6 Jewish Traditions We're Including in Our Wedding

Thursday, February 16, 2017


I'm surprised how many times I've been asked, "Are you & Mike having a Jewish wedding?" Since so many real-life people have been curious about this element of our upcoming wedding, I thought I might share here, too, what we have planned - either as a sneak peek of what to expect, if you'll be there, or just as a look at some Jewish wedding traditions you may not know about.

For background: Mike went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, but these days, he's an atheist. I grew up Jewish, work for a Reform Jewish organization, & identify as culturally Jewish but spiritually agnostic. Because of my job, people assume I'm more religious than I actually am. I don't really consider myself religious, but Reform Judaism, as a community & a movement, is really important to me, regardless of "the God stuff" that I'm still unsure about.

So yes, we're planning to have a Jewish ceremony... for the most part. Here are some of the things we'll probably be doing - & a little explanation of what each of these things is & means, largely lifted from ReformJudaism.org

We will stand under a chuppah.

This is the wedding canopy that the couple stands beneath during the ceremony, symbolizing the home they'll establish together. Supported by four poles, the chuppah is sometimes held by family members & friends; its temporal, fragile nature is also a reminder that relationships, too, can be fragile & may occasionally need the support of loved ones.
Rather than have our family & friends hold our chuppah, we're going to go with a standalone structure - mostly so it's not too crowded up there! The chuppah will be covered with a tablecloth handmade & hand-embroided by my late great-grandmother.

We will sign a ketubah.

The Jewish marriage contract is signed just before the wedding ceremony by two witnesses who testify to the couple's commitment to one to the other. Modern-day egalitarian ketubot usually include descriptions of how the couple will support one another & the home they're establishing together (rather than, say, how the wife will be subservient to her husband, as in Biblical times).

We haven't yet chosen a ketubah but are on the lookout for something unique that speaks to our personal style & doesn't feel too stuffy. Ketubot are often beautiful pieces of art hung in places of honor in the couple's home, & we'd love to find or commission one that incorporates some element of our common interests or lives together. (Ahem, the Cleveland skyline...)

As a quick plug, my friend Ariela creates ketubot with quirky modern twists. If you're in the market, check her out at GeekCalligraphy.com!

We will probably recite the Sheva B'rachot.

Originally it was the groom who made the declaration of the Sheva B'rachot - the Seven Blessings - but in modern, egalitarian ceremonies, both members of the couple do it. The Sheva B'rachot praise the universe, humanity, the joy of the couple, the establishment of a household, & an ode to joy that links this celebration with the time when joy & gladness will be felt around the world. Tradition says that each time two people fall in love & marry, the world comes closer to perfection.

We don't yet have an officiant - unfortunately, the friend who was originally going to marry us is no longer able - so we've yet to discuss this with a rabbi, but it's such a common element of a Jewish wedding that I imagine we'll include it... in both Hebrew & English so our non-Jewish attendees can understand what's going on.

Mike will definitely break the glass.

Probably the best known ritual associated with Jewish weddings comes at the end of the ceremony, when the groom breaks a glass by stepping on it. Interpretations include the ideas that in times of joy, we must be cognizant that life also brings sadness & sorrow; that love, like glass, is fragile & must be protected; and that although the world, too, is broken, we can help make it whole again.

At the breaking of the glass, guests are encouraged to shout "Mazel tov!" which translates to "Good fortune!" but mostly means "Congratulations!" I want to note this in the program or have our officiant explain it to our attendees so everyone knows to chime in. It's such a joyous moment!

We may take a moment for yichud.

Following the ceremony, the couple spends a few moments alone before joining friends & family at the celebration. Yichud (seclusion) is a respite from the strain of being the center of attention for a whole day; it is an island of privacy & peace before the public celebration begins.

Our venue is a bit tricky for this, but I'd like to try. We both get easily overwhelmed, so it would be nice to take a quiet moment together before facing the big, loud, happy reception festivities.

We'll all dance the hora!

This is probably what you think of when you imagine a Jewish wedding: wedding guests hoisting the happy couple up in chairs while everyone dances & sings around them. This is called the hora, usually set to the tune of "Hava Nagila."

I love the hora, & I hope our Jewish guests will take the lead & bring our non-Jewish guests in the fold. It's such a fun tradition, & though I'm not wild about the trying-not-to-falll-off-a-chair part, I'm crazy about the dancing-in-joy part.

Even if you're not a dancer, this is a pretty easy one to learn. Headed to a Jewish wedding (maybe ours) & want to participate in the hora yourself? This animated video from G-dcast will teach you how.


Have other questions for me about Jewish weddings? I may not be able to answer them, but I'm happy to try (or to direct you appropriately). If you're a Jewish couple or part of an interfaith couple, I'd love to hear which elements of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony you incorporated into your big day - & how it went, especially if you've got any tips for us!

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