So what are the parts to a modern Jewish Wedding?
Before the wedding: The Ketubah
This is a marriage contract that is prepared before the wedding so it can be signed on the wedding day. It is not a document that contains scripture nor is it one that is filled with poetry, but it is more like a legal document signed by the bride and groom (and witnesses) which testifies that the husband guarantees to his wife that he will meet certain minimum human and financial conditions of marriage. While made very ornately and beautifully, it is not a document of scripture or prayer. It makes no mention of the confirmation of God in marriage. It is also not an affirmation of perpetual love. It is a statement of law that provides the framework of love.
The ketubah restates the fundamental conditions that are imposed by the Torah upon the husband, such as providing his wife with food, clothing, and conjugal rights, which are inseparable from marriage. It is not a mutual agreement; the wife agrees only to accept the husband’s proposal of marriage.
At the wedding: The Chuppah
The Chuppah is a canopy which is set up in front with the bride and groom standing under it. In a real sense – it provides a visual focal point for all to see the wedding occur. It is basically a sheet or cloth (or sometimes a very large prayer shawl) that can be decorated very ornately and is held up by four poles. It is open on all sides and it is where the groom waits for his bride to arrive to meet him. The structure itself is light and delicate, even fragile, representing that a home is built on the love within, not the physical walls around it.
The Chuppah symbolizes the first home of the new bride and groom. Just as Abraham and Sarah lived in a tent – and that tent was open for friends and visitors – so too does this tent symbolize the same. It also is a reminder that God’s presence is above this new marriage. It is believed that God grace is present in every chuppah ceremony and thereby makes it holy.
During the wedding: The Bride circles the groom seven times
As part of the wedding ceremony, the bride will circle the groom seven times. This is symbolic with multiple explanations:
- The bride, by circling the groom, expresses her awesome power over him.
- This also symbolizes her protective care of her husband.
- It can also symbolize that fact that men often have a wall up in which they hide their feelings and hide any sign of weakness or vulnerability. Like Jericho, the walls fell after being encircled seven times. In other words – the bride, encircling him with her love, will make all his walls fall down.
- Some also say this is a reminder that the world was created in 6 days and on the seventh day, God and man had divine fellowship (A Sabbath rest). So too, marriage is a place of rest in this world of work.
At the close of the wedding: The breaking of the glass
One of the very last things to happen before they are presented as ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ comes the breaking of the glass. This is where a glass (perhaps a light bulb sized item) is placed inside a cloth and the groom smashes his foot down upon it as all hear the glass being shattered into a million pieces. Typically all will laugh and shout ‘Mazel Tov!’ (Jewish congratulations equivalent) at this time. Why? Several reasons:
- Some say it is a reminder of the Temple which was destroyed in Jerusalem. In other words – even at our most joyous moment, we still have a memory of the Holy Temple which was destroyed like this glass just was.
- Others say it is symbolic of their lives never being able to go back as they once were. Just like the glass cannot be brought back to the way it was, so to their lives will never go back to the way things were. They are moving forward from this point on.
- Others say (with humor) it is the last time the man gets to put his foot down.
After the wedding: The celebration!
A marriage is a cause for celebration and this is what the food and festivities are all about afterwards. One of the most fun events afterwards is when the bride and groom are placed into two chairs and picked up by several strong men. They are then danced around the room and people clap and celebrate the joy of the newly married couple.
A REMINDER FOR BELIEVERS
The joy of a marriage ceremony is a reminder for us as believers in Yeshua (Jesus) that we are betrothed to Him. When we see Him, it will be a time known as the ‘Marriage supper of the Lamb’! And what joy and celebration that will be!
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;” (Revelation 19:7)