Nissuin: The Second of the Two Ceremonies

The substance of nissuin, the actual marriage ceremony, are seven blessings that reflect the themes of creation, joy, and bride and groom.

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Rashi, the classic medieval commentator on the Talmud, offers an alternate explanation for the blessings. He suggests that the second benediction is in honor not of the couple, but of all those assembled at the ceremony. The third is in honor of the creation of Adam. The next three refer specifically to the couple being married. And the last is in honor of all Jews everywhere, including, of course, the couple themselves.

One element of the blessings that cannot be denied is that they refer to grooms and brides, men and women, beyond time. Obviously, one element of this "era beyond time" is the Garden of Eden, cited specifically in the liturgy. But in mentioning creation, the liturgy subtly suggests the tradition's commitment to the notion of purposeful creation, and alludes to the future era when God's purpose for humankind will be realized. Jacob Neusner has suggested that the couple represents not only Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but also young men and women in a rebuilt Jerusalem, redeemed in the messianic era. In both representations, the couple exists beyond time and history, in a direct relationship with God and the people Israel.

Repeating the Blessings at the Meal

The seven blessings are repeated once after the ceremony, at the festive meal that follows. There, the grace after meals is recited using one cup of wine, and the Sheva Berakhot using another. Upon completion of the blessings for the second time, the two cups of wine are mixed into a third, and husband and wife now drink from the third cup.

The blessings are then recited every day for the next seven days, as long as at least one person is present at each meal who was not present before. On the Sabbath, the Sabbath Bride "herself " is considered the new "person."

Addressing the Couple

If the rabbi speaks at the ceremony, he or she usually does so after the seven blessings [although some rabbis speak after the reading of the ketubah, before the Sheva Berakhot are recited]. But it is not unusual for more than one person to address the couple under the huppah, at any of several points during the ceremony. Some rabbis also elect to offer a separate blessing for the couple, often the tripartite "Priestly Blessing" (Numbers 6:24-26). Such matters are not regulated by tradition.

Breaking the Glass

The next, and final, ritual element of the ceremony is the shattering of a glass. Traditionally, it is the groom who shatters the glass with his foot, though in some more modern communities groom and bride both do so. Most traditional commentators explain this custom as having originated with incidents recorded in the Talmud in which Mar, the son of Ravina, and Rav Ashi deliberately smashed costly glass at their sons' weddings to put a stop to the raucous dancing and celebrating.

Modern explanations have focused on a more solemn theme, claiming that the broken glass reminds Jews assembled at a joyous occasion of the Temples and recalling those individuals, Jew and non-Jew alike, who do not have the freedom to celebrate either religiously or publicly. A more mystical explanation of the ceremony is that the glass represents the couple and that just as the glass, when it is broken, enters a state from which it will never emerge, it is the hope of the community that this couple will never emerge from their married state. Finally, one modern source suggests:

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Rabbi Daniel Gordis

Rabbi Daniel H. Gordis is Director of the Jerusalem Fellows program and a member of the Senior Staff of the Mandel Foundation Sector on Jewish Education and Continuity. His most recent book, on the demise of peace in Israel, is entitled If a Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State; other books include God Was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism.