These are the things the fruits of which a person enjoys in this world, but the principal
remains for him in the world to come:
1. honoring father and mother,
2. deeds of lovingkindness,
3. early arrival at the study-house morning and evening,
4. hospitality to guests,
5. visiting the sick,
6. dowering the bride,
7. accompanying the dead (to burial),
8. devotion in prayer,
9. making peace between a man and his fellow,
10. and the study of Torah is equal to them all.
Whoever raises an orphan as his own, Scripture considers him as if he were the natural parent.
What should one expect at a b’rit milah?
Customarily, two candles are lit in the room where the ceremony is to take place as symbols of life and the presence of God. (At one time, the lighted candles very probably were also intended to ward off possible demons that might try to harm the baby.)
- The kvatterin (godmother) takes the baby from the mother and brings it to the kvatter (godfather).
- The kvatter then enters with the child and everyone stands and says Baruch haba, “Blessed be he who comes.” This constitutes a welcome to both the infant and the prophet Elijah.
- The father of the infant then recites a prescribed reading indicating his acceptance of the responsibility for bringing his son into the covenant, the b’rit.
- The kvatter or mohel places the baby on the special chair for Elijah, which has been prepared prior to the ceremony. The infant is then lifted from Elijah’s chair and placed upon the knees of the sandak, while all others remain standing.
- The mohel recites the following blessing: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al hamilah. “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and ordained circumcision.”
- The mohel performs the circumcision in three steps: milah, the cutting of the foreskin; p’riah, the removal of the underlying membrane; m’tzitzah, drawing the blood from the wound. Milah is traditionally performed with a knife. Today, many mohalim use a special surgical clamp, which facilitates the operation.
- During the circumcision, the father recites the following blessing: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hachniso b’vrito shel Avraham avinu. “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and has commanded us to bring our sons into the covenant of Abraham our father.”
- All those present recite a prayer expressing the hope that the baby will grow up into a life of study, marriage, and good deeds.
- The mohel then chants the blessing for the wine and a prayer that gives the baby his Hebrew name. The godfather sips the wine, and a few drops are also placed on the baby’s lips. This concludes the traditional ceremony, although it is quite common to add songs, readings, and poetry. A festive meal traditionally follows.
Prayers of Welcome and Thanksgiving
A blessing of welcome:
Brucha ha-ba’ah b’shem Adonai.
Welcome in the name of the Creator.
A blessing recited by the mother:
Baruch ata Adonai, Ehloheinu mehlech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hachnisah bi'v'rit hachayim.
We praise you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe: You hallow us with Your Mitzvot, and command us to bring our daughters into the Covenant of Life.
A blessing recited by the father:
Baruch ata Adonai, Ehloheinu mehlech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al kidush hachayim.
We praise you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe: You hallow us with Your Mitzvot, and command us to sanctify our life.
The Shehecheyanu recited together by both parents:
Baruch ata Adonai, Ehloheinu mehlech ha'olam, shehechehyanu, v'ki y'manu, v'higianu laz'man ha-zeh.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.
The baby's parents also may recite these words:
May we lead our daughter in the way of righteousness. Teach us to guide and instruct her, that she may grow up to be loyal to Judaism and a worthy member of the Jewish community.
Now in the presence of loved ones, we give to you the name ___________________. Let it become a name honored and respected for wisdom and good deeds. __________________, we commit ourselves to the unfolding of your promise, may you walk the path of goodness, beauty, and truth. Do justly and love mercy, and be humble before the mystery of life and the grandeur of the universe into which you have been born.
May God's blessing rest on you now and always.
Y'varehch'cha Adonai v'yishm'rehcha.
May God bless you and keep you.
Yaeir Adonai pana eilehcha vichunehka.
May Good look kindly upon you, and be gracious to you.
Yisa Adonai panav eilehcha v'yaseim l'cha shalom.
May God reach out to you in tenderness, and give you peace.
Baruch ata Adonai, Ehloheinu mehlech ha'olam, borei p'ri hagafen.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
A few drops of wine or grape juice may be given to the child after which the cup might be share by parents and loved ones. A festive meal may follow the b'rit bat.
Among some Jews, it is customary for the wedding couple to fast on their wedding day, which is a day of forgiveness, similar to Yom Kippur. As a couple prepares for a new life together, this practice may enhance the spirituality of the day. It also may serve as a marker of the change taking place in their lives. Be sure to consider how your body responds to hunger when deciding if this will be a meaningful observance.
Badeken (Veiling of the Bride)
Although the custom of badeken di kallah (veiling of the bride) is not generally practiced by Reform Jews, one may encounter this ritual at some Jewish weddings. In this custom, which grew out of the biblical story of Jacob's love for Rachel, the groom looks at the bride before covering her face with the veil. Jacob worked for Rachel's father, Laban, for seven years in order to win Rachel's hand in marriage. But, at their wedding, Laban secretly substituted his elder daughter Leah for Rachel, later asserting that Jacob had to marry her before marrying Rachel. As a result of that undoubtedly traumatic experience, some Jewish grooms to this day assure themselves before uttering their vows that the woman they are marrying is in fact their intended.
The Wedding Ceremony
The rabbi or cantor offers words of welcome and thanksgiving, often Psalm 118:26: "Blessed are you who come in the name of Adonai" and Psalm 100, which expresses thanks to and praise for God. The officiant also may recite these words to a medieval hymn: "May the One who is mighty and blessed above all bless the groom and the bride."
