Jewish Wedding Traditions
Many people have heard of, or witnessed, Jewish wedding traditions, and found them beautiful and interesting without knowing quite what they mean. As with most Jewish tradition, wedding rituals are steeped in meaning that dates back thousands of years.
If you’ve ever entered the home of a Jewish family in Massachusetts, Connecticut or elsewhere, you may have noticed a framed, beautifully illuminated document in an unfamiliar language hanging on the wall. This is the Ketuba, or wedding contract. It is written in Aramaic, the language used in Talmudic law. It sets forth the groom’s responsibility for (and to) his bride. In ancient times, the groom offered a dowry to protect his wife in the event of death or divorce, the terms of which are set forth in this document. In the last several decades, the ketubah has included statements of commitment by both the bride and groom to each other, as well as to God, the Torah, and the Jewish community. Traditionally, the Ketuba is signed by the groom and two witnesses before the wedding and becomes the bride’s property after the couple is wed.
The chuppah, or canopy, under which Jewish couples are married is more than just a decorative focal point during the ceremony. Thought to have originated from the covered litter in which the bride was carried during the wedding procession in ancient times, the chuppah is usually held by four poles in stanchions. The poles may also be held upright by four men. The chuppah publicly creates the couple’s first “house,” representing that they will be spending their lives in a household together. While a bride’s parents may escort her down the aisle, the bride takes three steps on her own, symbolizing that she is entering the marriage of her own choosing. The groom, who is already standing under the chuppah, then comes to escort the bride under it.
Breaking of the Glass
Possibly the Jewish wedding tradition with which most people are familiar is the groom stepping on and breaking a wine glass at the end of the wedding ceremony. The glass, wrapped in a white cloth or bag, is placed under the right foot of the groom by the best man. There are myriad interpretations of the meaning of this ritual, but most seem to center on the need to remember, even in the midst of joyful celebration, the fragility of life.