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Beit Midrash Family and Society Marriage and Relationships

Marriage, Plain and Simple

How can we shout “Mazal Tov!” after breaking the glass in memory of the Temple’s destruction? Who aught to decide where the wedding will be held? Rabbi Eliezer Melamed addresses these and other interesting questions.
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
1. When to Break the Glass
2. "If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem."
3. "Ayin HaRa’" - "The Evil Eye"
4. Who Decides Where the Wedding Will Be Held?

When to Break the Glass
There is a Jewish custom to break a glass during the wedding ceremony. This is done so that Jerusalem's destruction not be forgotten in our moment of joy. Regarding when exactly the glass should be broken there are different customs. According to many opinions the time for breaking the glass is at the conclusion of the seven marriage blessings; i.e., at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Many later authorities, on the other hand, say that the glass should be broken just after the actual consecration, before the reading of the Ketuba (marriage contract).

The accepted custom, however, is to follow the majority opinion and to break the glass after the blessings. There are some who express surprise at this practice. They ask: How is it that we break the glass at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and then shout "Mazal Tov!" How can we shout "Mazal Tov" just after recalling the Temple's ruin?
My father and mentor once told me that this practice in fact makes perfect sense. Only after we recall Jerusalem's destruction are we able to truly express our joy. If we forget Jerusalem our happiness is not complete. Our joy is no more than wild behavior that divorces us from the true meaning of life. With the Temple in ruins as it is and so much suffering in the world, it would appear that there is no room whatsoever for celebration. After all, God's purpose in creating the universe was to reveal Himself through creation. If God's abode, the Temple in Jerusalem, sits in ruins, then the purpose of creation remains unfulfilled. In such a situation what can we possibly be happy about?

God created the world so that He would be able to bestow some of His goodness upon us. With so much suffering in the world, so much falsehood, deception, exploitation and violence; in a world where the evil succeed in getting the upper hand and the righteous are made to suffer, what reason could we possibly have to be happy?

By recalling Jerusalem we attach our joy to the divine truth. Marriage is not detached from the need to strive for perfection. To the contrary, marriage itself contributes to the process of rectification and perfection of the world. It constitutes a partial reconstruction of Jerusalem. This being the case, it is most fitting that such joy be expressed on behalf of the bride and groom. In addition, it makes sense for us to wait until after the glass has been broken to shout "Mazal Tov!"

"If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.."
There is a very beautiful custom wherein all those gathered around the wedding canopy sing, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not place Jerusalem above my highest joy" (Psalms 137:5,6). Incidentally, until recently there was a certain tune to which everybody was accustomed to singing these lyrics. Lately, though, the younger generation prefers a new tune which was written by the acclaimed master of Jewish song, the late R’ Shlomo Carlebach.

Personally, I prefer the older tune. True, R’ Carlebach's tune is mellow and pleasant, and it expresses feelings of yearning and longing, but it does not contain the dramatic emphasis of the old tune. The dramatic emphasis of the older tune gives fitting expression to the awesome splendor of the oath, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth." It is like a kind of anthem to which the entire congregation stands and repeats the oath.

I do not know what the feeling is like in the audience. I am usually under the wedding canopy with the families. From what I have been able to see, whenever the old tune is sung the eyes of those who stand around the bride and groom well up with tears. People stand attentively and seriously and recall Jerusalem. They recall the destruction of the Temple, the hardships encountered on the path to its reconstruction, the holy individuals who have been killed in wars and terrorist attacks, the orphans and widows. Against the backdrop of the wedding’s splendor, tears well up over every conceivable hardship; prayers go up on behalf of Jerusalem's speedy restoration and for the rectification of God's creation.

When the newer tune is sung, though, one does not encounter tears. Neither the parents nor those gathered around the couple nor the newlyweds shed any tears.
True, there is nothing that says that one must shed tears. The main thing is not to appear outdated, conventional. The youngsters might the impression that we are not "with it." That, after all, is the main thing, that people not suspect us of being old-fashioned.

