Marriage in the Jewish Tradition
Of the many joys of Jewish life, few moments match the wholehearted happiness and emotional power of celebrating the marriage of two loving partners under the huppah (the wedding canopy). Participating in marriage means living out some of our most treasured values–love, family, community, spiritual growth, commitment, and holiness. Judaism challenges each newly wedded couple to embrace the same promise and optimism of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden)–that a marriage partnership can serve as catalyst and inspiration for true harmony among all of God’s creatures. Those gathered to witness the building of this “new house in Israel” are likewise charged with supporting the emotional, spiritual, and religious well-being of both partners during this time of transition as the foundation stones of this new family are put into place.
The marriage ceremony, officiated by a messad(er/et) kiddushin (one who orders the ritual service of marriage), usually a rabbi, combines two longstanding rituals (which, in former times, were separated by a year or more)–erusin and nissuin. Erusin (or betrothal, the ceremony that binds the new couple exclusively to each other), similar to modern engagement, is marked by blessings and the gift of rings, while nissuin (the formal marriage agreement), seals this sacred bond with seven blessings recited over a cup of wine. Before or during the ceremony, two or more witnesses sign a ketubah (an ancient legal formulation or marriage contract, originally created by the ancient rabbis to protect the financial security of women). Many couples choose to purchase a ketubah text illuminated with professional artwork or personalized symbols that is later framed and displayed in their home. The marriage ceremony ends with the breaking of a glass–most traditionally understood as a gesture of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This ritual also serves as a reminder to this new couple of their responsibility to fuse together the broken shards of our world through the mitzvah of tikun olam (repairing the world). During the week that follows the ceremony, many couples choose to continue celebrating their marriage with festive meals called sheva brakhot, in the homes of family and friends. The invitation of panim hadashot, or new faces, guests who did not attend the wedding ceremony, allows for the repetition of the seven blessings recited under the huppah during birkhat hamazon, the blessings after the meal.