We would like to thank each of you for attending our wedding and sharing this special day with us. As our wedding may seem a bit different than others you’ve attended, we’ve decided to put together this little wedding primer so you can know what’s going on during the ceremony.
Before the ceremony
The first two stages of a Jewish wedding ceremony can be held in either public or private surroundings. We decided to keep these first two parts private for immediate family only.
In the first of these initial ceremonies, the groom signs the ketubah, or marriage contract. The signing must be witnessed by two observant Jewish men who are not related to either the bride or groom. The document, written in Aramaic, outlines the husband’s obligations to his wife, and when he signs it, the husband pledges to provide for her support in case of divorce or death.
Jewish tradition calls for the bride to be veiled. The bedeken, which translates as “veiling,” is the groom’s veiling of his bride immediately before the ceremony. The custom is said to be based upon the Biblical story in which Jacob, intending to marry Rachel, accidentally marries her older sister Leah, who wore a veil. As he unveils her, he is verifying that he is marrying the right woman. Some sages say it is a sign of modesty. By veiling her before the wedding, it indicates that the groom is not primarily interested in her physical beauty. Beauty will fade in time, but if the groom is attracted to her spiritual qualities, he is attached to something that she will never lose. Following Jewish custom, Elizabeth and Benyamin have refrained from seeing each other for the last seven days so this veiling will be the first time they see each other.
The wedding ceremony
The public part of this ceremony takes place next and is referred to as the chupah. The chupah, or canopy, symbolizes the new home of the couple and it is where the marriage ceremony will take place. The couple have chosen to honor four friends with holding the four poles of the canopy.
Before the ceremony begins, Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Benyamin’s brother, will recite a short prayer in memory of Sandra Cohen, Benyamin’s mother, who is here in spirit to celebrate this day.
Once Benyamin and Elizabeth are escorted down the aisle, Benyamin’s brothers will sing a traditional Jewish wedding song as Elizabeth circles Benyamin seven times. This encircling symbolizes her as a protective, surrounding light of the household and the walls of the home that she is about to build. The number seven parallels the seven days of creation, and symbolizes the new life that the bride and groom are about to create together.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech, one of Benyamin’s mentors, will conduct the ceremony under the chupah. He will start off by reciting two blessings over a goblet of wine. The bride and groom then drink from the wine. The blessings are recited over wine, a symbol of life: it begins as grape-juice, goes through fermentation, during which it is sour, but in the end turns into a superior product that brings joy, and has a wonderful taste. The full cup of wine also symbolizes the overflowing of divine blessing, as the verse in Psalms states, “My cup runneth over.”
The groom now takes a plain gold ring and places it on the finger of the bride. Jewish law requires the band to be simple, without piercings or precious stones. One explanation for this is that the smooth and circular shape of the ring symbolizes the unbroken union of marriage. A ring is used because it represents that which has no beginning or end, eternity, and because it's something Elizabeth can wear constantly during her life. The ring also symbolizes the concept of the groom encompassing, protecting, and providing for his wife. Benyamin then recites a Hebrew formula in the presence of two pre-determined witnesses. The sentence translates into English as: “Behold you are sanctified (betrothed) to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.”
The ketubah, or marriage contract, is now read out loud. Elizabeth and Benyamin have chosen Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, Elizabeth’s rabbi and close family friend, to have this honor.
At this point in the ceremony, Rabbi Blech will give some brief remarks.
After this, the sheva brachot, or seven blessings, are recited by various people that Elizabeth and Benyamin have chosen to honor. The blessings are also recited over a full cup of wine. The blessings begin with praises to God, and specifically note his creation of the human being as a “two part creature,” woman and man. The blessings express the hope that the new couple will rejoice together forever as though they are the original couple, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As well, the blessings include a prayer that Jerusalem will be fully rebuilt and restored with the Temple in its midst and the Jewish people within her gates. The bride and groom then partake in drinking the cup of wine.
At this point in the ceremony, Rabbi Herbert Cohen, the father of the groom, will give a few brief remarks.
Breaking the glass
The ceremony concludes with Benyamin stepping on a piece of glass and breaking it. The shattering of the glass recalls the Jewish people’s grief at the destruction of the holy Temple, fulfilling the verse (Psalms 137:6) “If I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy.” The introduction of this discordant note at the peak moment of joy demonstrates that for a Jewish person, joy is never complete as long as the Temple is destroyed and Jerusalem is not forgotten. The rejoicing is passionate and exuberant, but simultaneously one does not forget that the Temple was destroyed and the world is far from perfect.
Quickly switching gears, once the glass is broken the ceremony is over and the guests proclaim “Mazal Tov!”
The ceremony post-show
At a Jewish wedding ceremony, the newly married couple is then accompanied by dancing guests to the cheder yichud, “the room of privacy.” They may now be alone in a closed room together, an intimacy reserved only for a married couple. In fact, according to many Jewish legal authorities, the very fact that they are alone together in a locked room, is a requirement of the legal act of marriage, and hence their entry into the room must be observed by the two witnesses of the marriage.
While Benyamin and Elizabeth are alone together the guests will congregate in the lobby for about 20-30 minutes. At that time, everyone will move into the social hall and await the entrance of the bride and groom.
At some point, the band announces the arrival “for the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. Benyamin and Elizabeth Cohen!” and everyone joins in dancing around the bride and groom. The dancing, in accordance with Jewish law requires a separation between men and women for reasons of modesty, and hence there is a mechitzah, or partition between the men and women. The main focus of the dancing is to entertain and enhance the joy of the newlyweds, hence large circles are formed around the “king and queen,” and different guests often perform in front of the seated couple. It is not unusual to see jugglers, fire eaters, and acrobats at a wedding (most of whom are guests, not professionals).
After the first set of dancing (approximately 30-45 minutes), the buffet will be open for meal service. In keeping with a fun Southern theme, Elizabeth and Benyamin have chosen to have the Varsity, a local landmark, cater the event.
After the guests have a chance to sit down and eat, there will be a second set of dancing which will last between 30-45 minutes.
After the dancing is finished, the meal concludes with the recitation of Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals. This five-minute prayer concludes with the recitation, again, of the seven wedding blessings over a goblet of wine. Afterwards, the wine is then shared by the bride and groom. This marks the conclusion of the wedding.