Being a Guest at a Jewish Wedding: A Guide

From dress code to dancing.

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At a traditional kabbalat panim, the bride often sits on a special seat, and guests approach her to give good wishes. She may offer a special blessing in return. The groom might have a tisch, where he sits around a table with his family and friends singing songs. He may also share words of Torah. The guests often heckle him by shouting and singing to interrupt him, and you can join in the fun. The bride may have her own tisch as well.

jewish weddingDuring the kabbalat panim, some couples read a document called tenaim, which outlines the conditions of the marriage and declares the couple's intention to wed. This is followed by the breaking of a plate, usually by the mothers of the bride and groom. Symbolically it reflects that a broken engagement cannot be mended.

The ketubah--the Jewish marriage document--is normally signed at this time. In more traditional circles, it is signed at the groom's tisch. In more liberal circles, the ketubah signing may be the main event of the kabbalat panim, with the bride, groom, witnesses, and all the guests present.

After all the legalities are taken care of, the groom is escorted by his friends and family, usually with dancing and singing, to meet the bride and veil her in a ceremony known as the bedeken. This is often a particularly moving moment of the wedding, so if you're planning to come late and skip the kabbalat panim, try to come at least 15 minutes before the ceremony is scheduled.

In a wedding with only one start time, the ketubah signing and veiling are usually taken care of with the rabbi in private, before the ceremony begins.

The Ceremony

Jewish weddings do not usually follow the custom of having the bride's and groom's guests sit separately, but at some Orthodox weddings, men and women sit on opposite sides of the aisle.  As you enter the room for the ceremony, look out for a program that explains what's going on. Not all weddings have these, but they are becoming increasingly popular.

a huppah, with jewish wedding guestsA rabbi or cantor usually conducts the ceremony, standing under the huppah (marriage canopy) with the bride, groom, and sometimes their families and friends. In the middle of the ceremony, the ketubah may be read by a rabbi or friend. The ketubah is often a beautiful piece of art, and after the ceremony you may be able to admire it if it is on display.

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Rachel Lerner

Rachel Lerner is a doctoral student in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in NYC with her husband, Aaron, and their daughter, Lily.