It is customary at jewish religious ceremonies for men to have their heads covered. Most will wear a skullcap known as a Kippah, or Yamulkah. Other head coverings such as a Trilby, Fedora, Homburg, Bowler, or Top hat are also commonly used. At a very traditional Ashkenazi wedding, the men may wear a fur hat known as Shtrimel.
THE WALK TO THE CHUPPAH
At traditional Orthodox weddings, the bride may be escorted to the chuppah by both mothers, and the groom is escorted by both fathers, rather than the bride processing down the aisle on the arm of her father. Those accompanying the couple are called Unterfirers by Ashkenazi Jews. Some have the custom that the bride and groom are each escorted by their respective parents. Another tradition is for the mothers of the bride and groom to carry a lit candle, or for a page to lead the processional with a candle, or a lantern.
Although what constitutes the first part of a Jewish wedding, known as kiddushin is well understood, what constitutes the second part, popularly known as chuppah is less clear. It refers to the first time the couple are alone together after the ceremony and what they might do, or alternatively when a groom brings his bride to their home for the first time after the ceremony, which traditional rabbis see as the moment when a wife enters the domain and authority of her husband. Symbolically, nowadays there is represented by a canopy used in the ceremony, but other opinions are that it is when a groom covers himself and the bride with his tallit, or when the veil over the face of the bride is removed by the groom during the ceremony.
There is an Ashkenazi tradition for the bride to walk abound the groom 7 times, although some have the custom of only doing so 3 times.
Judaism encourages people to get married, whatever their financial situation. To encourage this, the value of the rng that groom gives to the bride must be at least that of the smallest coin of the realm. Traditionally, only the groom gave the bride a ring, but many couples nowadays feel that is important for the bride to give the groom a ring. The ring should be made of plain metal without any holes, or precious stones on it and should be the property of one spouse, before it is given to the other. Technically, any appropriate object of value can be given to a spouse, it doesn’t have to be a ring. As the ring is given, the groom says to the bride usually in Aramaic, Ha-ray At M’koodeshet Li, B’Tabat Zo K’dat Moshay v’Yisrael which means, By this ring you are sanctified to me in holiness, according to the laws of Moses and Israel.
A jewish marriage document is called a ketubah. After the exchange of rings, it is read out and signed by two jewish witnesses, usually male, who are unrelated to the bride and groom, There are various texts available according to which denomination the couple may follow. It is worth checking that the text is acceptable to the rabbi of the synagogue that a couple belongs to. A ketubah can be richly illustrated and many are fine works of art, either hand-made, or printed in limited editions. They can often be bought on-line, or through jewish book and gift shops, at some synagogues, or even on eBay. It is worth paying the extra to have a scribe, or graphic artist fill in the names, date, location and other details in the document. The cost of a ketubah can range between £20 and £2,000. However, anyone with the requisite skills and knowledge can design, print, or write a ketubah.
Just about everyone knows that a glass is smashed at the end of a jewish wedding. There are many explanations for why this is done, which usually means that no-one knows which is the right answer. Academics have suggested that it may originate from a pre-literate society and symbolises the sealing of a contract. Just as it is impossible to put the pieces of a shattered glass back together, the groom and bride are expected to keep to the commitments they enter into when they get married and to do otherwise may destroy the agreement (like the glass) that they have entered into. It is better to use a tumbler, or beaker type glass, rather than a wine glass. It is also better to use the ball of the foot, rather than the heel when breaking the glass. The glass is usually wrapped in a white napkin, or silver foil, so that the groom can see it easily and so that the shattered pieces do not fly off in all directions and injure anyone. Strictly speaking, the breaking of a glass is a custom and is not essential to the ceremony. If it doesn’t take place, it doesn’t invalidate the ceremony, nor the marriage, although many of the guests might feel just a little disappointed.
Yihud meaning “seclusion” is a custom for the bride and groom to have some strictly private time together immediately after the religious ceremony. It is not unusual for a some of ushers to remain outside the door to prevent anyone who may wish to enter. It gives time for the guests to decant from the ceremony to the reception, which the couple can join guests later in order to meet and greet them. It takes stamina to get through a wedding day and be the centre of attention all the time. This is an opportunity to relax and to be together for 10 -15 minutes. For couples who don’t have to rush off and have group photos taken, it can be an opportunity for the couple to share a light snack and even feed each other.
After the religious ceremony, it is customary to have music and dance with the bride and groom as part of the celebration of their union. It is customary to put the bride and groom in a chair and lift them up. Amongst the strictly Orthodox, themes dance with the men and women with the women, operated by a curtain, or screen. In order for the couple to be able to dance with each other they are lifted up in chairs. The bride and groom hold onto a handkerchief or napkin over the partition that separates the men from the women, while the chairs are lifted up and down according to the rhythm of the music being played. At weddings which are not so strict and at which men and women dance together, it is still customary for the bride and groom to be held aloft in chairs, as well as their parents.
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