When G-d created Adam, says the Talmud, he had two faces: one in each direction. G-d split him in two, and one half became Eve. That which was one, became two. Thus, when G-d brought Eve to Adam they were reunited as originally intended. Therefore, the union of man and woman is the reunification of a sundered soul. This is why a husband and wife are special to each other, for they can belong only to each other.
To reunite these two souls is not an easy task. A soul is not a piece of matter, to be smelted and molded by the toil of physical labor. The soul can be manipulated only by means of spiritual labor. And this is the purpose of the Jewish wedding.
The day of the wedding the chosson (groom) and kallah (bride) fast and repent their sins, and they are guaranteed that if they do so, all their sins are forgiven. Thus, they start out their new life together with a clean slate.
As the eventful day approaches, we find the bride and groom each receiving their guests separately; the bride holds court at her own reception, and the groom sits at the head of his own reception — in different rooms.
As part of their spiritual preparation, the bride and groom have neither met, nor spoken directly to each other for a week before the wedding. And until the actual wedding ceremony, the Chupah, they will not be together.
Kabbolas Panim — the Reception
At the reception, the guests honor the bride and groom by visiting them and blessing them and their families. The hosts honor their guests by serving them cake and drinks, and blessing them in return. A chosson and kallah are considered royalty, and Jewish Law demands they be treated with the respect due royalty.
Take a good look at the chosson and kallah. This is the opportunity to look at the faces of truly righteous people, since on the day of their wedding they are forgiven all their sins.
A number of ceremonies will take place during this Kabbolas Panim: the marriage contract will be written, and the kallah will be veiled. They will probably pray the evening services as well.
Kesubah — The Marriage Contract
The Kesubah lists the responsibilities the husband will be obligated on behalf of his wife
throughout their marriage and in certain other situations. The Kesubah is essentially for the woman’s protection and her concerns. The chosson agrees to these obligations by making a legal acquisition of the Kesubah responsibilities, and the witnesses sign that they have observed the chosson accepting and assuming these obligations. Without this Kesubah, a man is forbidden to live with his wife.
Bedeken — The Veiling
The bridal veil is a custom as old as all other Jewish customs. We find that even the Matriarchs wore veils at their weddings, as we see in Genesis 24:65
And she (Rebecca) said to the servant, «Who is that man in the field, walking toward us?» And the servant said, «He is my master (Isaac),» and she took the veil and covered herself.
These days, however, it is the chosson himself who places the veil on the kallah, to prevent the sort of switch that Laban perpetrated against our Patriarch Jacob, in Genesis, Chapter 29. And so, the chosson, along with his entourage, will enter the women’s section, and the chosson will place the veil on his kallah.
Hachanah — Preparation
The chosson and kallah are now taken under the wing of their family for their separate
At this time, the chosson is dressed in the long white kittel he will wear on Yom Kippur and at the Passover Seder. White is reminiscent of shrouds, and reminds the chosson of the cycle of life, prompting him to repent, if he hasn’t already.
Ashes are placed on the chosson’s head, to fulfill the verse «If I forget you, O Jerusalem… if I do not place Jerusalem above the crown of my joy…» (Psalms 137:5) At all joyous times, we must remember that our joy cannot be complete until G-d’s kingdom is complete, until all of Israel is brought back from exile and the Holy Temple is rebuilt.
Chupah — The Wedding Canopy
The wedding ceremony has a number of components. The canopy itself symbolizes the
home, into which the chosson now brings his kallah. The chosson and kallah are each
escorted to the chupah by two escorts, just as Adam and Eve were escorted by angels to their
The escorts of the chosson loop an arm with the chosson, and hold a candle in the other hand. The escorts of the kallah do the same: each loops an arm with the kallah, and hold a candle in the other hand.
The escorts carry candles, since Jewish custom associates light with joy: «The Jews had light, gladness, joy and honor» (Esther 8:16).
The escorts should be a married couple, neither of whom have ever been divorced or
widowed. It is also customary that no escort be visibly pregnant (I have no idea why).
In most circles, the kallah is escorted by her mother and mother-in-law (or by the two women escorts), and the chosson is escorted by his father and father-in-law (or the two males of the escort couples). In some circles, each is led by his or her two parents.
