Wedding Photographers’ Favorite – Jewish Wedding Traditions
“Fill up my cup, Mazel Tov!” You’ve probably heard that line in the Black Eyed Peas latest hit song, “I gotta feelin’” But, do you know at what event where Mazel Tov can be heard the most?
It’s at a Jewish wedding ceremony.
A Jewish wedding is full of rich tradition, including rituals that honor not only the bride and groom but also their obligations to the Jewish people. The wedding day is regarded as the happiest and holiest days of their lives, when all of the couple’s past mistakes are forgiven and they merge into a new and complete soul. As a Jewish wedding photographer in Miami, I just love photographing Jewish weddings.
Prior to the wedding, it’s customary for the bride and groom to not see each other for the entire week prior to the ceremony. This helps to build the excitement of the big day. Fasting is also a large part of many Jewish holidays, and a wedding ceremony is not any different. The bride and groom fast for the day before the ceremony until the reception. As a Jewish wedding photographer
The actual wedding ceremony is relatively short, only lasting 20-30 minutes. Both the bride and groom walk down the aisle with both of their parents. The ceremony takes place under a Chuppah, a canopy on four poles that can decorated with flowers or draping. The Chuppah symbolizes that the bride and groom are starting a home together that will always be open to guests, which is a biblical tradition of the wedding of Abraham and Sarah.
Once the procession is complete, the couple signs the Ketupah, the wedding contract. This is an ornate and beautiful document that outlines the expectations and duties of the couple once they are married and is displayed in their new home. Signing the Ketupah is one of the favorite of Miami based Jewish wedding photographers.
Then, the bride circles the groom two times while blessings are recited over the wine that both the bride and groom drink. Following this is the giving of the rings, which are simple bands, with no details, no stones, and no engraving on them so there is nothing to distinguish the beginning from the end.
Since this is a religion rich with history, after the exchange of the wedding bands is one of the most important parts. The Sheva Berachot, or seven blessings, are recited over another glass of wine. A parent will wrap the couple in a Tallit, a prayer shall. The couple may invite seven friends or family members to recite each one of the blessings or have the blessings sung in traditional Hebrew. This is to recognize the intimacy and significance of the moment. The Sehva Brachot is the real heart of a traditional Jewish wedding. This liturgical part of the ceremony celebrates the themes of joy and celebration and the ongoing power of love. It’s not an accident that there are seven blessings as they relate to the seven days of creation.
After the wedding vows have been exchanged, the groom steps on a wine glass as family and friends yell “Mazel Tov” (literally meaning “good luck has occurred” and is used as a way of saying congratulations). The breaking of the glass has a few different interpretation. One symbolizes that human happiness is fragile, which is a staple of Jewish history. Another is that the marriage will last as long as the glass is broken. A third is that people need to remember those who are suffering even in this joyous moment. The bride and groom as also left alone together for a few moments right after the ceremony (called the Yichud).
The Sheva Berakhot is also recited again at the wedding reception following the Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals). This second time of the seven blessings gives the couples another time to honor their family and friends. At this time, the wine is divided into two cups, which represent the couple. After the bride and groom have taken a sip, the rest is poured into a third cup, which is shared by the community. This tradition shows how the couple is connected together as one and how their new life is intertwined and shared with the community.
The wedding reception is a joyful and fun event filled with singing and traditional dances. One such dance is called the Hora. This lively Israeli dance is when their guests lift the bride and groom into the air on chairs while they hold onto either end of a handkerchief. This dance allows the couple to be celebrated as king and queen of the night.
Another tradition celebrated at the reception is the Krenzl, which means crowning. This ritual honors the bride’s mother when her last daughter is wed. The mother is crowned with a wreath of flowers as all of her daughters dance around her. When parents whose last son has been married, they do the dance called Mizinke when the guests circle the parents and give them flowers and kisses.
In keeping with the Sheva Berakhot, the bride and groom are treated like royalty for the seven days following their wedding. While most couples are anxious to get away to a tropical spot for their honeymoon, Jewish couples spend time with the community to start their marriage on the right foot. For each of the seven nights, they are invited to dine at the home of a different friend or relative and following dinner, the seven blessings are recited again. Back in the times when marriages were arranged, these meals served as a way for the couple to get support from the community and to get to know each other.
The Jewish people have a true passion for their religion, which is evident throughout all of their holidays. These traditions and rituals reign the most true when a wedding ceremony happens because it’s the joining of two hearts who become one within the community. To the people of Jerusalem, a marriage is considered to be the ideal state of existence because a man who doesn’t have a wife, or vice versa, is considered a life that is not complete.