This is not intended to be comprehensive; it is a bare-bones introduction, although it is written to be intelligible for any audience.
What Happens at a traditional Jewish Wedding?
1) I mention “parents” several times in the following document, but sometimes circumstances demand that it be a surrogate. I don’t mention surrogates each time in the document, for the sake of brevity, but surrogates are fine.
2) I mention “witnesses” several times in the following document. In Jewish law, a “witness” is an adult Jewish male who observes mitzvot and is not a close relation of the parties involved.
At the start of the wedding
The kallah (bride), along with her mother and the mother of the chatan (groom), greet guests in a specially designated room.
The chatan (groom) stays in another room, with his father and with the father of the kallah. This room is usually called “the chatan’s tish,” meaning “the groom’s table.” Sometimes the chatan presents a small speech, and sometimes the friends of the chatan sing songs of celebration.
There is food in both rooms, but the kallah and chatan do not eat.
Historically, the families of the chatan and kallah would undertake various financial obligations for the wedding and for the couple’s needs. In order to ensure that there were no unresolved financial issues, some time before the wedding the two families would get together, and the father of the chatan and the father of the kallah would confirm before witnesses that there were no outstanding claims. The witnesses would sign a document, “Tenaim,” which would certify that they had seen this confirmation (tenaim = conditions).
Today, most Jews sign this document at the chatan’s tish rather than beforehand; the father’s agree to the Tenaim in front of two witnesses, and the witnesses sign the document.
The mothers of the chatan and kallah generally come in for this as well, and when the Tenaim are complete, they break a plate together. This is meant to indicate that just as a broken plate cannot be reassembled, so one’s word, once broken, cannot be made whole.
Jewish law requires that a husband accept certain responsibilities for his wife’s care, and that he guarantee a sum of money for her in the event of, Gd-forbid, divorce or his death. These responsibilites and guarantees are recorded in a document called a Ketubah (ketubah = written).
We complete the Ketubah at the chatan’s tish; the chatan agrees to all of the responsibilities recorded therein, in front of witnesses who then sign the document.
The Ketubah will be brought to the chuppah when the chatan and kallah go there later.
Depending on the timing, there may be a minyan for minchah at the chatan’s tish before or after the ketubah is completed.
Traditionally, the chatan and kallah do not see each other for a week before the wedding; the first time they meet is after the completion of the ketubah, at the bedecken.
Various sources are brought to explain why we have a bedecken at all, and even what the word bedecken means, but this is what happens: The chatan is escorted by family and friends into the kallah’s room, generally with a lot of music and fanfare.
When the chatan arrives at the kallah’s chair, the kallah’s father offers her a blessing. This is usually the blessing Rebecca’s family gave her before she went to marry Isaac (Genesis 24:60) and the blessing of the kohanim (Numbers 6:24-26). In some families the kallah’s father puts his hands on her head while offering this blessing.
Sometimes the mother of the kallah, and/or the parents of the chatan, may offer a blessing as well, and sometimes the rabbi does so, too.
The chatan then leaves the room, again with music and fanfare. The guests enter the chuppah room, and the families prepare for the chuppah.
Some have the custom of placing a little bit of ash on the chatan’s head before the chuppah, as a way to recall the destruction of the Beit haMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem). The ash is on top of his head, and not visible to others.
Arrival under the Chuppah
The chatan arrives under the chuppah, usually escorted by his parents. He puts on a kittel and/or tallit under the chuppah, depending on family custom.
Someone sings a song, “Mi adir,” when the chatan arrives.
The kallah arrives under the chuppah; in some families the chatan comes out to welcome her.
The kallah circles the chatan 7 times, accompanied by the mothers of the chatan and kallah, and someone sings a song, “Mi ban siach.”
The chatan and kallah then stand facing toward Israel, with the kallah on the right and the chatan on the left. The rabbi, and two designated witnesses, stand facing them.
A cup of wine is filled.
The rabbi recites two blessings on the wine, one for the wine and one for kiddushin, the initiation of marriage. The chatan and kallah answer Amen, and each drinks some of the wine.
In front of witnesses, the chatan produces a ring, shows it to the kallah, certifies that it is his own, recites the words “Harei at mekudeshet li bitaba’at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael (Behold, you are betrothed to me with this ring, in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel),” and places it on the kallah’s index (not ring) finger.
Dvar Torah / Ketubah
At this point, in some weddings, the rabbi or a guest present a brief speech.
Also at this point, in some weddings, someone reads the ketubah aloud.
The chatan then hands the ketubah to the kallah, in front of witnesses. The kallah generally then gives it to someone to store safely for her until after the wedding. The kallah must always, throughout her marriage, know where the ketubah is; if it is lost, a rabbi should immediately write a new document, called a ketubah d’irkisa (“ketubah that was lost”), for her.
A second cup of wine is filled.
Seven blessings are recited, sometimes by the rabbi and sometimes by guests. The person reciting the blessing holds the cup of wine.
The chatan and kallah drink from the cup.
Breaking the glass
The chatan stamps on a glass, breaking it, to remind us of the destruction of the Beit haMikdash. The assembled sing “Im eshkacheich,” a passage from Psalms about remembering Jerusalem.
The guests then dance the chatan and kallah out of the room, to a specially designated room known as the “Yichud room” (yichud = isolation).
Some Jewish legal scholars have argued that the actual moment of marriage takes place when the chatan and kallah are first secluded together; the purpose the Yichud room is to give them that seclusion.
The rabbi and two witnesses inspect the room to ensure that no one is inside, and no one could get in from any means other than the main door. The chatan and kallah enter the room alone and close the door, and the witnesses stand by the closed door to ensure that no one enters for at least ten minutes. After that the witnesses depart, and the chatan and kallah may emerge when they choose.
What to bring
Items the caterer might provide, but you should check to be certain:
A plate to break at the Tenaim (and some provide a special hammer as well!)
Kiddush cups or glasses for the wine under the chuppah
Wine to use under the chuppah
Glass to break under the chuppah
Items you or the rabbi will need to provide:
Items you will need to provide:
Kittel and/or tallit
Joy and celebration!