The chosson is brought to the chupah first, and the kallah is brought to him, just as Eve was brought to Adam (Genesis 2:22). Eve, who was created later, was shown thereby to be the higher life form of the two, because the potential of future life lies with her. Therefore, Adam was not complete until Eve was brought to him.
As the chosson is escorted to the Chupah, a cantor (or anyone with a nice voice) sings:
«Blessed be he who is arriving. He Who is mighty over all, He Who is blessed over all, He Who is great over all, He Who is supreme over all, may He bless the groom and the bride.»
The chosson is brought to the Chupah, and his two escorts step away from him.
The Kallah is then escorted to the Chupah, and is led seven times around the chosson. One escort leads the kallah, and the other follows the kallah. The cantor sings:
«Blessed be she who is arriving. He Who understands the speech of the rose among thorns, the love of a bride, who is the joy if the beloved ones, may He bless the groom and bride.»
Why is the Kallah led seven times around the chosson? There are many reasons for this. I’ll mention only one here. Kabbalah (the Jewish Tradition of mysticism) teaches us that the woman, representing the earth, re-enacts the seven revolutions that the earth made during the seven days of Creation, reminding us that every marriage is an integral part of the creative process.
The English language has no word for this process, though some mistakenly call it betrothal. By kiddushin, a man and woman become consecrated to each other. The word kiddushin comes from the same root word as kodesh — holy. Just as kodesh (holy things) are forbidden to all but those for whom they are designated, so too does this woman become forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. However, they are not yet married, and they are still forbidden to each other until the subsequent ceremony.
As with most mitzvos (Biblical Commandments), a blessing is recited first. This blessing is recited by a Rabbi, on behalf of the chosson.
The Rabbi is there to make sure that the wedding is done properly. The Rabbi also has the responsibility to ascertain that the bride and groom are permitted to marry each other in the first place. However, the Rabbi does not actually «marry» the couple, as a judge or priest does for other people. Technically, the couple are married if two proper witnesses observe them perform the ceremony together with complete consent.
The Rabbi holds a full goblet of wine and recites:
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His Commandments, and commanded us regarding illicit relations, and has forbidden to us the betrothed, and has permitted to us those whom we have married through Chupah and Kiddushin; Blessed are You Hashem, Who makes His nation holy through Chupah and Kiddushin.
Many major blessings, especially at ceremonies, are said while holding a goblet of wine, so the first blessing is over the wine. So the betrothal actually has two blessings.
The Rabbi now drinks from the wine, the groom drinks from the wine, and the bride drinks from the wine. It is customary that one of the two mothers puts the cup to the bride’s lips so she can drink.
The chosson places the ring on the kallah’s finger, reciting «You are hereby sanctified to me with this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel.» This is the act of kiddushin, betrothal. The chosson thereby accepts upon himself his various obligations to the kallah, and the kallah agrees to marry no one but this chosson (unless they get divorced, Heaven forbid).
The kallah may not give the chosson a ring. If she does so, especially in the front of witnesses, it appears as if she is rejecting his offer. That could cause grave questions to be raised about the validity of their ceremony, and call into question their marital status. Furthermore, doing so is imitating a non-Jewish custom, which the Torah expressly forbids. It also demonstrates a complete lack of understanding in the reason for the act, which in itself might invalidate the wedding.
At this point, the chosson and kallah are now betrothed. They are forbidden to marry anyone else, unless they perform a Jewish divorce. However, since they are not yet married either, they are also forbidden to each other.
Now, to differentiate between that ceremony and the next one, we read the marriage contract (kesubah / ketubah) out loud. Since this takes a few minutes, there is a definite separation between the two acts. (In ancient times there was often a year or several months’ time in-between the two ceremonies, so that the families would have time to set up and aprtment and so forth.) The marriage contract is essentially the same at most weddings, with minor differences in various situations I won’t get into now.
Basically, the marriage contract binds the man to support his wife, to feed her, clothe her, to give her all that a man is responsible to give his wife, which includes conjugal relations. It also sets forth the responsibilities should, Heaven forbid, they divorce or he die, that the value of 200 grams of silver (if I’m not mistaken) will be frozen and seized from the best of his assets to make sure she gets her due.
The reading of the Kesubah is also reminiscent of Moses’ reading of the Torah at the wedding of G-d and the Children of Israel, at Mount Sinai.
The actual marriage will soon take place.
