A Jewish wedding is a joyous celebration and an example to children of how traditions are passed down and updated along the way. If your family was invited to your first Jewish wedding, it’s helpful to know what to expect so that you and your kids can understand what’s happening during the ceremony and participate fully. The good news for families with young children is that Jewish wedding ceremonies are relatively short and contain enough variety to keep everyone interested.
Most modern Jewish weddings are composed of several sections. These include the pre-ceremony ritual of the signing of the marriage contract (ketubah) and the wedding ceremony itself, which usually combines the betrothal (erusin) and marriage portion (nissuin). Use the following guide to learn more about what’s involved in each of these sections and how to explain the traditions to children.
There are plenty of online resources that go into detail about all the different Jewish wedding traditions. Here are a few specific highlights that children will enjoy.
This is an honor given before the wedding day and usually involves the couple reciting the Torah blessings, often during a Shabbat service. As a symbol of the sweetness of their future marriage, those in the congregation shower the couple with candy. Who doesn’t love an excuse to throw (and then eat) candy?
Kabbalat Panim and Tish
These traditional pre-wedding receptions take place just before the ceremony and give the couple a chance to welcome guests. Families will appreciate the chance to let kids get out a little energy before the main ceremony starts. They give the couple a chance to welcome guests, and families will appreciate the chance to let kids get out a little energy before the main ceremony starts. Children will especially love the tish (literally “table”), where the couplee shares a teaching and is interrupted by raucous songs and jokes by their guests in order to lighten the mood. As with many of the traditional wedding components, these have been adapted by modern Jewish couples, who may choose to do one, both, or neither.
Just before the couple enters the chuppah (wedding canopy) it’s customary for there to be a little choreography in which one person, often the bride, circles the groom seven times. This has also been adapted several different ways in many modern Jewish weddings. For example, each person might circle the other three times, and then they complete the final circle together.
Breaking the Glass
There are numerous explanations for what is probably the most recognizable tradition of Jewish weddings, in which the groom – or sometimes both celebrants – steps on a glass to shatter it. Most often the reason given is that even in a time of ultimate joy, there should be some reminder of sadder times. Breaking the glass is also a chance for some interaction when everyone typically shouts, “Mazel tov!” (congratulations) afterward.
If the couple is having a meal or party after the wedding, it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to elevate their joy by dancing and entertaining them. Children will love the chance to be silly themselves and the chance to watch adults be silly in order to get the newlyweds to laugh. The reception is also often when wedding guests will lift the couple up on chairs, another fun moment to witness. It's like Jewish Cirque du Soleil!
One way your children can get more out of the experience of attending a Jewish wedding is by identifying customs they’ve already read about. Here are some PJ Library selections that take place at Jewish weddings or feature wedding ceremonies.
Recommended for ages 5 to 6
Daniel loves his Uncle Eli. But will Uncle Eli have as much time for him now that he’s getting married to Lilah? Uncle Eli promises Daniel something special on the wedding day.
Recommended for ages 6 to 7
The big day is finally here: Anna is the flower girl in her aunt's wedding! Uh oh -- Anna feels a funny tickle in her nose. Achoo! How is Anna going to get through the ceremony without sneezing?
Recommended for ages 7 to 8
In this love story set in turn-of-the-century England, the village fishmonger schemes to give his bride everything she deserves, with unexpected results!
These videos offer brief, but informative, explanations for some of the Jewish wedding traditions.
What to Expect at a Jewish Wedding Ceremony via BimBam
Dance the Hora: How to do the Jewish Wedding Dance via BimBam
Why Do Jews Break Glass at Weddings? via My Jewish Learning
Being a Guest at a Jewish Wedding via My Jewish Learning
Jewish Rituals for the Wedding Day via ReformJudaism.org
Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony via InterfaithFamily
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May 29, 2019