Marriage

Judaism values marriage and the marriage relationship as the most significant in Jewish law, regarding the married state as the happiest for both men and women, a part of reaching adulthood and an identity separate from that of one’s parents: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

Rabbinic Judaism has no equivalent to the Christian notion that celibacy is a higher spiritual state than marriage, indeed Judaism is unique among world religions in its respect for women’s sexuality; in Jewish law the duties incumbent on a husband are to provide his wife with clothing, food and sexual satisfaction. In return a wife is bound to take care of the domestic running of the home, either in person, or by paying for household help if she can afford it.

Who can marry in a reform Synagogue?

Anyone is eligible to marry in a Reform synagogue if they are Jewish, either by birth or conversion, and free to marry, that is either never married, or widowed or divorced.

A Jewish marriage ceremony can only be conducted between two Jews. It is automatically invalid as a Jewish wedding if one of the parties is not Jewish. Reform synagogues are licensed by the 1949 Marriage Act in order that the weddings performed under their auspices are also valid as civil weddings, but this applies only to the marriage of two Jews, so it is not possible to hold a civil wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew in a synagogue, or for a rabbi, or other person licensed to perform marriages, to officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew.

If Jews are to marry non-Jews they are encouraged to speak to the Rabbis who can offer assistance for example in relevant readings or arranging an aufruf. At present Reform Rabbis cannot perform ‘blessings’ at mixed faith marriages; this is a matter for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain.

Arranging a Wedding

Perhaps not the very first step, but early on, the happy couple will have to meet the officiating rabbi..

The groom must be a member of the synagogue under whose auspices the service is conducted; if he is not already a synagogue member, he will have to apply to join, and this can be done at the first interview with the rabbi or by contacting our membership services group by clicking here. If you are joining the synagogue and meeting the rabbi for the first time, you will need to take documents to prove your Jewish status, for instance your parents’ ketubah or your own bar/batmitzvah certificate, if you received one.

Chuppah.

‘Chuppah’ is used to describe the ceremony, but literally refers to the canopy under which the marriage takes place and which symbolises the couple’s future home. The W & DS Chuppah is the picture that illustrates this article. While a synagogue chuppah tends to be decorative and fitted onto poles, a chuppah can be far simpler. In Israel they use a large tallit attached to four light wooden poles, held up by close friends or relatives.
Generally both bride and groom are escorted to the chuppah by their parents. Either each partner is brought to the chuppah by their own parents, or both fathers bring in the groom and both mothers lead in the bride. This shows both parents’ support for their children at this moment. There is no official role in the service for a Best man or Bridesmaids, though nowadays most couples have them and they can either stand near to the Chuppah or sit down.

The Wedding Service

The marriage service then begins with two psalms to accompany the bride and groom’s arrival which particularly emphasise joy and happiness, and for which there are beautiful tunes. You will have to decide what music you want at the ceremony; we have an organist and a soloist, who can be booked for weddings.

The wedding service as we have it today combines what were originally two separate ceremonies – kiddushin or erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (wedding).
The first, the betrothal, involved the signing of the ketubah (the marriage contract), the giving of a ring and the drinking of a cup of wine. The second, the wedding, was marked by the giving of the ring(s), reading out the ketubah, chanting the sheva berachot (the seven blessings) and again sharing a cup of wine. And then of course, breaking the glass.

At the core of the ceremony comes the giving of the ring(s). You must decide whether you both wish to give the other a ring, or whether only the bride will receive one. If there is only one ring – given by the groom to the bride, the bridegroom says to the bride:

Ring blessing 1

Harei at mekudeshet li betabba’at zo kedat Moshe veYisrael

By this ring you are married to me in holiness according to the law of Moses and Israel.

And the bride says to the groom:

Ring blessing 2

Harei atah mekudash li betabba’at zo kedat Moshe veYisrael

And you are married to me in holiness according to the law of Moses and Israel.

If, however, the bride in turn gives a ring to the groom, then she says:

By this ring you are married to me in holiness according to the law of Moses and Israel.

Breaking the Glass

At the end of the marriage ceremony, a glass is stamped on and broken and all present cry out “Mazaltov” (good luck). This custom is explained in various ways: as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – in which case it is curious that it should also be the moment at which every one shouts their congratulations; and as a way of warding off bad luck. Traditionally it is the groom who breaks the glass. Bride and groom and everyone else under the chuppah may now embrace and congratulate each other.
Guests at Weddings.

If you are a guest at a Jewish Wedding, men will be expected to cover their heads – the couple often provide kippot, and there are always some available at Wimbledon Synagogue for guests. Women usually cover their shoulders.

Other Customs When Getting Married

There are many other customs when getting married which include:

  • Aufruf In Reform synagogues it is usual for the bride and groom to be called up as a couple to say the blessings over the Torah on the Shabbat before the wedding, and the rabbi says a special misheberach (blessing).
  • Separation for a week before the wedding.
  • Tevillah (ritual immersion)
  • Fasting (for the bride and groom) on the day of the wedding, until the ceremony.
  • Bedeken – the groom putting on the Bride’s veil just before the ceremony – a chance to check he has the right one after Jacob found he married Leah instead of Rachel.
  • Bride circling the groom
  • Yichud (time alone for the couple after the ceremony)
  • Tzedekah (charity)
With much thanks to Rabbi Rachel Montagu whose paper of 10 December 2001 has been heavily relied upon. (Copyright Reform Synagogues of Great Britain).
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