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Wedding Customs Unveiled

by Rabbi Aaron Moss

  

Library » Life Cycle » Marriage » The Wedding | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Following is a brief explanation of many Jewish wedding customs, beginning with a glimpse into the concept of marriage itself. 

Marriage – why bother?

Question: What's the point of having a wedding? I know many couples that love each other, have meaningful relationships, live together and even raise wonderful, kind children without ever having formalized their relationship with a wedding ceremony. Is a wedding really necessary? How can we justify spending so much money and going through so much tension for an event that is over within a few hours? Why not skip it and go straight to the honeymoon? What does a ceremony give us that we don't have already?

The Jewish answer: a fusion of souls.

Two people can share a beautiful relationship together for many years and remain just that – two people. A Jewish wedding changes all this. The Chupah is not just a ceremony - it actually unites the couple into one being. How does the Chupah achieve this? By introducing a third element into the relationship that is bigger than both of them – a Divine element. Through the spiritual traditions performed under the canopy we create a bond that is not defined by human limitation, but rather has the eternity of the Divine.

And that's a very good reason to get married.

The customs and traditions of the Chupah all serve to create this eternal fusion of two souls into one. Let's look at a few examples.

Why does the groom put the veil over the bride's face before the Chupah?

There is a common misconception that the groom has to check that he is marrying the right bride before the Chupah, to avoid what happened to our Patriarch Jacob, who was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. This has nothing to do with it. The groom covers his bride's face with the veil; if he is meant to be identifying her he should surely rather uncover her face!

The real reason (or at least one of many reasons) for the veil is the following: on our wedding day we look our best. After hours being made up and dressed up, we make a beautiful couple indeed. By covering his bride's face, the groom is making a statement. "As beautiful as you look today, my love for you is not skin-deep. I want to marry you not because our outfits match, but rather because our values match. It is not just your eyes that dazzle me, it is your persona, your character, your views on life – the real you. I can cover your sweet face with a veil and still marry you, because your face is just one level of your true beauty."

What does the Chupah-canopy represent?

The Chupah is a married couple's first home. It is a bit flimsy, the décor pretty plain, but inside is an atmosphere of love, brightness and warmth. The Chupah serves as a model for all the homes they will build in their future together. What makes a home happy is not the walls, nor the decorations, but what fills it. Better a tent full of love than a three-storey mansion without it.

Also, the Chupah represents the Divine energy that is hovering above the couple. It encompasses the two of them so it can bring them together as one.

Why does the bride walk in a circle around the groom?

The Kabbalah teaches that a husband and wife are actually one soul, split in half before birth. The marriage is a reunion of these two halves of one single soul. And once soul-mates are reunited, they never separate again. In the words of the Ketubah, they will be together "for this lifetime and beyond".

A circle represents this idea, because a circle has no beginning and no end. For that reason circles are a major feature of a Jewish wedding. The ring is circular, the bride encircles the groom, and the traditional dances are in circles. When the bride makes a circle around the groom, she is saying that just as the circle is eternal, so you will eternally be the centre of my life. And the groom places a circular ring on his bride's finger, to say that his heart will be eternally open to let her in.


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Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Leah
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Chupah
Wedding canopy. Under this canopy, the groom betroths the bride with the customary ring, and the traditional marriage benedictions are recited.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Ketubah
The wedding contract which features the husband’s various obligations to his wife. The focal point of the document is the financial compensation due to the wife in the event of the marriage’s dissolution through divorce or widowhood.