Breaking the Glass at a Jewish Wedding

There are a variety of modern interpretations of this popular custom.

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Of all the symbolic acts of a Jewish wedding, perhaps the most well-known and well-loved is breaking the glass. After a series of blessings, the wedding ceremony’s serious mood lifts when the groom stomps on a glass--or, in some communities both bride and groom stomp together. Then boom, shouts of mazel tov, the ceremony is over, and it’s time to get this party started!

As with many symbolic acts in Judaism, a host of reasons are offered to explain why we break a glass (or two) at a Jewish wedding. Here is a collection of some modern interpretations. All of these are variants, in some way, of the idea that joy must always be tempered.

In planning their wedding ceremony, couples can ask their officiant to mention, just before the breaking of the glass, an interpretation that resonates with them. Or they can write about their interpretation of choice in a wedding program.

·         A common explanation is that breaking the glass is a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In keeping with this interpretation, some couples recite the line “If I forget thee o Jerusalem” just before the stomp. This biblical line includes a pledge to "set Jerusalem above my highest joy."

·         Breaking the glass can remind a marrying couple that life holds sorrow as well as joy. Standing under their marriage canopy a bride and groom are at the pinnacle of happiness; breaking the glass reminds them of their commitment to each other also in future hard times.

·         A broken glass can symbolize what is broken in society.  At this point in the ceremony, some couples choose to focus their energies and prayers on a specific kind of brokenness they wish to repair, for example social and economic inequality, or marriage inequality.

·         A more mystical explanation is that the glass represents the couple and that just as the glass, when it is broken, enters a state from which it will never emerge, it is the hope of the community that this couple will never emerge from their married state.

·         Similarly, this custom can be a reminder to the couple of the fragility of relationships--a cue to treat their marriage with special care.

·         The shards of glass are plentiful, and this can represent the hope for abundant happiness in life, or abundant children.

·         Interfaith couples sometimes suggest that, for them, breaking the glass symbolizes breaking down barriers between people of different faiths and cultures.

 

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Shoshanna Lockshin

Shoshanna Lockshin is senior editor at MyJewishLearning.com.