THE CHALLENGE OF FINDING A MATE Genesis Rabbah 68:4
A Roman Matron asked Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta, "In how many days did God create the world?" He said, "In six, as it is said, 'Since six days God made...' (Exodus 20:11) "And since then," she asked, "what has God been doing?" "God sits [on the Heavenly Throne] and makes matches: the daughter of this one to that one, the wife [i.e. widow] of this one to that one, the money of this one to that one," responded R. Yosi. "And for merely this you believe in Him!" she said. "Even I can do that. I have many slaves, both male and female. In no time at all, I can match them for marriage." R. Yosi, "Though this may be an easy thing for you to do, for God it is as difficult as splitting the Sea of Reeds." Whereupon, Rabbi Yosi took his leave. What did she do? The Matron lined up a thousand male and a thousand female slaves and paired them off before nightfall. The morning after, her estate resembled a battlefield. One slave had his head bashed in, another had lost an eye, while a third hobbled because of a broken leg. She said to them: "What do we have here?" and they each said to her: "I don't want this one" [with whom you matched me." Immediately, she summoned R. Yosi and she brought him to her and said: "Your God is not like our god, and your Torah is true, pleasing and praiseworthy. You spoke wisely."
Leviticus 21:7 They shall not marry a woman defiled by harlotry, nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God
- According to rabbinic law, a Cohen is not permitted to marry a divorcee or a convert. (The Masorti community accepts and performs such marriages.)
Rabbenu Gershom, a rabbi living in Germany at the end of the first millenium (c. 960-1028) is considered the father of Ashkenazic Halacha. He forbade polygamy which had previously been permitted. (He made several other groundbreaking pieces of legislation too including insisting on the necessity of a woman’s consenting to divorce before the issue of a get, modifying the rules about apostasy in cases were people were forced to convert to Christianity, and prohibiting the opening of someone else’s mail.)
Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b
Rabbi Tanhum stated in the name of Rabbi Hanilai: Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness... “Without goodness”, for it is written, “it is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29b
A man who reaches 20 years of age and is not married spends his days in sin. In sin! Is it really so? Rather, say that he spends all his days in sinful thoughts.
THE JEWISH WEDDING CEREMONY
Before the Ceremony - The bride visits the mikvah a few days before the wedding ceremony. She immerses herself completely and says the brachot. This is the first of many visits for couples who keep the laws of Niddah (also known euphemistically as taharat hamishpachah or family purity.)
The Shabbat before the ceremony the groom (and sometimes the bride) receives an aliyah l'Torah at the synagogue.
It is customary for the bride and groom to fast on the day of the wedding until after the chuppah. (There are ways to avoid this requirement.)
The Wedding Ceremony - A Jewish wedding is not held on Shabbat, most festivals (except for Purim, Chanukah, and the intermediate days of Sukkot), the “Three Weeks” prior to Tisha B’Av (9 Av), during the Omer (except for Rosh Chodesh and Lag B’Omer).
The Jewish wedding traditionally begins with a special "kabbalat panim"—reception—in honor of the bride and groom. Our sages tell us that on their wedding day, the bridegroom is like a king and the bride is like a queen. Special powers are granted to them from On High; they are made sovereign over their own lives and over their surroundings. All their previous sins and failings are forgiven, and they are empowered to chart a new future for themselves and bestow blessing and grace to their loved ones and friends. It is to honor their special status that we hold a reception for them, as for visiting royalty.
Two separate receptions are held (usually in adjacent rooms) one for the bride and another for the groom. By tradition, the bride and groom refrain from seeing each other for a full week prior to their wedding, so as to increase their love and yearning for each other, and their subsequent joy in each other at their wedding. They will meet again only at the badeken (veiling ceremony) that follows the reception.
The bride sits on a distinctive, ornate throne-like chair. Her friends and family approach, wish Mazal Tov, and offer their heartfelt wishes and words of encouragement. At the groom's reception, songs are sung, and words of Torah are often delivered. Hors d'oeuvres, light refreshments, and l'chaims are served at both receptions.
In many communities, this occasion is used to complete and sign two of the wedding documents: the tenai'm ("engagement" contract) and the ketubah (marriage contract). At the conclusion of the reading of the tena'im, the mothers of the bride and groom break a china or glass plate, to the joyous shouts of Mazal Tov!
Badeken - Veiling the Bride After the kabbalat panim receptions comes the badeken, the veiling ceremony. A procession headed by the groom goes to the bridal reception room, where the groom covers the bride's face with a veil.
The custom of covering the bride's face with a veil originated with our matriarch Rebecca, who covered her face when meeting her groom, Isaac.
