Jewish Marriage and Weddings

Marriage in Judaism

jewish wedding

Marriage is highly revered and strongly encouraged in Judaism. Except in ascetic groups like the Essenes, the celibate life has never been considered more holy than the married life. In fact, one must be married in order to become a rabbi. A high view of marriage derives from certain Jewish beliefs that the home and family are the center of religious life.

Before a wedding ceremony, a marriage contract (ketubah) is drawn up and consented to by both parties. This tradition derives from an ancient Semitic custom yet is similar to the modern prenuptial agreement. The ketubah formally lists the husband's obligations to the wife during marriage, conditions of inheritance upon his death, obligations regarding the support of children of the marriage, and the wife's support in the event of divorce. Additional conditions can also be included by mutual agreement.

The Marriage Process

Participation of a rabbi is not necessary for a marriage to be binding under Jewish law. Traditionally, a legal marriage occurs when payment of money, a contract, or sexual intercourse has taken place. {1} However, rabbis almost invariably conduct weddings today, both because secular law requires an ordained official and it is helpful to have the guidance of an expert in the many Jewish laws pertaining to marriage.

Jewish wedding ceremonies take about 30 minutes, and consist of two ceremonies. The two were traditionally held separately, up to a year apart, but are performed together in modern weddings.

The Betrothal Ceremony: Kiddushin

The first ceremony is the betrothal ceremony (kiddushin, "sanctification"). The bride approaches and circles the groom, then two blessings over wine are recited: a standard blessing and one related specifically to marriage. Rings are exchanged with the declaration, "Behold, you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel," and the ketubah is read.

The Wedding Ceremony: Nisuin

In the marriage ceremony (nisuin, "elevation"), the couple stand under a canopy (chuppah), which symbolizes the couple's new home together. (The ceremony itself is sometimes called the chuppah.) The bride and groom recite the seven marriage benedictions and share a glass of wine. The groom then breaks a glass under his foot, which symbolizes the destruction of the Temple (more superstitiously, it has also been thought to frighten away evil spirits). Some also say it symbolizes the taking of the bride's virginity. Whatever the case, the noise of the breaking glass prompts music and shouts of Mazel tov!

After the ceremony, the newlyweds retire to a private room to spend a few minutes in yikhud (seclusion). Yikhud symbolizes the consummation of the marriage, and is a requirement under Jewish law. The ceremonies are followed by a festive meal and celebration, which is an merry, joyous affair with much music and dancing. Orthodox newlyweds will spend the next week enjoying festive meals in the homes of friends; those of other traditions will head off on their honeymoon.

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  1. Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1.
  2. Quoted in Essential Judaism, p. 170.

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