The poles are often free-standing, though sometimes four guests are given the honor to hold the poles and support the chuppah. Sometimes the couple uses a tallit, or prayer shawl, as the chuppah material, though often they opt for more exquisite and decorative fabrics.
There are no specific rules about chuppah fabric, so it is up to the couple’s personal taste. The Seven Blessings, ring ceremony, and breaking of the glass all occur beneath the chuppah. The chuppah is thought to represent the home that the bride and groom will make together, and it is open on all four sides to symbolize that their home will be a place for guests to visit. In this way, the couple will follow the example of Abraham in the Bible, whose tent was always open. Similar to the kippa worn by the groom, the chuppah also reminds the couple of G-d watching over them.
Circling: The bride circles the groom under the chuppah. According to some traditions she circles him seven times, while other traditions dictate three times around. This custom is thought to represent the bride’s protection of the household, the binding together of the bride and groom, the groom’s new life illuminated by his bride, the creation of a new home and family, or the mystical idea that the bride is penetrating the seven shells that surround the soul of the groom. Some traditions call for the bride to circle the groom along with her mother and mother-in-law.
Erusin: A betrothal ceremony. Nowadays, it is the first part of the Wedding service, where a contract expressing the intentions of both parties, the bride and the groom, is signed
Fraylach: Lively atmosphere generated by the wedding guests who dance and sing
Groom’s Tish or Chossen’s Tish: Yiddish for the groom’s table. This is where the groom, groomsmen and male family members gather for song and dance before the ceremony and also witness the signing of the engagement contract.
Ha-Motzi: An expression that refers to the blessing said over bread.
Hakhnassat Kallah: Literally, bringing in the bride. Used in reference to money collection for brides who cannot afford the high costs of the wedding party, and setting up a home. This particular “tzedakah” or charity is considered to be of very high importance in Jewish tradition.
Hora: A joyous, exuberant dance of celebration. Guests hold hands as they romp and rollick, encircling the bride and groom on the dance floor. At an Orthodox Jewish wedding, men and women dance in separate circles. From the strictest to the most liberal Jewish weddings, though, it is tradition for the bride and groom to be lifted up on chairs and danced around, each holding an end of the same handkerchief — linking them together.
Kabbalat Panim: The first part of a Jewish wedding, when the couple greets their guests. The literal translation of the term is “receiving the faces.” The bride and groom greet the guests in separate rooms — traditionally the couple has not seen each other for the week preceding their wedding. The bride often sits in a throne-like chair during Kabbalat Panim to represent the idea that the bride and groom are a queen and king on their wedding day.
Kallah: A bride
Ketuba: The Jewish marriage contract, which is signed before the ceremony under the chuppah. At an Orthodox Jewish wedding, the ketubah is signed by two witnesses who are not related to the bride and groom. This traditional Aramaic text was conceived about 2000 years ago, and it discusses the groom’s financial obligations to his bride, as well as his obligation to provide her with conjugal rights and all her needs. The ketubah was originally written to protect a Jewish wife from financial hardship in the event of dissolution of the marriage. The ketubah is read during the wedding ceremony. In former years the ketubah was simply a piece of paper filled out by the rabbi. These days, a ketubah is usually a beautiful lithograph or art print that is exquisitely personalized by calligrapher. The couple then frames the ketubah and displays the work of art in their home. It is suggested by ancient Jewish sages that a husband and wife should read their ketubah together if they encounter any argument or strife.
Kiddush: The blessing said over wine on Shabbat and Holidays. Under the wedding canopy and at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, (during the “Sheva Brachot”) a blessing over wine is also included.
Kiddushin: The first part of the ceremony under the chuppah. It means “sanctification,” and in the old days it took place as long as a year before the actual wedding. These days, it occurs alongside the wedding ceremony proper, or Nisuin. During Kiddushin, the groom and bride are ushered to the chuppah, they drink the ceremonial wine, the groom places the ring on his bride’s index finger, and the ketubah is read aloud. In more modern ceremonies, the bride reciprocates by placing a ring on the finger of the groom.
Kinyan: Refers to the gift of a ring at the ceremony or a material object at the contract signing .
