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Excerpted with permission from Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism edited by Rela Mintz Geffen (Jewish Publication Society).
The Jewish wedding ceremony comprises two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). When the bride and groom have reached the huppah [marriage canopy], the erusin ceremony begins. It is a simple ceremony, marked by two blessings recited by the presiding rabbi, who holds a cup of wine. The first blessing, over wine, is one said at almost all joyous occasions. The second blessing is unique to this occasion and reads as follows:
"Blessed are You, Lord our God, Master of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding forbidden unions, and Who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by huppah and kiddushin. Praised are You, Lord, Who sanctifies His people Israel with huppah and kiddushin."
After the completion of the second blessing, the rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who drinks of it; the cup is then presented to the bride, who drinks from the same cup, symbolizing their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on.
What Does the Blessing Mean?
Several crucial themes of the Jewish wedding are expressed in the seemingly simple language of these few lines of this second blessing. First, the liturgical language points to older customs, for in earlier times the Jewish wedding took place in stages over the course of an entire year. At the first ceremony, erusin, the couple were reserved for each other and were forbidden to have relationships with anyone else. But it was not until approximately a year later, at the nissuin ceremony, that they were permitted to consummate their relationship sexually and that the bride moved into the groom’s home.
The language of the second blessing, "who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by huppah and kiddushin," reflects this earlier practice, and apparently served in ancient times as a warning to the couple not to cohabit until the completion of the second ceremony.
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