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An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The significance of Jewish wedding rituals

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Many young people who have attended Jewish wedding I have conducted, want to know if it would be OK to use some of the warm and wise Jewish ceremonies they just saw in a non-Jewish wedding they are planning. I always tell them to consult with the person who will officiate at their ceremony.

Now that I am retired. it occurred to me that other people who are planning a wedding ceremony, or have been invited to a Jewish wedding, might like to know more about the meaning of the rituals present in most Jewish weddings.

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Circling:

Before they enter the Hupah (marriage canopy) the bride and groom circle each other. This symbolizes their decision to make each the center of their life. At the same time each establishes a perimeter around the other to proclaim that no one should try to come between them.

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The exchange of rings:

The rings are placed on the pointing finger during the ceremony to indicate the importance of choice in Jewish thought. Just as God and Israel chose each other at Sinai, so too does each bride and groom choose the other to share a life together. To choose and to be chosen is the foundation of any marital relationship. A vein in this finger connects to the heart.

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The Hupah:

A Hupah is made of flowers or a Talit (prayer shawl) to show that while a house is a structure, a home is any place two lovers are together. Close friends or family usually hold the 4 Hupah poles to symbolize their support for the couples’ relationship.

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The Cup of Wine:

The couple share a cup of wine by holding up the cup to each others lips, thus symbolizing their commitment to nourish and sustain each other. Wine is used at all Jewish festivals, so they look forward to using this cup again and again for many years to come. Hopefully their children will use it one day when they wed.

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Ketubah:

A Ketubah is a written partnership agreement. The oral exchange of vows that the couple recite in Hebrew are the same words recited by every couple being married under a Hupah anywhere in the world; a universal statement. But each couple also has a unique personality and family composition. The Ketubah reflects their particular values and commitments. The Rabbi or the couple will read the Ketubah.

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Breaking a glass:

At the end of the ceremony the groom breaks a glass. This reminds us that although love is powerful it can be broken as easily as a glass if it is not maintained by kindness, faithfulness and good communication.

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Mazon:

Whenever we enjoy ourselves we should share with others. Mazon is a Jewish fund that donates money to food pantries throughout the country. Many couples give 3% of the cost of their reception to Mazon to share their joy with the hungry.

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Havdalah:

Jewish weddings do not take place on the Sabbath. If a wedding occurs Saturday evening it is often preceded by a short Havdalah ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week (just as the wedding marks the transition from being single to being married).

The Havdalah candle is braided to symbolize the Sabbath’s power to bring people together, and the mothers of the couple may each light one of the wicks. The spice box represents the extra savor and flavor that spiritual occasions and rituals add to our lives. Like love they can not be seen; they must be experienced again and again. The bride and groom each drink from the wine cup now as individuals. Later, during the wedding, they will drink by giving the cup to one another.

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Originally posted: 2014-JAN-20
Latest update: 2014-JAN-20
Author: Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Rabbi Maller's web site is at: www.rabbimaller.com

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