The Jewish wedding is rich with ceremony, beginning with the announcement of intent to marry and ending with seven days of celebration.
Some couples have revived a betrothal ceremony, called tenaim, where the engagement is announced, a document of commitment read aloud, and a piece of crockery shattered. The original tenaim, announced when two families had agreed on a match between their children, is still celebrated today by some traditional Jews.
On the Sabbath preceding the wedding, the groom has (and in liberal congregations, the bride and groom both have) an aufruf (in Yiddish, “calling up”) in which he (and/or she) recites blessings over the Torah reading and is showered with candy.
Traditionally, a bride takes her first trip to the mikveh (ritual bath) the day before the wedding, the first of monthly visits that will extend as long as she menstruates. Mikveh signifies that a woman and her husband are again allowed sexual contact, seven days after her menstrual flow ends. This mikveh immersion signifies rebirth and reflects the upcoming change in personal status.
A traditional Jewish wedding begins with separate receptions for the groom and the bride. The groom presides over a tish (literally, “table”), around which the guests sing and make toasts, and the groom delivers a scholarly talk. The ketubah, or marriage contract, is traditionally signed at the tish before two witnesses, and the groom accepts the obligations by a legal consent process called kinyan. In the liberal movements weddings begin with a ketubah signing that includes both bride and groom.
All traditional couples and many liberal ones choose to do the bedeken ceremony in which the groom covers the bride’s face with a veil. Reasons for veiling range from emulation of the matriarchs, who veiled themselves, to bridal modesty, to the groom performing his obligation to clothe his wife.
For the processional the groom may don a white garment called a kittel, a simple cotton robe that is also worn on Yom Kippur and as a shroud at death, alluding to the seriousness of the day. Some grooms wear a tallit (prayer shawl) instead.
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