I don’t get the ‘party’ element of a wedding, it is just not in my nature to be excited about a room full of people drinking where the music is too loud to talk and the faces are too many to remember. I like casual, relaxed, and limited social settings. I love spending time with friends, listening to their lively rants and sharing some of my own. I like deep and meaningful relationships and exchanges where I can hear my thoughts and their words. I like knowing everyone in the room and having the time to have a valuable exchange with them. This unquestionably expands to my wedding day. I want a room full of people happy to share the moment with us, a room full of people we know and love who won’t care about the shade of the tablecloth or the temperature of the salmon. I want laughter to ring louder than the music.
I always thought we would just go down to the courthouse and be married, since I’ve never really understood weddings except for legal purposes. Furthermore, that way we could avoid the awkwardness of planning a nontraditional and totally uncool reception, but after a reasonable discussion between two attorneys we reached a reasonable settlement. If it was to take place, my fiance and I discussed our wedding in similar terms. We both wanted something small and meaningful and we agreed that the ceremony was the most important part. We both continually and tirelessly emphasized the importance of the ceremony, of our vow before G-d and our loved ones to be together for the rest of our lives. Without that, I figured, we might as well walk down to City Hall during our lunch hour and be legally bound. Still, neither of us knew absolutely anything about Jewish weddings. I asked Greg, hoping he could be a helpful resource and as far as I can recall he could only offer a chuppah, some wine and the breaking of the glass. “When do we say our vows?” I wondered, he shrugged. “When do we kiss?” I asked, he googled. We were hopeless, so I turned to the only resource I could think of: books!
My sister sent me books, my friend who had just gotten married sent me books, and then I rushed to the library for more books (I owe $30 in overdue fees). Here’s some of what I learned:
The Jewish wedding ceremony is a two-parter, consisting of the erusin and the nesuin. The erusin, or betrothal, was a ceremony that traditionally took place about a year before the second part of the wedding ceremony and it is sort of the equivalent of a modern engagement. Traditionally the erusin begins with the hakafot, the act of the bride circling the groom seven times to set aside sacred space and ward off evil spirits. Thereafter the groom says Haray at m’kudeshet li b’ataba’at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael (Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the tradition of Moses and Israel.) and then gives his bride something of value (now we use a ring, and halakha states that wedding ring must be a pure, solid band, so that its value may be easily assessed). However, traditionally the groom presented the bride with a coin and not a ring. Similarly a traditional wedding custom in Spain consisted of the groom presenting the bride with 13 coins known as arras, which represent his commitment to support her. By following these formulaic steps the woman was thus set apart exclusively for that one man for the purpose of procreation. Hooray!
The second part of the ceremony is the nesuin (from the verb “to carry”) and it is in vast contrast from the legal nature of erusin. This is where love, spirituality, and connection to G-d enter the picture with joy and the timeless quality of two people loving each other. It begins with the sheva brachot, the seven blessings and end with the breaking of the glass. The latter custom has a plethora of fascinating explanations, from medieval superstitions that the shattering of the glass would ward off evil spirits to the more common interpretation that the shattering of the glass is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, a reflection that even in moments of greatest joy we remember the sadness and lack of wholeness in the world. My personal favorites are that a broken glass cannot be mended and likewise, marriage is irrevocable and it is a transforming experience that leaves individuals forever changed and also said to represent that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass (or that their children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass). Traditionally the following song is sung after the glass is shattered: “Siman tov u’mazel tov, mazel tov siman tove (3x) Y’hei lanu Y’hei lanu, y’hei lanu, u’lichol Yisrael (2x)” (It is good and fortunate sign for us and for all Israel). Interestingly enough it is also an Italian wedding tradition to break a glass when the ceremony is complete and to then count the shards of glass that remain to indicate the number of years the couple will stay happily married. Mazel Tov!
The Jewish wedding ceremony is to take place under a chuppah. According to The Creative Jewish Wedding book by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer “throughout Jewish history the chuppah has been most commonly interpreted as a symbol of the matriarch and patriarch, Sarah and Abraham. It is said that Sarah and Abraham’s tent was open on all sides to let guests know that they were always welcome to come in. Because both Sarah and Abraham were thought of as having special relationships with God, their tents marked a sacred space where God’s presence could be felt upon entering. So, too, in contemporary weddings, the chuppah serves to create a sacred space, both open and private. It is open for all the bride and groom’s friends and relatives who are present to witness their covenant to each other. At the same time it is private, creating a feeling of warmth and intimacy that surrounds the special couple.” Another pivotal element of the Jewish wedding is the ketubah. Ketubah means “writing” or “written” and came to refer to the written marriage contract that is signed and read as part of the Jewish wedding, it traditionally contained the obligations of the husband to the wife, but currently can describe just about anything the couple wishes to include.
The we could be married by one o’clock thought still crosses my mind sometimes on very stressful days, it would be so simple, so fast, and then so over. Yet, after reading countless books on wedding traditions I can’t help but want to incorporate so much history and meaning into the day we make that forever vow.