Kippa: The small cap, also called a yarmulka, that guests wear to cover their heads at a Jewish wedding. Kippot (plural of kippah) are worn by Orthodox Jewish men at all times, and by all men during synagogue prayer. The kippah is meant to remind Jewish people of G-d watching over them. The groom traditionally wears a white kippah at his wedding.
Kittel: The white ceremonial robe sometimes worn by the groom during the wedding ceremony that takes place under the Chuppah.
Mazel tov: The Hebrew way to say “congratulations” or “good luck.” After the groom breaks the glass, the guests call out, “Mazel tov!” — which denotes the end of the solemnity and the beginning of the party.
MeChuten: Father-in-law; also a new relationship to the other parents
MeChutonim: Relatives by marriage.
Mikveh: A ritual bath where one purifies one’s body. Traditionally, the bride and groom — at separate locations — immerse themselves in the mikveh before the wedding to spiritually purify themselves before beginning their new lives as one.
Mizinke tantz:: A festive dance, usually held toward the end of the reception, which honors parents whose last child has now married. The parents are seated on chairs on the dance floor and circled by the guests, who bestow affection and flowers upon them, sometimes in the form of a crown.
Nisuin: The second part of the Jewish wedding ceremony which takes place after Kiddushin. During Nisuin, the Seven Blessings are recited by appointed guests, the couple drinks a second cup of wine, and the groom breaks the glass.
Sefirah: Literally, counting the period between Passover and Shavuot when weddings may not be held.
Shadchan: Hebrew word for a matchmaker
Sheva Brachot: The Seven Blessings recited at a Jewish wedding. The blessings praise G-d for creating the world, creating human beings in his image, bringing children into the world, making the groom and bride as happy as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and ask G-d to bring “the sound of joy, the sound of celebration, the voice of the groom, the voice of the bride.” The final blessing is the Kiddush, the blessing over the second cup of wine. The Sheva Brachot are recited again during the grace after meals (Bircat Hamazon) at the reception. In Orthodox tradition, the wedding festivities continue for the rest of the week, as the couple is feted at the homes of family and friends. The Seven Blessings are recited again at each of these parties.
Siman tov: A good sign, a good omen. A congratulatory form of wishing for good things.
Simcha: A joyous celebration. A Jewish wedding is considered one of the greatest simchas. It is a mitzvah, or holy obligation, to rejoice at a wedding — and specifically to entertain the bride and groom, which is why guests at many Jewish weddings put on costumes and masks and dance for the couple. One of the Seven Blessings declares, “Kol sasson v’kol simcha.” The sound of joy, the sound of celebration.
Tallis or Tallit: A Jewish prayer shawl with tzitzit, or specially knotted fringes, on each of its four corners. The groom usually wears a tallit (also pronounced tallis) during the wedding ceremony. The couple sometimes chooses to use a large tallit as their wedding chuppah. Married men wear a tallit during prayer in Orthodox Jewish congregations.
Te-naim: Literally, “conditions” or “stipulations.” It is the name given to the engagement contract as well as to the celebration held when the contract is signed.
Tzedakah: Charity or the obligatory Jewish requirement of righteous giving and just behavior. Many Jews donate “Ma-aser” or 10% of their earning to needy people or charitable organizations.
Unterfirer: Yiddish, the people who escort the bride and groom to the Chuppah. Most often parents escort their sons and daughters. In some circles, mothers of the bride and groom escort the Kallah, and fathers of the about to be wed couple escorts the Chatan.
Yichud: Literally, becoming one, or “union.” A short period of seclusion for the bride and groom immediately following the marriage ceremony. The couple shares some time together in a room alone — usually eating, as traditionally they have fasted on their wedding day to atone for their sins and start life anew. This part of the ceremony allows the bride and groom to acknowledge the power of their commitment to one another. In Hebrew, yichud refers to a man and woman being alone together, out of sight of others. In Orthodox tradition, yichud between an unmarried man and woman is expressly prohibited, which is why this period of seclusion is especially momentous for Jewish couples who strictly adhere to Jewish law. For more liberal Jewish couples, yichud is a symbolic and emotional consummation of the marriage. Many couples describe yichud as an oasis of calm during an often-hectic wedding day. Because of the yichud ritual, there is usually no receiving line at a Jewish wedding. After yichud, it’s time for the bride and groom to join in the joyous simcha.