Within BES, we are fortunate to be able to celebrate many weddings each year. If you are engaged and in the process of planning your wedding, here is a quick introduction to the Jewish wedding ceremony, more details of which can be found on the Marriage section of the United Synagogue website.
During the first part of the ceremony (during the reception, usually) the ketubah (marriage contract) is signed and witnessed. Written in Aramaic, the ketubah details the husband's obligations to his wife: food, clothing, dwelling and pleasure. It also creates a lien on all his property to pay her a sum of money and support should he divorce her, or predecease her. The document is signed by the groom and witnessed by two people, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement, that in many countries is enforceable by secular law. The ketubah is often written as an illuminated manuscript, and becomes a work of art in itself, which many couples frame and display in their home.
After the signing of the ketubah, the groom does the bedekin, or "veiling". The groom, together with his father and future father-in-law, is accompanied by musicians and the male guests to the room where the bride is receiving her guests. She sits, like a queen, on a throne-like chair surrounded by her family and friends. The groom, who has not seen her for a week, covers her face with her veil. This ceremony is mainly for the legal purpose of the groom identifying the bride before the wedding.
Following the veiling, the chuppah (canopy) stage of the wedding takes place. The groom is accompanied to the chuppah by his parents, before the bride comes to the chuppah with her parents, with a cantor singing a selection of traditional marriage songs. Once under the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times, symbolizing the idea of the woman being a protective, surrounding light of the household, that illuminates it with understanding and love from within, and protects it from harm from the outside. The number seven parallels the seven days of creation, and symbolizes the fact that the bride and groom are about to create their own "new world" together.
Under the chuppah, the officiant then recites a blessing over wine, and a blessing that praises and thanks G-d for giving us laws of sanctity and morality to preserve the sanctity of family life and of the Jewish people. The bride and groom then drink from the wine. The blessings are recited over wine, since wine is symbolic of life.
While still under the chuppah, the groom takes a plain gold ring and places it on the finger of the bride, and recites in the presence of two witnesses, "Behold you are sanctified (betrothed) to me with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel." The ring symbolizes the concept of the groom encompassing, protecting and providing for his wife. The ketubah is then read aloud, usually by another member of the officiating party, after which it is given to the bride.
After this, the sheva brachot, or seven blessings, are recited, either by one Rabbi, or various people the families wish to honour. The blessings are also recited over a full cup of wine. The blessings begin with praising G-d for His creation in general and creation of the human being and proceed with praise for the creation of the human as a "two part creature," woman and man. The blessings express the hope that the new couple will rejoice together forever as though they are the original couple, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The blessings also include a prayer that Jerusalem will be fully rebuilt and restored with the Temple in its midst and the Jewish people within her gates.
Breaking the glass
The final part of the chuppah stage involves the couple again sharing in drinking the cup of wine, and the groom breaking a glass by stamping on it. This custom dates back to Talmudic times, and symbolizes the idea of our keeping Jerusalem and Israel in our minds even at times of our joy. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, so we break a utensil to show our identification with the sorrow of Jewish exile. The verse, "If I forget thee O' Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning: If I do not raise thee over my own joy, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth", is sometimes recited at this point. With the breaking of the glass the band plays, and the guests usually break out into dancing and cries of "Mazaltov!".
Celebrate your wedding in our beautiful modern synagogue. All Rabbis with authorisation from the Chief Rabbi are welcome to officiate. Please contact the synagogue office on 020 8386 5227 for more information and to check availalability.