Hasidic Weddings (and why I love them)!

A couple of days ago, I attended my dear friend’s wedding. She and her family are very near to my heart. She was marrying a young man who was a member of the Bobover Hasidim.

(The beautiful bride)

Not many Jews (let alone gentiles) have much contact with Hasidim in general or Bobovers in particular, so I thought this would be a good ‘teachable moment’ to go over some of the ways a Hasidic wedding differs from ‘regular’ non-Orthodox Jewish weddings and non-Jewish weddings. So, here goes…

My Practical Guide to Hasidic Weddings!

(largely based on [i.e. basically ripped off from] a pamphlet at the wedding)

(The bride and groom)

The traditional Jewish wedding incorporates various rituals and customs that serve both to solemnize the occasion and gladden the hearts of the bride and groom.

The Hebrew word for marriage is Kiddushin, which means sanctification. Judaism views marriage as sacred. For this reason, the Hasidic custom is for the bride and groom not to see each other from the engagement until the middle of the wedding ceremony. The sacredness of the wedding day is likened to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), therefore the couple fast until after the ceremony.

Before the ceremony, the bride and groom are in separate rooms to give them an opportunity to pray before this important step in their lives.

(The bride in quiet prayer)

Men and women are in separate sections. In the women’s section, the music is playing, the bride is seated on a bridal chair and the guests greet the bride and wish her a mazel tov (loosely translated as ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck’). Light food (cake and fruit) is served. In the men’s section, the groom’s friends and loved ones sing songs of a spiritually uplifting nature. The men and Rabbis prepare the Ketubah (marriage contract, signed by two witnesses) to be used in the wedding ceremony. The groom is escorted to the women’s section to witness the bride’s father covering his daughter’s face with a heavy veil. This reminds us of the time that the biblical matriarch Rebecca covered her face with a veil upon seeing her intended husband, Isaac.

The veil is not transparent and the bride is completely dependent on her mother for direction as she is unable to see. Upon returning to the men’s section, the groom’s father dresses his son in a traditional white garment (a Kittel). This is in keeping with the Yom Kippur theme and, in fact, the groom will wear this garment every Yom Kippur from then on.

The ceremony takes place under a Chupah (canopy) as a symbol of the home that is to be shared by the couple. The Chupah is often under an open sky, reminiscent of Almighty’s blessing to Abraham that his descendents be as numerous as the stars in the sky. [1]

(The veiled bride being escorted to the Chupah by her parents)

The groom is escorted first by the two fathers (or his parents) who carry candles to light the way. The bride is escorted by the two mothers (or her parents), again carrying candles. Once the bride arrives at the Chupah, she circles the groom seven times, symbolically making him the centre of her life. The mothers of the bride and groom follow, showing that the family will be an integral part of that life.

The ceremony is divided into two parts: Eirusin (betrothal) and Nissu’in (marriage). [2] The Eirusin consists of two blessings, one of which is recited over a glass of wine. After the bride and groom drink from the wine, the groom places a ring on the brides forefinger while reciting in Hebrew, “Behold you are sanctified (betrothed) to me with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel.” [3] The Ketubah is then read aloud, in which the groom obligates himself to feed, clothe and provide a home for his bride. [4]

(The happy couple)

The Nissu’in is composed of seven nuptial blessings (the Sheva Brachas – lit. the Seven Blessings). The first blessing is recited over a glass of wine. The next three recall the Almighty’s creation of man and emphasize the consequent responsibilities that man has to the Almighty. The fifth blessing focuses on the marriage itself and its relationship to Jerusalem as the symbolic center of our lives. The sixth blessing stresses that marriage must be based on the happiness that comes not merely from love but also from friendship. The final blessing combines praise of the Almighty, who is the ultimate source of all human happiness, with a prayer that we should merit redemption in our time.

The ceremony closes with the breaking of a glass. This recalls the void left by the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the central role that the land of Israel holds for all Jews. The loss of the Temple is so deep and profound that even during times of greatest joy, we must never forget that loss. The breaking glass reminds us of that tragedy exactly at the time when our happiness is at its peak.

(The newly married couple leaving the Chupah. Mazel tov!)

Immediately after the Chupah, the bride and groom adjourn to a private room for several minutes of Yichud (privacy). This symbolizes their new relationship as husband and wife and is actually the first time since their engagement that they are together. Yichud is important. In fact, there are some rabbinical sources that suggest that the marriage is not fully completed until the bride and groom have had the opportunity to be alone.

The bride and groom enter the banquet room, to be greeted with joyous dancing and singing. In keeping with Jewish tradition, the men and women are in separate sections or even separate rooms and dance separately as well. Entertaining the bride and groom and increasing their joy is an integral part of the celebration and all guests are invited to join.

(The happy couple)

The dinner – with intervening episodes of dancing – is sanctified from beginning to end. At the end of the meal, traditional blessings are recited and have special additions in honour of the newly married couple. The Sheva Brachas (Seven Blessings) first recited under the Chupah are repeated after dinner.

Most people leave at this point after wishing the married couple and their families well.

(A mitzvah dance)

Close friends and family remain for the last part.. the Mitzvah Dance. To abide with the Mitzvah (lit. commandment, loosely translated as ‘good deed’) of dancing in front of the bride, the partition separating the men and women is removed but separate seating is maintained. A Badchin (jester/comedian), using poetry, calls up individuals for their turn in performing a dance in front of the bride.

The ceremony is concluded with the groom himself holding the hands of his bride and dancing.

(The bride and groom dance)

Once again, mazel tov to my dear friend, the bride… and to the lucky young man who had the good sense to marry such a wonderful girl.

(The happy couple, embarking on a new life together!)

While I realize that this article is a marked departure from what the regular readers of this blog are used to, I hope, dear readers, that you found it informative and interesting.

________________________________________________________________

[1] (Genesis 15:5). Given the time of year and the weather (a cold rainy December 5th!), the chupah at this wedding was indoors.

[2] In Temple times, the two stages were separated by a period of time from several months to a year. Today, both stages are held at the same time but there is a separation between the two to maintain the distinction. Some people mistakenly believe that the Eirusin is kind of like an engagement but this isn’t true. In Temple times, if the couple split up during the period between Eirusin and Nissu’in, a divorce (get) was necessary.

[3] “Hirei at m’kudeshet li v’taba’at zo k’dat Moshe v’Israel.”

[4] The Ketubah is, arguably, the oldest document attesting to a woman’s right to spousal support.

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4 comments on “Hasidic Weddings (and why I love them)!

  1. Night-Gaunt says:

    With all that goes on to have a Jewish wedding I dare say divorces aren’t common are they? Are they even allowed?

    • vampyrefangs says:

      The divorce rate for Orthodox marriages is much lower than in the regular population. Unlike other cultures (e.g. Italy did not even allow civil divorces until May, 1974!), Judaism has allowed divorce for the last 3,500 years. Thanks for the question! 🙂

  2. angie Thompson says:

    This is a great and informative blog I Google searched the reason for separating men and women at weddings and this blog had all the info and I think all these traditions are beautiful yet completely different from anything I’ve ever known but I love learning about these traditions. So thanks for sharing.

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