I recently attended an (Orthodox) Jewish wedding and they handed out this wonderful guide that I figured would be useful to type up so that everyone could see exactly how a Jewish wedding progresses. Otherwise, it can be a bit confusing- what's the deal with the chuppah? And what's going to happen next? So behold: the guide to a Jewish wedding.
On the day of their wedding, the bride and groom are likened to a king and queen. They greet their guests in two different rooms. At the groom's reception, the ketubah (marriage contract) is signed, which outlines the obligations the groom takes upon himself in marrying the bride.
Family and friends dance with the groom as he enters the other room to see his bride. Upon reaching the bride, the groom places the veil over her face. This custom recalls the Biblical passage in which Rebecca covered her face with a veil upon seeing Isaac before their betrothal (Genesis 24:65).
The wedding ceremony takes place under the chuppah, or canopy, a symbol of the home that the couple will build together. The bride and groom are escorted to the chuppah by their parents. When the groom arrives, he puts on a kittel, a white garment symbolizing purity. The bride arrives after the groom, and she circles him seven times. The ceremony then consists of two distinct rituals that are separated by the reading of the ketubah.
The first ritual consists of the blessing over wine and a blessing praising God for the sanctity of marriage. In the presence of two witnesses, the groom recites "Behold you are consecrated to me with this ring in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel." He then places the ring on the bride's finger.
The marriage contract is read in the original Aramaic. It outlines the groom's responsibilities to provide his wife with food, shelter and clothing, and to be attentive to her emotional needs.
After the ketubah is read, the Sheva Brachot (the seven nuptial blessings) are recited over a second cup of wine. They acknowledge the Almighty for creating the universe and mankind, and they express hope for happiness, love and peace for the bride and groom. At the conclusion, the bride and groom drink the wine. The groom then shatters a glass with his foot, reminding us that even at moments of intense joy, we must remember the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (The Temple) in Jerusalem.
The bride and groom are danced away from the chuppah and escorted to a private room where they will spend the first few moments of their married life alone. This seclusion finalizes their marriage.
Dancing and Seudat Mitzvah
The wedding meal is then celebrated with a seudah, or festive meal. Following the meal, Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is recited along with the same Sheva Brachot (seven nuptial blessings) that were recited under the chuppah.
If you are interested in making a Jewish wedding or learning more about the origins of the customs and rituals, there's a wonderful, warmly written, explanatory book by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan entitled Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide. And of course, you could also ask me questions, if you feel more comfortable with that.