The veil emphasizes that the groom is not solely interested in the bride's external beauty, which fades with time, but rather in her inner beauty which she will never lose. It also emphasizes the innate modesty that is a hallmark of the Jewish woman. The bride's face remains veiled for the duration of the chupah ceremony, affording her privacy at this holy time.
After the groom veils the bride, the parents of the bride and groom approach the bride and bless her. The groom's entourage then retreats from the room. The bride and groom proceed with their chupah preparations and everyone else continues to the site of the chupah, the marriage canopy.
Chupah The chupah is a canopy which sits atop four poles and is usually ornately decorated. The marriage ceremony takes place beneath this canopy which is open on all sides. This is a demonstration of the couple's commitment to establish a home which will always be open to guests, as was the tent of Abraham and Sarah.
Many have the custom for the chupah to be held beneath the open skies. This recalls G‑d's blessing to Abraham that his descendants be as numerous as the stars. Furthermore, a chupah held under the open heavens symbolizes the couple's resolve to establish a household which will be dominated by "heavenly" and spiritual ideals.
The chupah ceremony is traditionally characterized by an air of solemnity. Brides and grooms shedding copious tears is a common sight at traditional Jewish weddings. This is due to an acute awareness of the awe and magnitude of the moment.
It is customary in certain communities for the groom to wear a kittel, a long white frock, during the chupah. The pristine white kittel, traditionally worn on Yom Kippur, and the bride's white gown, are symbols of G‑d's atonement and perfect purity.
Indeed, the Shechinah, Divine Presence, graces the presence of every chupah ceremony. Joining also, are the deceased parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the bride and groom, who descend from their heavenly abode to join the wedding celebration. The assembled audience is expected to demonstrate appropriate consideration for this holy occasion.
Procession - Royalty are always escorted by an entourage; on the day when they are likened to king and queen, the bride and groom are accompanied to the chupah by escorts, a married couple, that serve as their personal "honor guards," usually the couple's married parents. Some have the custom for all the grandparents of the bride and groom to join the entourage as well.
The escorts lock elbows with the bride and groom while leading them to the chupah. All the escorts hold candles, symbolizing the fervent wish that the couple's life together be one of light and joy.
The groom is led to the chupah first, where he awaits the arrival of his bride. Customarily, the band plays a slow moving melody while the bride and groom walk down the aisle. In Ashkenazi communities, the bride circles the groom several times upon arriving at the chupah. With these circles the bride is creating an invisible wall around her husband; into which she will step—to the exclusion of all others.
Once the bride and groom are standing side-by-side under the chupah, the cantor welcomes them on behalf of all gathered by singing several Hebrew greeting hymns, which also includes a request for G‑d's blessings for the new couple.
After all this preliminary activity, we are ready to begin the actual marriage ceremony.
Kiddushin - According to Torah law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called kiddushin, loosely translated as "betrothal," and the second step is known as nisu'in, the finalization of the nuptials. Both kiddushin and nisu'in are accomplished successively beneath the chupah: the kiddushin is effected when the groom gives the bride the wedding band, and the nisu'in through "chupah"—the husband uniting with the wife under one roof for the sake of marriage.
Kiddushin means "sanctification"—signifying the uniqueness of the Jewish marriage where G‑d Himself dwells in the home and the relationship is elevated to a new level of holiness.
The mitzvah of marriage is performed over a cup of wine. "Wine cheers man's heart," and there is no mitzvah which is more joyously celebrated than a wedding. The rabbi holds a cup of wine and recites the blessing over the wine and then the betrothal blessing, which thanks G‑d for sanctifying us with the mitzvah of betrothal before consummating marriage. The groom and bride are given to sip from the cup.
The groom then places the wedding band on the bride's finger. While putting the ring on her finger, the groom says: "With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel." The betrothal must be witnessed by kosher witnesses in order to be valid.
After the groom places the ring on the bride's finger, the ketubah, marriage contract, is read aloud. The ketubah shows that marriage is more than a physical and spiritual union; it is a legal and moral commitment as well. The ketubah details the husband's principal obligations to his wife to provide her with food, clothing and affection, along with other contractual obligations.
The ketubah document is reminiscent of the wedding between G‑d and Israel when Moses took the Torah, the "Book of the Covenant," and read it to the Jews prior to the "chupah ceremony" at Mount Sinai. In the Torah, G‑d, the groom, undertakes to provide for all the physical and spiritual needs of His beloved bride. It is this precious "marriage contract" which has assured our survival through millennia which saw the disappearance of so many mighty nations and superpowers.
Reading the ketubah serves as a separation between the two phases of marriage—kiddushin and nisu'in.
After the ketubah is read, it is handed to the groom who gives it to the bride.
