From navigating tricky family dynamics, to having awkward conversations about money, to the million smaller decisions you have to make Cocktails or champagne? Lilacs or lilies? Bruno Mars or Beatles?! There are so many choices to navigate in the crazy wedding world. (If you’re shaking your head and saying “nah, it’s been so easy so far!,” just you wait, you’ll get there.)
The pinnacle of the entire wedding process is the moment the couple actually gets married, the ceremony. Along with this moment comes perhaps the biggest, and most meaningful, decision the couple has to make – what to include in the ceremony.
Do you want to make the ceremony Jewish? Do you want it to be religious at all? How do you navigate all the emotions and competing interests of this special moment?
When planning my ceremony with my partner, I felt the pull of many different interests vying for attention and acknowledgement.
My parents wanted a religious wedding to accommodate their more religious family and friends who would be attending. My partner’s parents are quite Reform, so they and their guests would have been lost with a lot of Hebrew and more conservative customs.
Many rabbis we spoke to weren’t comfortable with the more modern approach to certain rituals that we wanted. Other rabbis weren’t traditional enough for my parents. For the most important moment on the most important day of our lives, we found ourselves thinking: who should we accommodate? Our most religious guests, our most secular, our parents, each other, or ourselves?
In order to navigate these questions and the emotions that came with them, we talked to many rabbis in the DC area. My partner and I thought about the things that were important to us, and researched creative options for our ceremony. We definitely wanted Jewish traditions, but also wanted them to be hyper-inclusive. We wanted to incorporate our loved ones, but not have a ceremony stretching over an hour long.
Ultimately, we were fortunate enough to find a rabbi who was willing to have several extensive conversations with us, patiently listening to our concerns, and steering us through all of the options.
From my research and our discussions with our officiant, my partner and I found that there are many cultural, religious, and historic customs you can borrow from Jewish tradition that can bring meaning, spontaneity, good photo opportunities, and even some fun to your wedding day. The only required part of the wedding ceremony in Jewish tradition is the giving of a ring. Everything else is gravy.
Below are some well-known and less well-known options that we considered for our wedding ceremony. Perhaps this will help you figure out what you might want your ceremony to look like.
Photography by Birds of a Feather
The most visible (and perhaps most common) Jewish custom you can incorporate is the chuppah, or wedding canopy. In Jewish tradition, the chuppah represents the couple’s home together, and is a nod to biblical Abraham’s famous hospitality and the fact that his tent was open on all four sides to welcome guests. You can also decide to have a chuppah simply because it’s pretty, and it can serve as a focal point for your ceremony. Sometimes couples will select four close family members or friends to hold up each of the four corners of the chuppah. This can be a nice way to actively incorporate your loved ones.
You may be familiar with the idea of “circling” in a Jewish ceremony. Traditionally, the bride walks in seven circles the groom, but you can circle in any way you like. Some couples take turns circling each other, while others circle a central point together. Circling may represent unity and completeness. It can be seen as a physical reenactment of the wedding ring. Circling can also convey a moment of devotion, when one partner is orbiting the other.
A less common Jewish tradition, but one with a rich history, is the veiling ceremony. This is where the groom greets the bride at the beginning of the wedding and places the veil over her face. This custom is based on the biblical story of Jacob marrying Leah instead of Rachel, whom he pined for, because he did not look under the veil to see her face before marrying. In some religious communities, the veiling is preceded by much fanfare, dancing, drinking, and singing by friends and family as the groom walks towards the bride to greet her. Other couples choose to have a private veiling ceremony. Some choose to have a veiling when the bride walks down the aisle.
Photo from One Story Weddings video
Neither I nor my partner have living grandparents, so we kept an eye out for ways to recognize them during our ceremony. We decided to use my partner’s grandfather’s prayer shawl as part of the canopy a top our chuppah. Some couples use a shawl as their chuppah, which is a beautiful and simple option as well. We used my grandfather’s prayer shawl to wrap ourselves during the blessings part of the ceremony, which is another lovely and meaningful tradition.
Another option is the tradition of reciting seven blessings for the bride and groom. Usually, these blessings are recited by family and very close friends. Similar to having readings at Christian weddings, you can choose the traditional blessings or make up your own. Then, you can assign special loved ones to read the blessings to you at points that you choose during the ceremony. You can also have your friends and family choose their own blessings to read to you. You may decide to have these read in Hebrew, English, or both.
The next most recognizable Jewish tradition is the stomping on the glass at the end of the ceremony. This is arguably the most fun Jewish wedding tradition, as it usually results in a big “Mazel Tov!” shout from the crowd that creates a festive end to your ceremony.
Finally, while it is not part of the ceremony itself, the Horah dance has strong traditions in Eastern European Jewish communities. The Talmud actually requires wedding guests to entertain or “bring joy” to the bride and group, and many communities do so by lifting up the couple in chairs during the dancing.
In the end, there are a myriad of ways to involve your culture and family history in this special moment. No matter what kind of wedding ceremony you choose, I hope you will feel completely surrounded by love when you say “I do” or “b’taba’at zu”.
About the Author: Daniela Murch is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. Daniela grew up between the DC suburbs and Leeds, England, before landing in the District permanently in 2009, where she has lived ever since. As a “tourist of Judaism” she loves exploring different Jewish practices and cultures, both locally and abroad. She works as a lawyer by day, sings in a semi-professional a cappella group by night, and enjoys traveling and exploring the local music and food scenes with her new husband, Jeremy.