Nesuin — Marriage
After that, they begin the Kiddushin, the actual wedding, the second part of the Chupah Ceremony. The Seven Blessings are recited. At most weddings, various Rabbis or relatives are called upon to recite the various blessings.
Again, it starts with the blessing said with a goblet of wine. That is the first of the seven blessings.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who created everything for His glory.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who forms mankind.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who formed man in His spiritual image — and also in a physical form, from which He fashioned an eternal structure (i.e., marriage with a woman). Blessed are You Hashem, Who forms mankind.
Give the barren Jerusalem joy, and let her be glad with the ingathering of her children the Jews to her with joy. Blessed are You Hashem, Who gladdens Zion with her children.
Give joy to the beloved companions [bride and groom], just as your Creator gladdened you [Adam and Eve] in the Garden of Eden at the beginning. Blessed are You Hashem, who gladdens groom and bride.
Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, happiness, glad song, glee, gaiety, love, affection, peace, and friendship. Quickly, Hashem our G-d, there soon be heard in the cities of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voive of grooms and the voice of brides, the sound of joyous wedding celebrations, the sound of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You Hashem, Who gladdens the groom with his bride.
Then they drink from the wine. Again, the person who made the blessing over the wine drinks first, then the groom, and then (as some have the custom) the other mother gives the wine to the bride to drink.
Then the groom breaks a glass to remember that even during our most joyous occasions we must mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple, as it says in Psalms «…if I do not raise you [Zion] above the height of my joyous occasions…» As mentioned above, in the midst of our greatest `joy we must always remember that G-d’s kingdom is not complete until the Holy Temple is rebuilt.
The couple are escorted from the Chupah with joy and festivity, as the male guests dance with them to the Yichud Room.
Yichud — Privacy
The bride and groom go into a private room together. The groom has earlier taken temporary possession of the room, so that when he and the bride go there, he is bringing her into his own property, to seal the marriage. Two proper and kosher witnesses watch them enter and lock the door. The witnesses wait a short while, and then they may go away.
This is also reminiscent of the Patriarch Isaac’s bringing his bride, the Matriarch Rebecca, into his home. The couple will now eat their first meal of the day, and have their pictures taken. They’ll be out in a half hour or so.
You are no doubt wondering if they consummate the marriage in the yichud room. The answer is no, despite the common misconception. They do not, but the effect is to put them into a situation where they have the privacy and opportunity to do so. They must be together in the semblance of private, married life. Unmarried men and women are not allowed to be together in complete privacy. By this man and woman secluding themselves together, when witnesses see them enter into seclusion together, they demonstrate that they are married.
Some time during the meal the chosson and Kallah will rejoin the guests, and the dancing will commence. It is a very important mitzvah to gladden the heart of a chosson and kallah by making them happy by dancing, complimenting them, and blessing them with much good.
After the meal, and after all the dancing is over, everyone still there (it’s okay to leave early) sits down to eat dessert, and recite the Blessings After the Meals. One Rabbi, relative, or friend, will lead the responsive recitation that precedes the Blessings After the Meal, and everyone will recite the blessings quietly to themselves.
Afterwards, friends or relatives (or Rabbis) will be chosen to recite the Seven Blessings (which were also recited above, during the Nesuin part of the Chupah ceremony). Each one will hold the goblet of wine, and say one or more of the blessings, depending on what the two families decide to honor them with. After that, the wedding is over. they might dance a little more, and then wish the chosson and kallah many blessings, and go home.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that Jewish marriage reunites two halves of one soul. This is just one of the many, many reasons that the Torah forbids intermarriages. It is impossible for a soul to be half Jewish and half Gentile. Therefore, a Jew cannot have a Gentile spouse. A convert, however, has or receives a Jewish soul.
If you are the one getting married, you will need to know a great deal more than is found in this article. You must get in close contact with a Rabbi who can help you. Both the bride and groom must attend classes both before and after the wedding, to learn the various Laws related to being married.
Also, get in touch with a good, reliable Jewish book store, like Tiferes Stam Judaica, and ask for some good books on marriage. A few suggestions are:
Made in Heaven, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, published by Moznaim Publishing;
Hedge of Roses, by Norman Lamm;
The Secret of Jewish Femininity, by Tehilla Abramov, published by Targum/Feldheim;
The Jew and His Home, by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, translated by Nathan Bulman, published by Shengold Publishers.
May we all merit to enjoy many happy occasions.