Jewish and Jewish-Interfaith Weddings

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Traditional Jewish and Jewish-Interfaith weddings are steeped in meaningful rituals and focus intently on the significance and purpose of marriage. Jewish weddings celebrate the beauty of the relationship between husband and wife and their obligations to one another and the Jewish people. Weddings in the U.S. are mindful of religious, cultural and the regional distinctions that have impact on Jewish faith. Most celebrations take cues from the bride and groom’s cultural and geographic heritage, and many celebrations in Napa and Sonoma Counties are highly-personalized.

No two weddings are alike, and this article sets out only to provide a broad view of some Jewish and Jewish-Interfaith wedding traditions that are popular in the U.S.

The Jewish Faith

The Jewish community divides into itself into two groups based on where their ancestors originated. Ashkenazim Jews are from Germany and Eastern European countries, while Sephardic Jews are from Spanish and Mediterranean countries. The Ashkenazim make up the vast majority of Jews in the world and are divided into three main groups: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, plus three more contemporary movements: Reconstructionist, Renewal and Humanist.

There are a large number of Jewish people in the U.S. who are unaffiliated with any of these groups and many of the Jews in Israel consider themselves to be “secular.” Because Sephardic Jews have different ethnic origins, they follow a distinctively different liturgy and base their religious law on the Shulchan Aruch without the glosses of Moses Isserles.

While customs and traditions may vary between different communities of Jews, at the core, every Jewish wedding ceremony consists of:

  • The bride accepting an object worth more than a dime from the groom
  • The groom reciting a ritual formula of consecration
  • These two acts being witnessed and this constituting a marriage
  • All other acts and events are customs, including the Ketubah, chuppah, seven wedding blessings, breaking of a glass and the presence of a rabbi.

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The Jewish Wedding

A couple’s wedding celebration style can take cues from traditions that follow their regional and faith heritages. Within the faith, the most strict and complex wedding is that of the Orthodox Jewish wedding. An Orthodox ceremony follows fairly unwavering patterns for the pre-ceremony, ceremony and reception. Among the important observances: only male witnesses may sign the Jewish marriage contract or Ketubah, the parents will stand below the chuppah during the entire ceremony and kosher food must be served.

In the U.S. today, a wedding personalization is common and often times the planning of a Jewish wedding can benefit from advice that helps navigate customs and traditions. Yehudit Steinberg-Caudill, a wedding consultant with Sacred Events of San Francisco, notes, “We weave a customized celebration through a collaborative process that identifies elements that are important to the couple and their family.

There are many nuances and added touches a couple can embrace to mark their important day: the style of chuppah, an individualized Ketubah, personalized vows, creative ways to say the seven blessings, songs and chants included in the service, the type of wine used for the blessing, special music and dances.”

When starting the planning process, Steinberg-Caudill recommends the first step be the selecting of a rabbi and consulting with family elders to discuss specific rituals and traditions. “Selecting a rabbi to perform your service will depend on a number of factors, including location, day and time,” notes Steinberg-Caudill. “This can be one of the most time consuming and daunting aspects of wedding planning, especially if you are planning an interfaith or intercultural wedding and/or a destination wedding.” The rabbi performing the ceremony has the final authority for the service.

Rabbi Gershon Caudill, also with Sacred Events, adds “It’s important to keep in mind that the wedding ceremony is basically a legal ceremony with God and the community bestowing blessings of prosperity and abundance to the couple. In the Jewish ceremony there are no vows of ‘I do’ or ‘to death do us part.’”