10 Jewish wedding traditions you need to know
Whether you grew up immersed in the Jewish religion or are being introduced to it through your partner (or perhaps attending your first Jewish wedding), there are many Jewish wedding traditions that characterize the celebration of marriage. Jewish life is surrounded by customs and traditions that can differ from one community to another, which can be optional or mandatory depending on your level of orthodoxy.
New York wedding photographer and Fine Art Curation member Anna Gianfrate has captured many Jewish weddings throughout Manhattan and beyond and is familiar with the meaningful traditions that Jewish families hold so dear. We asked her to share what traditions to expect at a Jewish wedding...
Similar to a first look, the bedeken is an intimate moment where the groom looks at the bride then covers her face with the veil. It is to symbolize that they are two distinct people even in marriage and that he values her inner beauty. This usually takes place during the ketubah signing (see number 6).
2. There's always a chuppah
A chuppah is a structure with four corners and a covered roof to symbolize the new home the bride and groom are building together. In some ceremonies, the four posts of the chuppah are held up by friends or family members throughout the ceremony, supporting the life the couple is building together, while in other instances it may be a freestanding and decorated with flowers. The canopy is often made of a tallit, or prayer shawl, belonging to a member of the couple or their families.
3. Both parents walk you down the aisle
In Jewish ceremonies, the processional order is slightly different than traditional non-Jewish ceremonies. In Jewish tradition, both of the groom's parents walk him down the aisle to the chuppah, the altar beneath which the couple exchanges vows. Then the bride and her parents follow. Traditionally, both sets of parents stand under the chuppah during the ceremony, alongside the bride, groom and rabbi.
Known as hakafot in the Ashkenazi tradition, the bride traditionally circles around her groom either three or seven times under the chuppah to create a magical wall of protection from evil spirits, temptation, and the glances of other women. Some couples choose a twist on this tradition by circling each other to demonstrate equality in their relationship. If this is the case, the bride circles the groom three times, the groom circles the bride three times, and then they circle each other once.
5. A prayer shawl plays a key part
A tallit, which is a fringed prayer shawl, may be used in several ways as part of Jewish wedding traditions. A bride may give her groom a tallit as a wedding gift. A tallit may also serve as the cloth portion of the chuppah. And during the final blessings, the couple’s parents may wrap the tallit around the couple’s shoulders as a symbol of unity and being surrounded by love.
6. Couples sign a marriage contract
The signing of the ketubah, or marriage contract, is a common Jewish tradition. A ketubah signing ceremony is traditionally held shortly before the actual wedding ceremony and the couple chooses two witnesses (not blood relatives) to sign the ketubah with them, and a rabbi or officiant. Close family members are also present for this important moment and the signed ketubah is frequently displayed during the wedding ceremony that follows.
7. Sheva B'rachot: Seven Blessings
Family members or friends are often invited to perform readings at wedding ceremonies and Jewish weddings have a similar tradition. The seven blessings, called the Sheva B'rachot, come from ancient teachings and are shared by members of the wedding party. The blessings are often read in both Hebrew and English, and focus on joy, celebration, and the power of love.
8. Breaking of the glass
During the final moments of a wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a glass (usually wrapped in a cloth napkin to avoid injury) with his right foot. The couple will then usually kiss and guests shout “Mazel Tov!” to congratulate the newlyweds. There are several conflicting origins to this Jewish wedding tradition but it’s most commonly thought to reference the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
9. Alone time
Following the ceremony, tradition states that couples spend at least eight minutes in yichud (or seclusion). This wedding custom gives the newlyweds chance to reflect on their new relationship and allows them precious time alone before celebrating with family and friends. It's also customary for the bride and groom to share their first meal together during the yichud.
10. Celebratory Jewish dances
One of the highlights of Jewish wedding traditions, the horo is a joyful dance that takes place at the reception. As traditional Jewish music plays, guests dance in circles and the couple is seated on chairs and hoisted into the air, where they may hold either a handkerchief or cloth napkin.
Another Jewish wedding dance you might see during a reception is the mezinke tanz, which occurs when the last child of a family is married. The parents of the child sit on chairs and the mother wears a floral crown. Guests dance around the parents and congratulate them on the special occasion. This may be done for the parents of the bride, groom, or both, depending on if they are the last in the family to be married.
Photography and video: Anna Gianfrate | Venue: Tribeca Rooftop + 360 | Planning: Loli Events | Florals: Adam Leffel Productions | Hair and make-up: Sam Brocato Salon | Entertainment: Hank Lane Music | Bridal gown: Pronovias | Groom's suit: Alan David Custom Suits NYC | Stationery: Minted