Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
August 23, 2004- Number 5764-35
Wedding 4 – The Wedding Ceremony- Part I
Prior to the wedding ceremony, the couple, the Rabbi and two witnesses gather together to begin the formal preparations for the wedding. Judaism does not hold by the superstition that a groom should not see the bride until she walks down the aisle. In some places, there are special celebrations for the bride and groom, with the women attending the celebration for the bride and the men attending the celebration for the groom. The two celebrations then come together for the formal signing of the ketubah. In ancient times, contracts were not signed by the parties to the contract, but by witnesses who affirmed that the two people had indeed entered into an agreement. It is therefore not necessary for the bride and groom to sign the Ketubah, but there must be two witnesses who are not related to either party who must sign for the Ketubah to be valid. In the United States, the civil marriage licence is signed at this time as well. The groom then is given a handkerchief by the Rabbi signifying his acceptance of the terms of the Ketubah. The Bride will signal her acceptance later.
The rings that will be used for the ceremony will then be examined to insure that they are proper for the wedding. The rings used for the ceremony must have three qualifications. It must have a minimum value. It must be worth at least the amount of the smallest coin in use. By size, this means it must be worth a dime! Second, it must have a value that is easy to ascertain. It must be of a metal that is valued by weight (gold or platinum are common) and can have no stones set in it ( because a gem must be valued by an appraiser and thus the value is not easy to ascertain) or any holes in the band (lest it look like a big ring but it is really mostly air). Third, the ring must belong to the groom. He can not give the bride a ring that belongs to someone else. If the couple want to use a ring that has significance to the family ( a family heirloom) it must be sold to the groom prior to the wedding. It can not be given as a gift. A gift, in Judaism can be returned upon the request of the benefactor, but an item sold is not subject to this kind of return.
The groom then places the veil on his bride. It is the custom that this be done by the groom since the days of Jacob and Lavan, in the Torah. Lavan, Jacob’s father-in-law to be, was supposed to let Jacob marry Rachel, but he swapped Rachel for her sister Leah and because of the veil, Jacob did not discover the switch until morning. Since that time the groom puts the veil on his bride to make sure he is marrying the right sister! It is not time for the wedding ceremony and the bride and groom go to the huppah with much singing and celebration.
In the United States, there is a formal wedding procession but this is not the Jewish practice. In most places the entire wedding party accompanies both the bride and groom to the huppah. The Huppah is a small covered “tent like” structure that symbolizes the home that is being founded this day. When a wedding is held outside, it marks off the location of the wedding from the surrounding area. It can be made of most any material and can be held up by friends or be free standing. It can be set up almost anywhere except a few places where one wouldn’t want to be married anyway (bathroom, cemetery. etc.) There is a custom that the groom wear a “kittel” a white garment that reminds us of Yom Kippur. Often the Groom will also wear a tallit. It is the groom who escorts his bride under the Huppah so if the parents of the groom wish to walk the bride to the Huppah, they meet the groom on the way and so she leaves her parents and accompanies the groom to the Huppah.
I have found no legal basis for the bride or groom to circle the other prior to the ceremony. The reasons that are given are custom and there is little agreement as to why this custom is done. I can only assume that this is a remnant of an old superstition relating to magic circles. There is thus no reason for the circling. Most of the reasons given today are misogynist in extreme. While it is not forbidden, I don’t encourage it.
The bride and groom, once they arrive under the Huppah are welcomed with the standard greeting for all such happy occasions (like a brit milah or pidyon haben) with “Baruch HaBah – Blessed are you who have come.” If the wedding is taking place in a synagogue, we add, “We bless you from this House of G-d” the Rabbi takes the first cup of wine and pronounces the blessing of Arusin, the formal engagement blessing. We talked about Arusin last week (#5764-34) and we mentioned that once this blessing was done a year in advance of the wedding but now it is part of the wedding service. After the blessing, the bride and groom drink the first cup of wine. (The wine must be Kosher and it must be grape wine lest the blessings be in vain. It does not matter if the wine is sweet or dry, white or rose or red)
Next week: Wedding 5: The Wedding Ceremony-Part II