Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Marriage and Relationships
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Having just recently been blessed to attend and officiate at a wedding ceremony for one of my grandchildren I spent some time and thought regarding the o9rigins and customs of Jewish weddings as they are celebrated in the wide Jewish world today. The basic structure of the wedding is outlined in the Talmud in the tractates of Ketubot and Kiddushin. There is a formal, legalistic requirement of the husband "acquiring" hiss wife by placing a ring on her finger and stating that she is now sanctified unto him according to the faith and usage of Moshe and Israel. In reality any item of monetary value can be used for this "acquisition" though a ring has been the preferred choice for the ceremony and its use dates back millennia. The Talmud however does discuss ceremonies where other items monetary value were used and accepted. This ring part of the ceremony is of ancient time and has been the standard part of the ceremony for thousands of years and this part of the ceremony creates a relationship called eirusin - which is a status that binds the couple together but does not yet allow for intimacy. The full solemnization of the marriage itself is the physical chupah itself when the bride joins the groom under the chupah - his private domain so to speak and the seven blessings of joy are recited. This final legal ceremony is called nisuin and is the official culmination of the bonding of the couple to each other, physically and emotionally. In Second Temple times and even later there was a hiatus of one year between the two ceremonies of eirusin and nisuin. For more than the last millennia both ceremonies now take place almost simultaneously as one whole wedding ceremony. However added to this bare boned ceremony over the centuries many customs and nuances have been added and developed which in turn have added drama, color and added tradition to the ceremony.

There is a custom that the parents or close relatives of the groom and the bride accompany them to stand under the chupah. This was traditional in Eastern European society and is pretty much the norm in all Ashkenazic wedding ceremonies. In today’s Israel in many circles the groom is danced to the chupah by a multitude of his friends and the bride likewise receives such an accompaniment by her friends. In many of the countries of the Diaspora - particularly America and England - there is a wedding procession of undetermined length consisting of chosen family members and friends. Whether this type of procession is a product of acculturation from the general non-Jewish society or accustom of Jewish origin is a matter of debate. In Ashkenazic circles there is also a custom of the bride accompanied by her mother and the groom’s mother circling the groom seven times as he stands under the chupah. This custom is thought to be of kabbalistic origin and is only a few centuries old. In Ashkenazic society there also is a wedding custom that before the ceremony actually begins the groom lowers the veil over the face of the bride. This is in keeping with the Talmudic dictum that one is not allowed to marry a woman unless one first sees her and can recognize her.

Jewish weddings were quite simple in past times due to economic realities and social strictures. Over the past decades they have become more ornate and elaborate and expensive, certainly in America but even in Israel as well. This is certainly due to the greater affluence of the Jewish communities world wide and of heightened social pressures and expectations. Because of the cost ivolved many people now invite the young couple’s friends to dessert and dancing after the main meal is over.Again, the rabbis of the Talmud warned us that a certain amount of aggravation and contentiousness arises in all wedding plannings and negotiations. Nevertheless a wedding is a happy milestone of achievement in Jewish family life and the ceremony and its accompanying customs are attuned to this joy of the occasion.
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