A Modern Jewish Wedding Ceremony Guide: Rituals, History, and an Explanation of Jewish Traditions.
As a Los Angeles wedding planner for the bold, rebellious, and creative, I plan a lot of non-traditional weddings in unique and unexpected venues. A few years back, I found myself planning a handful of traditional Jewish weddings, all at once. Like the good student that I am, I dove into research mode to learn as much as I could about Traditional Jewish Weddings. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of Jewish wedding customs, rituals, and traditions. It is one thing to go through the motions and learn the vocabulary and outline the order of events, but it feels totally different to grasp why these rituals are meaningful to my couples and their families.
During my research phase, I never quite found the Ultimate Modern Jewish Wedding Ceremony Guide that I was searching for. So, I decided I would create one! That’s right, your non-traditional Los Angeles wedding planner, Art & Soul Events, decided to write a Jewish Wedding Ceremony Guide:)
This is where Rabbi Ashley enters the picture.
I wanted to make sure I was respectful of religious traditions and accurate in my Jewish Wedding Guide descriptions. Personalization and inclusivity are a few of my core values at Art & Soul Events so it was important for me to team up with a Reform Rabbi that feels the same way. I had the pleasure of working with Rabbi Ashley at Heather & Jacob’s Ruby Street Wedding back in 2017, so I knew she was the perfect Wedding Rabbi Officiant to help write the guide with me. We met me for coffee to chat about all things Jewish Weddings (and followed that up with a series of emails) and together we crafted the Ultimate Modern Jewish Wedding Ceremony Guide!
What is Reform Judaism?
Reform Jews are committed to a Judaism that changes and adapts to the needs of the day
Reform Jews are committed to the absolute equality of women in all areas of Jewish life.
Reform Jews are committed to social justice.
Reform Jews are committed to the principle of inclusion, not exclusion
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The Jewish wedding traditionally begins with pre-ceremony customs that allow the guests to welcome the bride and groom. Kabbalat Panim means “receiving faces,” which describes these opening customs. The groom(s) gather with the male guests at the groom’s tish (“the groom’s table”) where they offer toasts and some words of Torah. At the same time, the female guests meet the bride(s) at the hakhnassat kallah (“welcoming the bride”), where the bride(s) sits on an elegant chair as she receives her guests. These receptions are a wonderful opportunity for couples to re-imagine traditional customs that are meaningful to them, such as having a joint reception.
The Tish (or Tisch) is often lively and full of energy with rhythmic clapping, dancing, and singing! Guests, relatives, and friends of the groom, toast the groom, and offer words from the Torah.
The bedecken is the veiling of the bride prior to the chuppah ceremony.
The origin of the veiling goes back to Genesis 29, when Jacob marries Leah instead of Rachel, the woman he loves, because he does not see her face before finalizing the marriage. While this story and the purpose may not resonate with every couple (that's ok!), some couples decide to offer a modern interpretation of this ancient tradition. Instead of confirming the correct bride under the veil or looking at this from a modesty context, one may want to see it as an opportunity to fully see their partner, almost as if it is the first time, for all the good and less good qualities that they possess. We fully accept and embrace that person for all that they are, and all that they are not.
SIGNING OF THE KETUBAH
The ketubah is the legal Jewish marriage contract. There are many versions of ketubot (the plural for ketubah), allowing each couple to find the text that is most meaningful and relevant to their relationship. Additionally, in Judaism, there is an idea of Hiddur Mitzvah, which means that we should be beautifying our ritual items as it elevates and enhances the mitzvot (the Commandments). This idea is relevant to ketubot as well.
Traditionally, the ketubah is signed by two Shabbat-observant male Jews who are not related to the couple. For many couples today, their witnesses are two non-related Jews, regardless of their gender and Shabbat observance.
Depending on the officiating rabbi, the ketubah may be signed prior to or during the chuppah ceremony. If the ketubah is signed prior to the chuppah , it is nice to have it displayed under the chuppah for the community to see.
Ketubot may be traditional and modest or artistic and colorful, with designs in between. It’s most important that you find a ketubah that represents the couple and their love, and one that is present in their home as a daily reminder of the commitment they made to each other on their wedding day. Don’t forget your archival pen for signing and make sure you check the size of the tip of the pen!
While the ketubah is the Jewish marriage contract, you still need a marriage license to make your marriage secularly legal. An officiant cannot officiate the wedding without the signing of the marriage license.
The chuppah is the marriage canopy under which a couple becomes married. The chuppah has four poles, either freestanding or held by family and friends, and has a covering overhead, most commonly a tallit (also known as a prayer shawl). The chuppah is open on all sides, representing Abraham’s tent that was also open so visitors would know that they were welcome inside.
JEWISH WEDDING CEREMONY PROGRAM INSPIRATION
What is a Kiddush cup? A Kiddush cup is the wine/juice glass that a blessing is made over. During the Jewish wedding ceremony, there are two times when the prayer of sanctification over the wine/juice is recited and the couple drinks. The couple may want two separate Kiddush cups, or one may be used that is refilled and blessed twice.
The Kiddush cup is a great way to incorporate the couple’s family by using a family heirloom, or by starting their own family tradition with the purchase or gift of a Kiddush cup to use specifically at the wedding. The cup should be filled with Kosher white wine or juice just in case the wine drips.
What does wine symbolize in a Jewish Wedding Ceremony?
Wine is used for a prayer of sanctification, not only during Jewish weddings but most Jewish observances. The blessing offers thanks to God for the creation of the fruit of the vine, so any drink made from fruits that grow on vines are acceptable for those who may not drink alcohol.
WHY DO MEN/ WOMEN WEAR A YARMULKE/ KIPPAH?
