By Rabbi Cal Goldberg
One of the most important stages in the life of a young person is marriage. Of all the customs appointed by God, there is probably none more joyous than that of the Jewish wedding. It is one Simcha (joyous occasion)! Judaism views marriage as the ideal human state. Both the Torah and the Talmud view a man without a wife, or a woman without a husband, as incomplete. The Talmud says, “A man who does not marry is not a complete person” (Lev. 34a). “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness.” (B. Yev. 62b)
Judaism views marriage as holy, as a sanctification of life. The word kiddushin, which means “sanctification”, is used in Jewish literature when referring to marriage. Marriage is seen as a spiritual bonding between two people and the fulfillment of God’s commandment. Judaism also views marriage as purposeful. Within Judaism, there are two purposes of marriage companionship and procreation. According to the Torah, woman was created because “It is not good for a man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) In addition, marriage provides the fulfillment of the first commandment to “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28).
From a biblical perspective there are two other purposes of a family. To provide each person in the home with opportunity for personal development. It is the training ground to develop godly offspring as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The family is the foundation of society and will only be as strong as the relationship of Husbands and wives with each other and a mother and fathers relationship with their children.
A third purpose is to teach moral values. What you are morally is what you are. Morals affects our judgment, our attitude and values and they also influence our motivation in life. For example the principle of authority needs to be properly understood in the home. The fifth commandment is the only one that comes with a promise and teaches the importance of honoring authority.
“Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Judaism views marriage as a contractual agreement between two people with legal rights and obligations. The Ketubah is the marriage contract that a husband and wife enter into. The Ketubah outlines the bridegrooms various responsibilities ― to provide his wife with food, shelter and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. Protecting the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed.
The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The ketubah is the property of the wife and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. It is often written amidst beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home.
MARRIAGE IS A COVENANT
The Scriptures view marriage not as a contract but as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. Marriage was God’s idea. In fact, He designed it. And as the designer, He knows exactly what our marriages need in order for them to thrive and survive. His ultimate goal for marriage is for husbands and wives to have oneness expressed in a relationship bound together by a Holy Covenant. For many of us, we understand marriage to be a “contract,” which can be easily broken. When we made our vows to our spouse at our wedding and said, “until death do us part,” what many really meant was, “… until I feel like giving up and getting out.”
In contrast, God’s design for marriage was for it to be a holy covenant. For what reason? Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:14)
A covenant is an agreement and a vow one person makes with another. Not just any agreement. It is a solemn vow before God. We must realize the consequences of breaking a covenant we made before God are very serious and sobering (Proverbs 6:20-29). Once we understand this, then we realize that leaving the marriage is not an easy option for us.
When you make a vow to God do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. (Eccl. 5:4-5)
The interesting thing is that when we accept that divorce is not an option (unlike many do today) and we know there is nowhere to go… our view of marriage completely changes. Knowing we can’t get out is the key to our marriages being transformed. Why? Because it’s then that we really commit ourselves to working out and following God’s blueprint for our marriages. The entire Bible is a love story of God entering into a series of covenants with man and Israel. The first covenant He established was the ordinance of marriage. Marriage was designed by Adonai to be the most meaningful, fulfilling and rewarding relationship in the world. When the Lord created the heavens and the earth He saw everything that He had made and indeed it was very good. Genesis 1:31
But there was only one thing that He said was not good. In Gen. 2: 19 – “The Lord God said, “ It is not good that man should be alone: I will make a helper, a helpmate comparable to him..” One who is suitable, one who has a similar likeness — Vs. 21-23.
Genesis 2:22-24, “The rib which the Lord took from the side of man, He made into a woman and He brought her to the man and Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Isha woman because she was taken out of Ish, man. A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife and they shall be come one flesh”
Rabbinic tradition teaches that a marriage will only be peaceful if God is a part of the union. The Hebrew word for man is הָֽאָדָ֑ם. The name man is also spelled as אִשָּׁ ISH. The Hebrew word for woman is “isha”. The letters Yod and Hay combine to form the Hebrew name for God. If we remove the letters יִּ Yod and הָ Hay (Adonai ) from the words ISH , אִשָּׁ֔ and ISHA, אִשָּׁ֔ה it leaves the letters Aleph and Shin which spells ISH, the word for fire. Therefore, Judaism teaches that if God is not part of the union between a man and a woman, then the couple will be a relationship of fire. Uncontrolled fire in a home can spread very quickly and destroy a marriage relationship and leave it in ashes.
