Being a Guest at a Jewish Wedding: A Guide

From dress code to dancing.

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Near the end of the ceremony, the sheva berakhot--seven blessings--are recited over a cup of wine. These may be recited by one person, often the rabbi, or by several people. the bride and groom wish to honor. The guests in the crowd may sing along during the sheva berakhot. Feel free to hum along even if you do not know the words.

The wedding ceremony ends with the breaking of the glass, which symbolizes that even in times of great joy, we remember that there is still pain  in the world (which Jewish tradition relates to the destruction of the Jewish Temple). In most weddings, after the glass is broken it is time to jump up and yell, "Mazal Tov!"

After the conclusion of the ceremony, at more traditional weddings, the couple heads directly to a private room to spend their first few minutes of marriage alone. In this case,  there will not be a typical receiving line. If the cocktail hour didn't already happen during the kabbalat panim, guests are invited for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Be careful not to fill up. Even at the most elaborate spreads, there will most likely be a full meal served during the reception.

The Party

Lively circle dancing--popularly known as the hora--usually starts immediately when the bride and groom enter the party room. At more traditional weddings there are separate circles for men and women--sometimes split by a mehitzah (divider). In more liberal crowds, men and women dance together. Get ready for some raucous dancing, and feel free to take your turn dancing with the bride and/or groom. 

As part of the hora, the bride and groom will be seated on chairs and lifted in the air--if you're strong, you can lend a hand. While they're hoisted up, the bride and groom might hold onto a kerchief or napkin. You might recognize this part from the movies.

The bride and groom may take a break from dancing themselves, sit down on chairs on the dance floor, and let the guests entertain them. You can dance for them or show off your back-flipping, juggling, or fire-blowing talents. Be creative--it's all about making the bride and groom happy!

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Rachel Lerner

Rachel Lerner is a doctoral student in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in NYC with her husband, Aaron, and their daughter, Lily.