Maybe in a few years even the new tune will take on an "old" character, stirring up moving memories of weddings gone by; maybe it too will bring tears to eye. Perhaps young brides and grooms will again opt for a newer tune. At any rate, I am in favor of the old tune, especially when it is sung at the wedding ceremony.

"Ayin HaRa’" - "The Evil Eye"
Some brides and grooms today wish to add a unique touch to their wedding. For example, some grooms wish to sing a special song to their bride. They may choose to do this when the crowd is on the dance floor. I even heard of one groom who sang under the canopy during the marriage ceremony.

When people ask my feelings about this, I advise the bride and groom to avoid standing out and not to deviate from tradition. All eyes are at any rate upon them. They at any rate occupy the center stage. Why should they try and go out of their way to draw attention? The couple should do their best to celebrate along with the guests and to receive their abundant blessings and with love and humility. The more that one is careful to uphold the traditions of the forefathers, the more one merits becoming a significant link in the chain of generations.

Conspicuousness leads to what is known in Judaism as "Ayin HaRa'," the "Evil Eye." When one person sees another standing out, he begins to ask himself, "Is he really as fortunate as he makes himself appear? Does he really deserve to be so happy?" After all, there are all sorts of less fortunate individuals in the crowd looking on. There are single men and woman who long to find a mate; there are widows and divorced people. One ought to consider their feelings.

The danger of "Ayin HaRa’" is particularly great when the groom goes out of his way to publicly demonstrate his undying love for the bride. People begin to ask themselves, "Will his love continue to endure when he begins to face the difficulties of marraige?"

As unpleasant as it is to admit, if one begins to do a little investigating one finds that the very couples who were so eager to demonstrate their love in public later encountered domestic problems. Sometimes, when I see that the couple's demonstration of love is exceptionally conspicuous, I know that within a number of months they will come to me with serious relationship difficulties. In short, it is best for a couple not to make too prominent a show of their love for one another. Love one another modestly and may God bless you with many pleasant years together.

My father had the following to say about this issue of "Ayin HaRa'": It is not necessary to assert that the conspicuous behavior of the groom at the wedding was what caused ("siba") the problems which arose later. It is enough to say that his behavior was an indication ("siman"). I.e., the fact that he acted in an strange, eye-catching manner indicated that he was likely to have problems later on.

Who Decides Where the Wedding Will Be Held?
Question: When there is a difference of opinion between the couple and their parents over the location of the wedding, who has the final word?
Answer: Obviously, the ideal situation is one in which everybody agrees on one location. But, in cases where there is a difference of opinion between the couple and their parents, the rule would appear to be as follows: If the parents are the ones paying for the wedding (as is the accepted practice when it comes to young couples), then the parents must have the last word. They, in essence, are the hosts of the meal. They invite the guest, they are the ones who sign the invitations. Therefore, they are the ones to decide. They clearly want nothing more than to arrange the wedding in a manner that befits the honor of the bride and groom.

A bit of useful advice for young couples: Let the parents arrange the wedding. Sometimes the bride and groom think that because they are the ones getting married, they should be the ones to decide all of the wedding arrangements. This is not true. It is true that it is the bride and groom that are getting married; in this regard they cannot be replaced by the parents. But if the parents are paying for the meal, then they are the hosts of the banquet and the celebration. Generally, most of the guest are friends of the parents, and it is only fitting that they be allowed to feel at home with their acquaintances. By following this advice the couple will merit starting off their life together by fulfilling the commandment to honor their parents. This will also allow them to arrive at the wedding calm and happy. They are not responsible for everything. The weight of the responsibility is not on them. Finally, following this path will bring the parents more satisfaction.

Yet, if the bride and groom are financing the wedding themselves (a scenario more common with older couples) they have the right to decide where the wedding will be held, for they are the hosts. Of course, if the parents voice a particular opinion and the couple accepts it, they have fulfilled the commandment of honoring parents. All the same, they are not obligated to follow their parents' advice, for it is their wedding and they are the ones paying for it (see Peninei Halakha vol. 4, pp. 154-156).

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