God created the first man, Adam and from the rib of man, He created woman. When Adam saw this wonderful and beautiful human being, that was so much like him but so different, he was thrilled with excitement and joy. “She is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” God designed the woman to be a helper. That is why she was taken from his side, to work alongside of, to be a support, a friend and a partner for life. A man and a woman are incomplete without each other and it is marriage that returns them to oneness. B’resheet (Genesis) 1:24-25. “A man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh…”
In marriage, a man and woman’s commitment to each other comes out of God’s commitment to us. God promised to love us, to protect us, to cherish us, to care for us forever, a covenant that He promised He will never break.
“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Deuteronomy 7:9
Adonai promised I will never leave you or forsake you. Likewise, Adonai has empowered husbands and wives to love, honor, protect, cherish, and care for each other. Marriage was designed by God to be a covenant relationship that is not to be broken. Just as the ribs of our body were designed as a covering to protect the heart, the lungs and other vital organs so also the husband is to be the covering and the protector of his wife and future family. The essence of marriage is that two people become one. A Covenant demands the death of two wills and the birth of one. “I” becomes “we,” two-ness becomes oneness. Yeshua said in Mt. 19:6, “They are no longer two but one flesh, Therefore what God has joined together let no man separate.” The Hebrew word for being “united” or “joined” together means to cleave, to cling ( it means to fit tightly together, to grip, to stick together like glue). Marriage is the process of becoming one flesh. Marriage is not two people coming together to form a partnership, nor an agreement to be roommates permanently. It’s not a method to get a tax break, or a way to share household chores. The Jewish idea of marriage is two halves becoming one, completing each other.
Commitment is the backbone of marriage. Without it, you’re just roommates. By oneself, a person is destined to remain a self-centered egocentric being, his main concerns in life being the fulfillment of his own personal need for position, respect and gratification. Marriage gives him the chance to overcome this and become a giver of life– one who is concerned about another person’s needs. Marriage is God’s way to build a family and a home, to share your life with someone you love, to deepen your emotional capacities, and open yourself up to another like you never have experienced before. Those who ask, “Can’t I have all this without marriage?” are really saying: “Do I really have to make the level of commitment that requires me to stick it out when the going gets tough?” Without that commitment, you’re roommates. It’s not the same as marriage because whatever you build together is built on quicksand. As long as there’s an exit, that exit, at some point in the relationship, will be taken. This is why commitment is the backbone of marriage, until death do we part. Of course, if you want the other person’s total commitment, you have to make the same level of commitment yourself. This is the key to a happy life. As the saying goes a happy wife is a happy life.
Customs and Traditions of a Jewish Ceremony
A traditional Jewish wedding is full of meaningful customs and traditions , symbolizing the beauty of the relationship of husband and wife, as well as their obligations to each other and to the Jewish people. The following explains the beauty and joys of the customs and traditions of a Jewish Wedding:
The bridegroom has precedence over all others to be called to the Torah reading on the Sabbath before the wedding. In many places among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim it was and is customary to throw rice, wheat, nuts, and candies at the groom on various occasions during the marriage cycle; at the wedding itself, and particularly when the groom is called to the Torah reading on the Sabbath prior to the wedding.
The Wedding Day
The wedding day heralds the happiest and holiest day of one’s life. This day is considered a personal Yom Kippur for the chatan (Hebrew for groom) and kallah (bride), for on this day all their past mistakes are forgiven as they merge into a new, complete soul. As on Yom Kippur, both the chatan and kallah fast (in this case, from dawn until after the completion of the marriage ceremony). And at the ceremony, the chatan wears a kittel, the traditional white robe worn on Yom Kippur.