A kippah (Yiddush:Yarmulke) is the traditional head covering worn by Jewish men throughout the day. Progressive Jewish women may also choose to wear a kippah. Wearing a kippah is a sign of one’s reverence for God, and the physical reminder that there is something greater than oneself. Kippot is plural for kippah.
Similar to secular weddings, wedding processions may have many people walking down the aisle, from grandparents and wedding parties to dog ring bearers, or simply the couple and their parents. Customary to Jewish weddings, an emphasis is placed on both parents. However, given family dynamics and situations, that may not always be possible or desired, in which case it is whomever the couple feels most comfortable.
Unlike secular weddings, it is not customary to rise for the bride as she walks down the aisle.
When the couple is handed off to each other by their escorts, the couple then begins their circling. Once that is complete, they walk into the chuppah together.
Traditionally, the groom circles the bride seven times before they enter the chuppah. There are many explanations as to the significance of this custom. Seven is a commonly used number in Judaism—the seven days of Creation, repetitions in the Bible, seven blessings recited at a wedding, etc.
Many couples choose to forgo the traditional method and seek an egalitarian approach to this tradition by having each partner, one at a time, circle the other three times, followed by the seventh circle completed together. The significance of the seven circles is accomplished but in an egalitarian way.
Many Jewish couples do want to exchange custom personal vows, they are now included in many Reform and Conservative ceremonies.
During the exchange of rings, the couple individually repeats the statement after the rabbi in Hebrew and/or English, which says the following, “Be consecrated to me with this ring, as my (husband/wife) in keeping with the heritage of Moses and Israel.”
Jewish law dictates that the wedding ring should be a continuous circle without any holes or stones. Many suggest that the unbroken ring symbolizes an unbroken marriage.
SHEVA BRACHOT (7 BLESSINGS)
The Sheva Brachot, or “Seven Blessings” remind us of significant themes within Judaism such as Creation, Eden, Zion, Redemption and Jerusalem. And most importantly, the idea that the people of Israel join together in happiness and joy to celebrate with the couple. The recitation of these blessings, either sung or read in English and/or Hebrew, is in essence the community offering their blessing of the marriage.
In the book of Numbers found in the Torah, Moses’ brother, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons are given this blessing by God to offer the people. These three verses have become a significant part of Jewish moments, including the Jewish wedding. Beneath the chuppah, the rabbi offers this blessing as the couple is wrapped in a tallit (prayer shawl). Oftentimes, this tallit has meaning to the couple, whether it was one of theirs growing up, a parent or grandparent’s, or purchased specifically for this moment.
BREAKING OF THE GLASS
There are many, many interpretations as to why a Jewish wedding concludes with the breaking of glass. One common interpretation is that Jewish history is marred with destruction and brokenness, and even in the most joyful of moments, we recall the sadness of our people’s past. Traditionally, the groom steps on the glass but in our ever changing world with evolving roles, this tradition may be re-imagined with two grooms or two brides, as well as entire families being included.
Yichud, meaning seclusion, are typically the moments immediately following the ceremony under the chuppah where the couple has some time to be alone. Yichud can last as long as the couple would like. This time is perfect for the couple to reflect on the ceremony, eat some food, and enjoy each other’s company before joining the rest of their family and friends as they celebrate their marriage.
HORA, “HAVA NAGILA” SONG
The Hora is a traditional circle dance that is accompanied by the Jewish folk song, “Hava Nagila.” Guests join hands and dance in circles around the wedding couple. The couple is hoisted up in chairs in the center of the circle as the rest of the guests dance joyfully around them. This lively celebration has been known to last for several minutes! But don’t forget to use supportive chairs with arms!
There is nothing like a hora to get the dance party started!
Who is Rabbi Ashley?
Born and raised in beautiful Los Angeles, Rabbi Ashley loves working with engaged couples preparing for their Jewish wedding. She believes that Jewish wedding ceremonies should be as unique and special as the couple standing under the chuppah.
Rabbi Ashley works to ensure that the wedding ceremony reflects the couple by individually crafting each ceremony with her couples. She spends time getting to know her couples, so it is as if a long time friend is officiating their wedding. Rabbi Ashley has experience with interfaith and LGBTQ+ Weddings and believes that every couple deserves a unique and tailored experience. By creating the ceremony with each couple, the ceremony reflects their own beautiful love.
Rabbi Ashley is a trained facilitator of the PREPARE/ENRICH assessment, a tool that highlights each couple's areas of strength and growth. She highly encourages couples to take advantage of this as it enables the couple to navigate important topics in a safe space.
"We never expected our wedding guests to tell us how cool our rabbi was, but that's exactly what they expressed. Rabbi Ashley brought a wonderful vibrancy of modern Judaism to our ceremony. With her support, we were able to craft our perfect ceremony –– a blend of tradition, personal touch, and modern partnership. Leading up to the big day, Rabbi Ashley made a huge effort to be a part of our lives, provide spiritual guidance, and get to know us so that our wedding day felt deeply intimate. She even let us recite the incredibly long vows we wrote for each other. We are so happy to have Rabbi Ashley as part of one of our most important memories and to consider her a new friend!" - Heather & Jacob
Art & Soul Events Los Angeles Jewish Wedding Highlights
To read more about any of the Southern California Jewish weddings planned by Art & Soul Events and pictured in this blog post, please click below. Vendor credits are listed at the bottom of each post!
Art & Soul Events is a Los Angeles based full-service Wedding Planner & Event Designer. Planning & Designing stylish, soulful, artsy, elevated, upscale, Weddings + Events, for the bold, rebellious, and creative! Our events take us on adventures all over Southern California and we regularly work in downtown Los Angeles, Malibu, Highland Park, Santa Monica, and Hollywood. You'll often find us producing weddings in Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Santa Cruz, Nevada City, Yosemite and beyond. We jump at the chance to conquer a new venue or town!