The Jewish Wedding

Rabbi Howard A. Cohen

Mazal Tov! You and your beloved have decided to get married. There is much to do, and though the date of your wedding may seem like it is a long way off, the time will fly. Very soon you will find yourself preoccupied with the need to make many decisions. Before this happens (or even if already has) take a few minutes to learn about the ceremony through which you will sanctify your marriage.

The Jewish wedding is really two ceremonies. One part is called kedushin. The other is referred to as nesuin. In the distant past these two parts were separated by a year. Kedushin corresponds to today what we call the engagement. Nesuin is the actual marriage ceremony. Today these two components combine to form the Jewish wedding. A reading (or referencing) of the ketubah, the special marriage contract, separates the two parts of the wedding ceremony.

At a time when most cultures perceived the wife as a possession of her husband void of independence, the ancient ketubah guaranteed protection of her basic human rights, and dowry in the event of divorce. This ancient and once radical human rights document is now largely symbolic because contemporary laws go well beyond what the ketubah originally safeguarded. Nevertheless, despite its diminished legal significance, the ketubah is still very important. This is reflected in the fact that the legal text of most contemporary ketubahs is set within beautiful and original artwork. In most Jewish homes the ketubah is then prominently displayed as both a beautiful piece of artwork and affirmation of mutual respect and love.

The chuppah or wedding canopy is another important and ancient ritual that is a hallmark of the Jewish wedding. Though the actual origin and precise meaning of chuppah is uncertain it has long been associated with an experience of the Israelites at Mt. Sinai during revelation. According to the Bible, the people of Israel “stood under the mountain”

as they entered into a holy covenantal relationship with God. The rabbis of old understood this to mean that the entire people of Israel was standing under a chuppah as they entered into a covenantal relationship, that is a marriage, with God. Today the chuppah symbolizes the home the couple will be creating with one another. There are no specific requirements for the construction of the chuppah.

The Jewish wedding is rich with ancient ritual and tradition. At the same time there is ample opportunity to include contemporary innovations so that it fully reflects you and your partner.