It is customary for the Bridegroom and Bride not to see each other for one week preceding the wedding. This increases the anticipation and excitement of the event. Therefore, prior to the wedding ceremony, the Bridegroom and Bride greet guests separately. This is called “Kabbalat Panim.” Jewish tradition likens the couple to a queen and king. The bride to be will be seated on a “throne” to receive her guests, while the bridegroom is surrounded by guests who sing and toast him. At this time there is an Ashkenazi tradition for the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom to stand together and break a plate. The reason is to show the seriousness of the commitment ― just as a plate can never be fully repaired, so too a broken relationship can never be fully repaired.
Next comes the badeken, the veiling of the kallah by the chatan. The veil symbolizes the idea of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive physical appearances may be, the soul and character are paramount. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac (Genesis 29). By placing the veil over the bride’s face himself, a Jewish groom makes sure he doesn’t repeat Jacob’s mistake. The Ashkenazi custom is that the Bridegroom , accompanied by family and friends, proceeds to where his Bride is seated and places the veil over her face. This signals the groom’s commitment to clothe and protect his wife.
The wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah (canopy), a symbol of the home that the new couple will build together. It is open on all sides, just as Abraham and Sarah had their tent open all sides to welcome people in unconditional hospitality. The word Chupah literally means “that which cover or floats above and is said to be a spiritual place with a direct gateway to God. As long as a Jewish marriage is performed under a chuppah, the wedding can take place in any location, from a synagogue to a beach or your own backyard. The Ashkenazi custom is to have the chuppah ceremony outside under the stars, as 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). Sefardim generally have the chuppah indoors. The Ashkenazi custom is that the Bride and Groom wear no jewelry under the chuppah (marriage canopy). Their mutual commitment is based on who they are as people, not on any material possessions. The bride follows the bridegroom , and both are usually escorted to the chuppah by their respective sets of parents. Under the chuppah, the Ashkenazi custom is that the Bride circles her Groom seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the Bride 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. The Bride then settles at the chatan’s right-hand side. [At this point, the Sefardic custom is that the Bridegroom 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 Bride and Groom.]
Yarmulke / Kippot
Kippot are worn at Jewish weddings as a symbol of humility and respect for God. Many couples order kippahs for wedding guests and personalize each kippah with the couples names and wedding date.
Blessings of Betrothal (Kiddushin) Kiddush Cup
Two cups of wine are used in the wedding ceremony. It’s popular to honor a loved on ( i.e., grandparents ) by using their kiddush cups. The cup is often engraved with the names of the bridegroom and bride and the wedding date. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings, recited by the rabbi. After these are recited, the couple drinks from the cup. Wine, a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition, is associated with Kiddush, the sanctification prayer recited on Shabbat and festivals. Marriage, called Kiddushin, is the sanctification of a man and woman to each other.The bride then stands at the right hand of the groom, and, where customary, the rabbi delivers the sermon; the ceremony proper then begins.
Giving of the Ring
In Jewish law, a marriage becomes official when the Bridegroom gives an object of value to His Bride. This is traditionally done with a ring. The ring should be made of plain gold, without blemishes or ornamentation (e.g. stones) ― just as it is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty. The Bridegroom now takes the wedding ring in his hand, and in clear view of two witnesses, declares to his Bride, “Behold, you are betrothed unto me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” He then places the ring on the forefinger of the bride’s 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 Bride also wants to give a ring to the Bridegroom, this is only done afterwards, not under the chuppah. This is to prevent confusion as to what constitutes the actual marriage, as prescribed by the Torah.
Ketubah (Marriage Contract)
The Ketubah is the Jewish marriage contract that is signed before the wedding ceremony, and literally means, writing or written. It was created to protect the wife financially if the marriage ended. The ketubah outlines the Bridegrooms obligation to provide his wife with food, shelter and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs. Protecting the rights of a Jewish wife is so important that the marriage may not be solemnized until the contract has been completed. The document is signed by two witnesses, and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. The ketubah is the property of the Bride and she must have access to it throughout their marriage. It is often written on beautiful artwork, to be framed and displayed in the home. The reading of the ketubah acts as a break between the first part of the ceremony ― Kiddushin (“betrothal”), and the latter part ― Nissuin (“marriage”).
