Before the Jewish Wedding Ceremony

Before the wedding, bride and groom are feted, the bride is veiled, and the groom dons a shroud-like garment.

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The tradition of Hasidim and some Oriental Jews, and the old Jerusalem community, is for the veil to be opaque, to assure that the bride's entire face is covered for the wedding ceremony, so that she can neither see nor be seen.

Preparing for the Huppah

When he returns to his reception room from the bedeken, the groom is readied for the huppah ceremony by his attendants. As the groom, on his wedding day, is compared to a king, he does not don his garments as he does ordinarily, but is dressed by his attendants. The garment worn is usually a kittel, a simple white cotton robe.

It is customary for the groom to wear a white garment, a symbol of purity for this ceremony, to emphasize that this day is, for him, like Yom Kippur, when he is to repent, and be forgiven for all his sins. The prophet Isaiah declares, "If your sins are like scarlet, they shall become as white as snow. For the same reason the bride wears white. The white garments serve as a symbolic reminder to bride and groom that they must henceforth take care to keep clear of sin, thereby fulfilling Solomon's directive in Ecclesiastes, "At all times take care that your garments be white."

The white garments also signify that, apart from the commitment they make to each other on the day of their kiddushin [betrothal--the first part of the marriage ceremony], they are also making a solemn commitment to God to conduct their lives in an elevated manner.

The kittel the groom dons is also reminiscent of the white shroud he will wear when he dies. It thus serves as a poignant reminder on the happiest day of his life of the eventual day of his death. This pointed recollection of his mortality on his wedding day is designed to bring him down to earth, to underscore that henceforth he should pursue a life of meaning, and not one of empty, petty desires.

There are no pockets in the kittel. Just as the absence of pockets in a shroud indicates that a person takes nothing material with him when he dies, the groom, wearing a pocketless kittel that is compared to a shroud, is reminded of this at his wedding. It also serves as a pointer to the bride that she accepts him for what he is, and not for his possessions. For the same reason it is customary in many circles for the bride not to wear jewelry at the huppah.

The sages also see the kittel as a symbol that the bridal couple should view their marital bond as a lasting one, continuing until the day of their death.

In some circles, it is customary for the kittel to be worn under the grooms outer garments.

In many areas it is customary for the attendants of the groom to place ashes on the groom's head at this time, in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is an ancient custom that is referred to in the Talmud. Some leave the ashes on only during the huppah ceremony, and remove them immediately thereafter.

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Dr. Michael Kaufman studied at Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Telshe Yeshiva, Brookyn College, and the University of Louisville. His books include The Art of Judaism, A Timeless Judaism for Our Time, and A Guide to Jewish Art. He lives with his family in Jerusalem.