The custom of the bride circling the groom (generally seven times, but sometimes only three) is a part of many modern weddings. The more usual custom of seven circles has many explanations, including that there are seven days in a week and seven aliyot on Shabbat. In addition, "when a man takes a wife" appears in the bible seven times and on Simchat Torah, the Torahs are carried around the synagogue seven times.
The first part of the wedding ceremony also generally includes a blessing over wine, the birkat eirusin (betrothal blessing), exchange of rings, a recitation of the formula of betrothal and sometimes a reading of the ketubah. Your rabbi may use a slightly different order in which the Sheva B'rachot precede the exchange of rings.
Sheva B'rachot (Seven Blessings)
The second part of the ceremony (nisuin) includes a blessing over a second cup of wine, which is the first of the Sheva B'rachot (the seven blessings), one of the most important elements of a Jewish wedding. The traditional blessings build in complexity, becoming more expansive in content and theme. They progressively unfold in praise of creation itself, the creation of human beings, the joy of the couple, the establishment of a household, and an ode to joy that links this individual celebration with the time when joy and gladness will be heard in every city and on every hill. It is believed that each time two people fall in love and marry, the world comes that much closer to perfection.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of all things for Your glory.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of man and woman.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates us to share with You in life's everlasting renewal.
We praise You, Adonai our God, who causes Zion to rejoice in her children's happy return.
We praise You, Adonai our God, who causes loving companions to rejoice. May these loving companions rejoice as have Your creatures since the days of Creation.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of joy and gladness, friends and lovers, love and kinship, peace and friendship. O God, may there always be heard in the cities of Israel and in the streets of Jerusalem: the sounds of joy and happiness, the voice of loving couples, the shouts of young people celebrating, and the songs of children at play. We praise you, Adonai our God, who causes lovers to rejoice together.
Also included in the second part of the wedding ceremony are the vows. The traditional formulaic declaration is:
Harei at m'kudeshet li b'tabaat zo k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael.
Behold, you are consecrated for/to me, with this ring, according to the religion/tradition of Moses and Israel.
Originally, it was only the man who made this declaration. However, today in modern, egalitarian kiddushin, both members of the couple make this declaration.
Breaking the Glass
At the conclusion of the ceremony-in what is probably the best known of all the rituals associated with Jewish weddings-it is customary for the groom to break a glass (sometimes a light bulb, which makes more noise!) by stepping on it. There are various interpretations of this custom. Among others, it reminds us of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, teaches that, in times of joy, we must always be cognizant that life also brings sadness and sorrow, illustrates that, like marriage, it is permanent, warns us that love, like glass, is fragile and must be protected, and helps us remember that the world too is broken and that with acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world), we can help make it whole again. More recently, both members of the couple, including same-sex couples, have chosen to break a glass. At the breaking of the glass(es), guests may shout "mazel tov," the Ashkenazi wish for good luck, while Sephardim yell, "Siman tov." It also is a custom to sing the song "Siman Tov U'mazal Tov" right after breaking the glass.
Following the ceremony, the couple may opt to spend a few moments alone before joining their friends and family. This practice, called yichud (privacy or seclusion), can be a respite from the strain of being the center of attention for a whole day. It is an island of privacy and peace before the public celebration begins. If they have been fasting, it is customary for the couple to break their fast together during yichud, sharing their first meal as a married couple.
Judaism's emphasis upon the value of marriage is reflected in the fact that it calls marriage kiddushin, from the word kadosh, "sacred" or "holy." Marriage, in other words, is a sacred union, according to the essential meaning of that Hebrew term.
A chuppah is a wedding canopy that symbolizes the home the couple will establish and under which they and family stand during the wedding ceremony. Originally, wedding ceremonies were held outdoors in the hope that the marriage would be blessed by as many children as "the stars of the heavens." Some kind of covering was employed to create a more modest and sanctified space, separated from the "marketplace." The chuppah can be a plain tallit or velvet cloth supported by four poles that can either be freestanding or held by family members or friends.
Ketubah (Marriage Contract)
The ketubah is one of the oldest and at one time was one of the least romantic elements of Jewish weddings. A traditional ketubah is a legal contract written in Aramaic and signed just prior to the wedding ceremony by two male witnesses who testify that the groom "acquired" the bride in the prescribed manner and that he agreed to support her. Sensitive to the male-oriented language of the ancient document in light of contemporary values, many modern ketubot are egalitarian, and include wording indicating that both spouses make the same commitments, one to the other. Written in Hebrew and English, rather than legalistic, modern ketubot are spiritual. They often include descriptions of how the couple will support each other and the Jewish home they are establishing. Ketubot are often beautiful pieces of art hung in places of honor in the couple's home. Ketubot may be obtained from artists and calligraphers, either pre-printed or as one-of-a-kind designs. Today, both men and women, serving as witnesses (and often the bride and groom as well), sign the document.
A groom giving a bride a valuable token while saying prescribed words in the presence of witnesses has been a mainstay of weddings for millennia. In a Jewish ceremony, the groom placed a ring (sometimes ornate, highly stylized and specifically for the ceremony itself) on the bride's index finger, and said in Aramaic, "Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Until the modern period, the words and actions were unilaterial; the bride did not give the groom a token and did not make a verbal pledge.