The Seven Blessings
The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) are now recited over the 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.
1. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam sheha kol bara leekvodo
Blessed art you Ha Shem our G-d, King and creator of the universe who createst all things for your glory.
2. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam votzer ha adam
Blessed art thou, Ha Shem our God King of the Universe creator of man.
3. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam asher yatzar et ha adam betzaimo betzelem deemut banyan ade ya’ad baruch ata Adonai yotzer ha adam.
Blessed art you Hashem our God King of the Universe, who fashioned man in his image after his own likeness and prepared for him a woman out of his very self, an everlasting structure, Blessed art you O L-rd creator of man.
4. Sos tasis v’tageil ha’al arah b’kibbutz ba neha l’tolah b’simcha. Baruch ata Adonai m’sameach tzyion b’vane ha
Let the barren city be jubilantly happy and joyful at her joyous reunion with her children. Blessed art thou Hashem our God who makes Zion rejoice with her children.
5. Sameach Tesamach Re’im ha huvim, ke sameachka Yetzeercha Be’gan Eden Mikedem. Baruch Ata Ha Shem, me same’ach Chatan VeKalah
Blessed art you Hashem our God who makes Zion who was barren exceedingly glad and joyful through their children. Make these companions rejoice greatly, even as in days of old. You did gladden your creatures in the Garden of Eden. Blessed art thou O L-rd who causes the bridegroom and the bride to rejoice.
6. Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam asher bara sason v’simcha chatan vekalah giyalah reena ditzah vechedevah ahavah vachavah v’shalom vere’oot meherah Adonai eloheinu yishama barei Yehudah oovkutzot Yerushalyim kol sason v’kol simcha kol chatan v’kol kallah, kol mitzchalot chatanim mechupatam un arim mimishteim n’ginatam Baruch atah Adonai m’sameach chatan im hakallah
Blessed art you, Hashem our G-d King of the universe who created joy and gladness, pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship, myrrh and song.
May there soon be heard in the cities of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the jubilant sound of bridegrooms from their canopies and of youths from their feasts of song.
7. Baruch ata Adonai eloheinu melech ha olam borey pri hagafen
Blessed are thou Lord our God king of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
At the conclusion of the seven blessings, the Bride and groom again drink some of the wine.
Breaking the Glass
A glass is now placed on the floor, and the Bridegroom shatters it with his foot. This serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, is mindful of the Psalmist’s injunction to “set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” In jest, some explain that this is the last time the groom gets to “put his foot down.” (In Israel, the Ashkenazi custom is that the glass is broken earlier, prior to the reading of the ketubah. Sefardim always break the glass at the end of the ceremony, even in Israel.) This marks the conclusion of the ceremony. With shouts of “Mazel Tov,” the chatan and kallah are then given an enthusiastic reception from the guests as they leave the chuppah together.
Post Ceremony Customs
It is a Jewish tradition for the bride and groom to have some alone time immediately following their wedding ceremony. Some couples say in yihud 18 minutes, the numercial equivalent of the “Chai”, meaning life. 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 yihud room; the chatan and kallah immediately proceed to the wedding hall after the chuppah ceremony.]
The Festive Meal (Seudah)
It is a mitzvah for guests to bring simcha (joy) to the Bride and Groom 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. 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 Bride and Groom. This is called the week of Sheva Brachot, in reference to the blessings said at the conclusion of each of these festive meals. If both the bride and groom are marrying for the second time, sheva brachot are recited only on the night of the wedding. The last bracha, Asher Bara, can be recited for three days.
Usually danced to the Hava Nagila, this traditional Jewish celebration dance is sure to get everyone up on the dance floor and get the celebration started. It is customary to carry the bride and the groom on a chair around the room as an expression of joy over their special day.
Marriage in Israel
There are no civil marriages in Israel. Thus all marriages between Jews in Israel are conducted according to Orthodox Judaism. Many secular Israelis travel abroad to have civil marriages. While these marriages are legally binding in Israel, the rabbinate does not recognize them as Jewish marriages.