Planning a Jewish wedding is an exciting journey filled with rich, cultural traditions that have been established for thousands of years. These rituals are steeped in history and religious significance, embodying the beauty of Jewish heritage and lived experiences of Jewish traditions from all over the world. Although diverse in their practices, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities share many of these meaningful customs. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore 13 essential Jewish wedding traditions, highlighting their historical and cultural significance for both Ashkenazi and Sephardic couples. This short guide should be an excellent roadmap for anyone planning a Jewish Wedding especially those who are marrying into an apposite custom.
1. Kabbalat Panim - Welcoming the Guests
Before the ceremony begins, Ashkenazi and Sephardic weddings often include a 'Kabbalat Panim' or 'welcoming of the faces'. This is a time for guests to mingle and enjoy light refreshments. Historically, this tradition symbolizes the hospitality and warmth of the Jewish people.
2. Badeken - The Veiling Ceremony
In the Ashkenazi tradition, the 'Badeken' involves the groom veiling the bride, symbolizing his commitment to clothe and protect her. This custom is rooted in the Biblical story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, ensuring the groom marries the right bride. It is a Sephardic custom to have a mother of the bride veil the bride at a Ketubah signing ceremony, typically including both men and women in one room.
3. The Chossons Tische
The chosson's Tische is yet another beautiful Ashkenaz wedding tradition dating back over a thousand years to Eastern European Jewish communities. It is a part of the wedding where the chossons Rabbi or a Messader Kedushin, the master of ceremonies, go over the Ketubah to make sure the groom is familiar with all the responsibilities he is taking on as well as use the opportunity to celebrate over a Le Chaim toast by friends and family which typically also leads to some singing and dancing. It is also customary for the chosson (the groom) to complete a siyum before he goes under the chuppah.
4. Chuppah - The Wedding Ceremony
The 'Chuppah', a canopy under which the couple stands during the ceremony, is a universal Jewish wedding tradition. It represents the couple's new home, open on all sides to welcome friends and family, echoing Abraham and Sarah's open tent. It is also widely accepted for the groom to either pay for or build the canopy even if the rest of the wedding is paid for by someone else. Having the groom take care of at least the chuppah partially signifies his commitment to his bride going forward.
5. Welcoming the bride
It is a widespread Sephardic custom for the hattan or groom to invite his bride under the chuppah by physically walking down the aisle to her. It is also at this point that he unveils her and walks her to the chuppah in unison. It is also customary for the bride to receive her parents’ blessings right before her father gives her over to her groom to take to the chuppah. Many times, the groom also receives his bride's father's blessing right before he takes his bride down the aisle.
While the Ashkenazi wedding customs do not include the groom walking down to his bride his bride does something as significant in return.
5. Circling the groom
In many Ashkenaz and Hassidic Jewish weddings, the bride circles the groom seven times. This act is laden with symbolism, including the creation of a magical protective circle and the representation of the seven wedding blessings or the Sheva Berachot.
6. Ketubah - The Marriage Contract
The 'Ketubah', a marriage contract, is a pivotal part of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic weddings. This ancient document outlines the groom's responsibilities to his bride and is often beautifully decorated, reflecting the couple's cultural heritage. It is customary for both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish weddings to have the Mesader Kedushin or Master of Ceremony read the ketubah as a symbolic gesture of the groom announcing his pride in taking on the responsibilities. The ketubah, which is almost always already signed either at the badeken or ketubah signing ceremony is then given to the bride by her groom. Typically the bride will hand the ketubah to her mother for safekeeping till after the wedding.
7. Sheva Brachot - Seven Blessings
'Sheva Brachot', or seven blessings, are recited over a cup of white wine. These blessings link the couple to their faith and history, celebrating creation, joy, and the sanctity of marriage. It is customary for both Ashkenaz and Sephardic couples to invite honorary guests and family members to recite each one of the seven blessings.
8. Breaking the Glass
At the chuppah ceremony's conclusion, the groom breaks a glass, symbolizing the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This powerful tradition reminds us to remember the holy land and Temple even in our happiest moments.
9. Yichud - Seclusion
Following the ceremony, the couple spends a few moments in 'Yichud' or seclusion. This tradition allows the newlyweds to reflect on their commitment and enjoy their first moments as a married couple. The Yichud is an absolute must and cannot be skipped.
10. The Hora - Joyous Dancing
The 'Hora', a lively and joyous dance, is a highlight of Jewish wedding receptions. Participants dance in a circle, often lifting the couple on chairs, symbolizing community support and happiness. In more religious settings where a Mechitza is used to separate men’s and women’s dancing the hora is replaced by the Keitzad Merakdim dancing where friends and family members take turns dancing around the bride and groom sitting on chairs next to each other. Some, even in more religious circles will have some sort of bride and groom dancing even if it's just for a few fleeting moments.
11. Mizinke - Parents' Dance
In Ashkenazi tradition, when the last child is wed, the parents are honored with a 'Mizinke' dance. This heartwarming moment celebrates the parents' successful raising of their children to adulthood.
12. Shtick - Wedding Performances
'Shtick' involves guests performing little acts or dances to entertain the couple. This tradition, prevalent in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic weddings, adds humor and joy to the celebration. In most religious Jewish weddings, Shtick is typically displayed during Ketzad Merakdim dancing in front of the Hosson and Kallah.
13. Fasting and prayer on the wedding day
Similar to Yom Kippur, many Jewish couples choose to fast on their wedding day until the marriage ceremony is completed, symbolizing atonement and a fresh start. Many couples use the chuppah as the opportunity to pray for a good life or on behalf of anyone still single to find their bashert.
Use of Hebrew and Traditional Music
In both Ashkenazi and Sephardic weddings, Hebrew plays a central role in the ceremony, with traditional music often accompanying the rituals. This element ties the couple to their ancestral roots and the wider Jewish community.
Each of these 13 Jewish wedding traditions offers a unique window into the rich tapestry of Jewish history and culture. For Ashkenazi and Sephardic couples alike, these customs provide a meaningful way to honor their heritage and begin their journey with blessings and joy. As you plan your Jewish wedding, embracing these traditions can create a deeply personal and unforgettable experience. Our team has been documenting Jewish weddings for well over a decade specializing in Modern and ultra-Orthodox Jewish ceremonies, using traditional wedding photography styles and a mix of modern photojournalism. Benjamin Kohen Studios has gained a reputation for creating photos and films that tell compelling stories in New York, New Jersey, and beyond. Whether you're planning a Mitzvah Tanz, Mezinka, a colorful Moroccan Henna, or a Bukharian Djoma dance-off, well capture it all in stunning details!