Just Married: Israeli Style

Joy and rejoicing were the order of the day. A wedding was about to take place. The bride was getting herself ready and the guests were arriving excited and expectant. Avi and Chaya Mizrachi's daughter was about to wed her childhood sweetheart. 

Israeli weddings are large, vibrant events full of feasting and dancing. The whole event: ceremony and reception usually takes place in a large banqueting hall, beautifully decorated for the celebration. As the guests arrive, hors d'oeuvres are cooked before their eyes on half a dozen small table-stations. People wander from station to station, trying the delightful nibbles. On one, stir fried vegetables and noodles sizzling in a wok are served onto tiny square plates. At another, spicy chilli con carne is wrapped in mini-tortillas. Each one of the varied selections are beautifully displayed on mini-dishes. The guests mingle and catch up with old friends. The Bride and Groom will not arrive until later.

It's not unusual for groups of guests to arrive in coaches that have brought them from various locations around the country. Karen and I joined with the group from Tel Aviv. As we entered the crowded, bustling Wedding Hall, we had hardly walked a few steps before we were greeting old friends we hadn't seen for years both from Israel and from around the world. Cries of "Wow, you are here, how great to see you!" and "How many years has it been since we saw each other!" flew around the room. I was reminded of another wedding banquet that we will one day attend in heaven - what an awesome reunion that will be! Our hearts will be full as we are greeted by those who have gone before us from all over the world!

During all the excitement we notice that the wedding party has arrived. Slowly, the crowd moves towards the other side of the hall where a 'Hupa' (Jewish Wedding Canopy) has been set up.
There are a few chairs but most of the guests stand, crowding around the Hupa. Each ceremony is slightly different but the basic traditions established from ancient times, remain the same.The Jewish wedding service has two distinct stages: The Betrothal or Dedication and The Marriage.  The Betrothal/Dedication occurs when the groom gives the bride an object of value (usually a gold ring). The Marriage part is about standing under the wedding canopy together, symbolizing the new home being built by the couple. While historically these events could take place as much as a year apart, they are now usually combined into one ceremony.

A lone male voice began to sing the words of a Psalm, silence fell over the expectant crowd as another voice joined in duet and then violin and piano took up the tune. The service was about to begin. The 'Hatan' (Groom) was escorted to the Hupa by his parents and then some moments later the bride's parents led their daughter half way down the aisle, then they paused. The Hatan came down to meet his 'Kalah' (Bride). He carefully pulled her veil down over her face and together they walked hand in hand up to the Hupa.

In traditional Jewish weddings, two blessings are recited before the betrothal; a blessing over the wine and the betrothal blessing. The couple then drink from the glass of wine. The betrothal is established by the groom giving something of value to the bride, usually a plain gold ring. As he places the ring on her right index finger  he recites the declaration: "Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel."

Before the wedding ceremony, the groom agrees to be bound by the terms of the 'Ketubah' (marriage contract), in the presence of two witnesses. The contract details the obligations of one partner to the other and has the standing of a legally binding agreement. It is usually a beautifully decorated manuscript which is later framed and displayed in the home. It is traditional to read the Ketubah aloud during the ceremony as a way to separate the two parts of the wedding.

Seven blessings are recited by the rabbi or by selected guests who are given the honour. In this particular wedding, in addition to the blessings, both mother's expressed their love and instructed the couple to always remember how God had brought them together. Several traditional songs were sung including the exuberant  'Kol Hatan veh kol Kalah...' (The voice of the groom and the voice of the bride...)
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, אשר ברא ששון ושמחה, חתן וכלה, גילה רינה, דיצה וחדווה, אהבה ואחווה, ושלום ורעות, מהרה ה' אלקינו ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים, קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה, קול מצהלות חתנים מחופתם, ונערים ממשתה נגינתם. ברוך אתה ה', משמח חתן עם הכלה 
"Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony and peace and companionship. Soon, LORD our God, may there ever be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of groom and bride, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, LORD, who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride."
Breaking the glass
At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass with his right foot. The origin of this custom is unknown but many suggestions are given for it's purpose. It may be that the broken glass is a reminder that even in times of joy, the Jewish people still mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, or perhaps the breaking of the glass is a symbolic reminder that the marriage vows are an unbreakable covenant before God. Whatever the origin, as soon as the glass is crushed, the room erupts with cheers and shouts of 'Mazel tov!' and all the guests converge to greet the newly married couple.

The rest of the evening was filled with a whirlwind of dancing, rejoicing, speeches, songs and lots of feasting. The partying went on until late in the evening and it was with some sadness that we heard the coach back to Tel Aviv had arrived and we would have to leave this little glimpse of heaven.

May God bless the happy couple as they begin a new life together and fill their home with love, joy, and peace. Blessed are You, LORD, who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride!




ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם, אשר ברא ששון ושמחה, חתן וכלה, גילה רינה, דיצה וחדווה, אהבה ואחווה, ושלום ורעות, מהרה ה' אלקינו ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים, קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה, קול מצהלות חתנים מחופתם, ונערים ממשתה נגינתם. ברוך אתה ה', משמח חתן עם הכלה 
Transliteration: Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher bara sason v’simcha chatan v’kallah, gilah rinah ditzah v’chedvah, ahavah v’achavah v’shalom v’reut. M’hera Adonai Eloheinu yishammah b’arei Yhudah uv-chutzot Y’rushalayim kol sason v’kol simcha, kol chatan v’kol kalah, kol mitzhalot chatanim meichupatam u-n'arim mimishte n’ginatam. Baruch ata Adonai, m’sameiach chatan im hakalah. 
"Blessed are You, LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony and peace and companionship. Soon, LORD our God, may there ever be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of groom and bride, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, LORD, who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride."