Under the Huppah: The Jewish Wedding

For the Jewish community, a wedding is a joyous rite of passage into a relationship. In JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol..., marriage is considered a holy institution, indicated by the HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. word for wedding, kiddushin, or “made holy.” Jewish weddings vary in style and form, depending mostly on cultural and family custom and on which tradition of Judaism the couple follows. Despite this rich variety, however, there are certain common elements in most Jewish weddings. For example, most Jewish marriages are bound by a ketubah (wedding contract) signed by two witnesses chosen by the couple. The ketubah was historically designed to protect the bride and her family in the financial transactions of the wedding and marriage; today, the ketubah represents more of the commitment between the two marriage partners. Most Jewish marriages also take place under the huppahThe huppah is the special canopy under which a Jewish marriage ceremony is conducted. It is symbolic of the Jewish home about to be established., a special canopy which represents the future home of the couple.

The huppah with its four corner poles is often held up by four friends or family members, who have been specially asked by the couple. It may be in a synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ..., in a hotel, in a home, or in an outdoor setting. The particular ceremony beneath the huppah varies widely today among OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion., Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, ReconstructionistThe Reconstructionist movement is a recent development in American Judaism, beginning with Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881 - 1982) who understood Judaism to be a civilization and culture, kept vibrant by constantly changing and adapting to new situations. The ce..., and Renewal traditions. A rabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... officiates the ceremony and is usually the first to stand under the huppah, where he or she greets the couple, who often walk to the huppah in procession with their parents. If one of the parents is deceased, a candle might be carried in his or her memory and among families of HolocaustHolocaust (from Greek, entire burnt offering) refers in modern times to the Nazi German campaign to exterminate the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s with death camps and gas chambers. Six million Jews died in this Holocaust. In Hebrew, the Holocau... survivors, candles might be carried in memory of the wider extended family that would have been present for this celebration. In many weddings, the parents and sometimes the siblings of the couple stand around the huppah during the wedding ceremony itself, as if to emphasize the intersecting family circlesIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... into which the couple is entering.

The ceremony begins with blessings over a glass of wine, from which the wedding partners each take a sip. Historically, the wedding formula is recited by the groom as he presents a ring to the bride: “Be sanctified to me with this ring in accordance with the law of MosesMoses was the great Biblical prophet who is credited with leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and teaching them the divine laws at Sinai. The story of Moses is told in the book of Exodus in the Bible and is also told in the Qur’an, wher... and IsraelLiterally “Wrestler with God”, Israel is the name given to the Jewish patriarch Jacob and came to refer to the entire nation, bound in an eternal covenant to God. Historically, Jews have continued to regard themselves as the continuation of the ancien....” In some traditions today, both wedding partners give rings to one another and recite this blessing, and the couple may also decide to write their own vows and recite them under the huppah. In a traditional wedding, the ketubah is read aloud and presented to the bride. Often the rabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. will take a few minutes under the huppah to address the bride and groom directly. The rites conclude with seven traditional blessings, and the wedding partners sip again from the cup of wine.

At the very end of the ceremony, there is another custom almost universal in Jewish marriages: the groom breaks a glass underfoot, symbolizing the destruction of the TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref..., and reminding the couple and all present that there will be both good and bad times in a marriage. The glass, carefully wrapped in a cloth napkin, shatters—a moment’s intrusion of the world’s reality into the happy flow of events. Then shouts of congratulation are in order: “Mazel tov! Mazel tov!”—literally “Good Luck!”—used in this and in other scenarios to convey “Congratulations!”

Jewish wedding parties are joyous affairs, with much food, music and dancing. Traditionally, the couple is entertained with traditional Jewish folk songs, such as “Hava Negila” (“Come, sing and be happy”) while wedding guests dance a traditionally Jewish folk circleIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... dance called the hora. During this dance, the couple may be lifted up in chairs in the center of the circle, as a celebration of joy. Of course, contemporary Jewish wedding parties will often feature contemporary music and dancing, as well.

In the week immediately following the wedding, there is traditional practice called sheva brachot, literally “Seven Blessings.” During this week, the newlyweds will share seven festive meals with new people present at each one who will share in their joy.

In marriage and family life, the home traditions of observance and study central to Judaism are to be preserved. For these reasons, many Jewish communities struggle with questions of assimilationAssimilation refers to the process of “making similar,” a process by which people lose their national, cultural, or even religious identity through absorption in the wider society. In the history of American immigration, it has usually meant the absor... and intermarriage, traditionally prohibited according to halakhahHalakhah means, literally, “the path that one walks” and refers to Jewish law. It is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs.. Today, however, with intermarriage increasingly common, especially in the West, the dilemmas of ritual observance for intermarrying couples are present in almost every stream of the Jewish tradition.

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