The wedding celebrations open with a reception called “Kabbalat Panim’ during which both the bride and groom are greeted by family and friends. It is customary for the bride and groom to sit separately in adjoining rooms because they have often had no contact for a week prior to the wedding and it is only at the huppa that they meet again. This separation period prior to the wedding increases the anticipation and excitement of the wedding and also allows the bride and groom to prepare themselves with their respective families in their family home. During the Kabbalat Panim often the tena’im ceremony will take place where the mothers of the bride and groom stand together and break a plate. To read more about the tena’im ceremony click here.
The badeken ceremony is held at the end of the Kabbalat Panim. The groom is led by family and friends over to where the bride is sitting and places the veil over the brides face. This is a symbolic act one of whose meanings is the groom’s commitment to clothe and protect his wife.
The veil also symbolizes the idea of modesty and teaches us that however important and desirable physical beauty is, a person’s soul and character are far more important. The bride groom and all those assembled have a chance to connect to the underlying meaning and joy of the union itself and not to the superficial look of the event. The veiling as well is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac (Genesis ch. 29).
If the bride is wearing jewelry, after the badeken the bride removes it and gives it to someone to keep for her. This is because according to the Ashkenazi custom, while standing under the huppa the bride and groom’s commitment to each other should be based on who they are as people, not on any material possessions.
The wedding canopy, called the Chuppah, symbolizes the home that the couple will build together. According to tradition it is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah’s tent was open; in order to welcome people and extend unlimited hospitality.
Some people have the custom to have the chuppah ceremony outside under the stars. This is a sign of the blessing given by God to the patriarch Abraham that his children shall be “as the stars of the heavens”(Genesis 15:5).
The chatan, followed by the kallah, are usually escorted to the chuppah by their parents.
Circling the groom seven times
Under the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the kallah is figuratively building the walls of the couple’s new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately. When she has completed the circling, she stops at the groom’s right-hand side.
According to Sefardic custom, at this point the chatan says the blessing She’hecheyanu over a new tallit, and has in mind that the blessing also goes on the marriage. The tallit is then held by four young men over the head of the chatan and kallah.
The blessing on wine – Kiddushin
The Rabbi recites the blessings of betrothal, and the chatan and kallah both drink from the cup. Wine is a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition, and is associated with moments of sanctification. Marriage is the sanctification of a man and woman to each other.
In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the chatan gives an object of value to the kallah. This is traditionally done with a ring. The wedding ring is simple, made of a plain material without marks, etchings or ornamentation (e.g. stones). It is hoped that the marriage will resemble the ring in its wholeness simplicity and value.
In view of two witnesses, the groom declares to the bride “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” He puts the ring on the bride’s forefinger of her right hand. According to Jewish law, this is the central moment of the wedding ceremony, and at this point the couple is fully married. If the kallah also wants to give a ring to the chatan, this is usually done afterwards, not under the chuppah.
A ketubah is a special legal document, the marriage contract, which is an integral part of a Jewish wedding ceremony. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom in relation to the bride. It is read out loud, and given to the bride to keep. It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, and after the wedding it is often framed and displayed in the home. For more about the Ketubah click here.
The Seven Blessings/Sheva brachot
The Sheva brachot are recited over a second cup of wine. The theme of these blessings links the chatan and kallah to our faith in God as Creator of the world, Bestower of joy and love, and the ultimate Redeemer of our people. These blessings are recited by the rabbi or other people that the families wish to honor. At the conclusion of the seven blessings, the chatan and kallah again drink some of the wine. Click here for the text of the Sheva brachot.
Breaking the Glass
A glass (wrapped in newpaper or other protective material) is placed on the floor, and the chatan shatters it with his foot. At the moment of our greatest joy, it is the Jewish custom to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This connects the new couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. There is a joke that goes that this is the last time the groom gets to “put his foot down.”
After the breaking of the glass, the wedding ceremony is concluded and guests will wish the bride and groom “Mazel Tov,”. They are escorted with music away from the Chupah to the Yichud room.
Alone at last – yichud
The couple go to a private “yichud room” and are left alone for a few minutes. These moments of seclusion signify their new status of living together as husband and wife. Since the couple has been fasting since the morning, at this point they will also have something to eat. [Sefardim do not have the custom of the yichud room; the chatan and kallah immediately proceed to the wedding hall after the chuppah ceremony.]
The wedding feast (Seudah)
It is a mitzvah for guests to bring simcha (joy) to the chatan and the kallah on their wedding day. There is much music and dancing as the guests celebrate with the new couple; some guests entertain with feats of juggling and acrobatics.
Bread (challah) is served at the meal in order to elevate it to a meal of importance. According to some customs, a huge challah is made for the main table, and during the meal the bride and groom go round to their guests and hand out pieces of the challah. After the meal, Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is recited, and the Sheva Brachot are repeated.
During the week following the wedding, it is customary for friends and relatives to host festive meals in honor of the chatan and kallah. This is called the week of Sheva Brachot. For more about the Sheva Brachot week click here.