Creating Your Jewish Wedding

Mazal tov (congratulations) you are getting married. There is much to do: find a florist, musicians, location, officiant, invitations, menus and more! With all that is going on it is easy to miss out on the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the traditions of the Jewish wedding. Therefore, let me invite you to read this brief introduction to two essentials elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony: the huppah and the ketubah.

The Huppa

The most visible and familiar ritual item at a Jewish wedding is the huppah, or wedding canopy. The huppah evokes the tents of our ancient ancestors and as such it is first and foremost a symbol of the home you are creating together. There is an ancient story that suggests that God created Adam and Eve’s huppah. From this the huppah is understood to be a sign of God’s presence at the wedding and in the home you are creating.

There are few requirements for making a huppah. It needs to be a temporary, handmade structure. It can be any size and adorned with whatever decorations appeal to you. It is not uncommon to use a large talit (prayer shawl) for the canopy. Many couples use a talit of a relative or their own to further personalize the ceremony. Regardless of the material you use for the canopy make sure you devise a way to securely fasten it to the poles used to hold it up. Speaking of the poles, there are no specific requirements for these either.

It is a matter of taste whether the huppah is brought to the site of the ceremony as part of the procession or set up in advance. It is considered an honor to hold one of the poles during the ceremony so this is a good way to include special people in your life. Finally, there is no set rule about who stands under the huppah with you and the rabbi. You are welcome to invite whom so ever you wish to be under it with you.

The Ketubah

The ketubah, or marriage contract is another ancient element of a Jewish wedding. Historically the ketubah was a contract verifying that the groom had legally acquired the rights to his bride. What made it unique was that the document delineated her rights within the marriage as well as her husband’s duties. At a time when women in general had no rights this ancient ritual guaranteed Jewish women something unheard: legal status and rights in marriage.

In most modern weddings the ketubah has evolved into a personal covenant between the couple. While some people stick with the traditional text, others compose their own words of commitment or use one of the many new alternatives. In addition, it is very common to commission an artist to transform the ketubah into art, which is then displayed in the home as a beautiful and visible reminder of their commitment to one another.