Nisu'in - We now proceed with the final stage of the marriage ceremony, the nisu'in, which is effected by the chupah and the recitation of Sheva Brachot—the "Seven Benedictions."
It is customary to honor friends and relatives with the recitation of these blessings. The honorees approach and stand beneath the chupah, where they are given the cup of wine which they hold while reciting the blessing.
The first blessing is the blessing on wine, and the remaining six are marriage-themed blessings, which include special blessings for the newlywed couple. The bride and groom once again sip from the wine in the cup.
At this point the souls of the groom and the bride reunite to become one soul, as they were before they entered this world. Included in the Seven Benediction is the blessing to the bride and groom that they discover that same delight in one another that they knew in their pristine, primal state in the Garden of Eden.
A cup is then wrapped in a large cloth napkin, and placed beneath the foot of the groom. The groom stomps and shatters the glass. The shattering of the glass reminds us that even at the height of personal joy, we must, nevertheless, remember the destruction of Jerusalem, and yearn for our imminent return there. As the glass shatters, everyone traditionally shouts: "Mazal Tov!"
These sounds resound through the couple's married life. When your husband "breaks something" during your life together; when your wife "breaks something" in the years to follow, you too should shout, "Mazal Tov!" and say: "Thank you G‑d for giving me a real person in my life, not an angel; a mortal human being who is characterized by fluctuating moods, inconsistencies and flaws."
Yichud - Immediately after the chupah, the bride and groom adjourn to the yichud (seclusion) room, where they spend a few minutes alone.
After all the public pomp and ceremony, it is time for the bride and groom to share some private moments; the purpose of the entire ceremony! Even while surrounded by a crowd clamoring to shower them with love and attention, they must take a few moments to be there for each other. This is an important lesson for marriage—the couple should never allow the hustle and bustle of life to completely engulf them; they must always find private time for each other.
Inside the room, the couple traditionally breaks their wedding day fast. It is also a time when the bride and groom customarily exchange gifts.
While in the yichud room, it is customary for the bride to bless the groom. She says: "May you merit to have a long life, and to unite with me in love from now until eternity. May I merit to dwell with you forever."
At Sephardic weddings, the newlywed couple customarily waits until after the wedding reception before entering the yichud room.
Simcha - Participating in a wedding feast and gladdening the hearts of the bride and groom on their special day is a great mitzvah. The Talmud relates that the greatest sages set aside their otherwise never-interrupted Torah study for the sake of entertaining a new couple with song and dance.
When the bride and groom emerge from the yichud room to join their guests, they are ceremoniously greeted with music, singing and dancing. The men with the groom, and the women with the bride, traditionally dance in separate circles; a mechitzah (divider) is placed between the men's and women's dancing circles. The singing and dancing, typically accompanied by juggling acts and other forms of amateur acrobatics and stunts performed in front of the bride and groom, continue throughout the reception.
A hallmark of the traditional Jewish wedding is that everyone is encouraged to participate in the dancing and merrymaking. Every Jew is seen as a part of the larger Jewish body, which includes every Jewish soul throughout the generations. A Jewish marriage, which creates a link between all the past generations and all the future generations, is therefore regarded as much more that a private milestone for the couple and their families; it is a historic and momentous event for the community at large.
After the first dance, the bride and groom take their seat at the head table alongside their parents, grandparents, the rabbi, and any other dignitaries in attendance. Traditionally, the groom recites the hamotzie blessing on an oversized challah which is then sliced and shared with the crowd.
The wedding meal is followed by the Grace after Meals and the recitation of the Sheva Brachot, the same seven blessings recited beneath the chupah.
Sheva Brachot Seven Blessings after Wedding Night
Usually a seudat mitzvah meal is held. There is a special birkat hamazon after which the sheva brachot are recited again. Some have the tradition for a different friend or set of friends to throw a dinner party and including a guest who was not at the wedding for the newlyweds for 6 more nights at which the sheva brachot are said.
The sheva brachot mention the beginning of time in Eden, when life was wholeness, and the end of days, when that wholeness will be restored. Since Eden the world has been in exile from the experience of unfragmented existence, an exile that extends from heaven to earth. The Garden was lost, the Temple destroyed, even God is not whole. Shechinah, God’s feminine self, wanders the earth, cut off, bereaved. God and Shechinah are reunited on Shabbat, the day that offers a taste of paradise, as bridegroom and bride.
Both heaven and earth long for a redemption from this exile, a restoration of Edenic harmony to the whole of creation. A wedding is a focal point in history, a fulcrum between the first and the last, and the embodiment of union and unity. Since Judaism has no concept of individual redemption, the chuppah provides the whole community with a glimpse into the blessing of the uncracked, whole reality that was and will be.
from The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant