A look at the customs, rituals and various ceremonies associated with Jewish weddings in India!

Jewish Wedding

Very little has been written about the Jewish population in India. History says that the first Jews arrived in India before 500 B. C. and since then they have merged into the Indian population seamlessly. Considered minorities among all the religious groups consisting of just 0.6 %, Jews are well-known for being highly adaptable and yet preserve their culture and heritage with much zeal. Jewish weddings in India follow traditional Jewish rituals and yet seem to have adopted a few Indian traditions like Mehendi and ceremonial bath etc. But in essence, the customs and rituals have remained the same as they were about a hundred years ago. Among Jews, the bride is referred to as Kallah and the groom is known as Chatan.

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Pre-wedding Rituals

Yom Kippur Viddui – The word Viddui refers to confession and Yom Kippur Vidui refers to the confession made during Yom Kippur celebrations. The bride and groom practice fasting since the morning of the day of Yom Kippur. During this pre-wedding ceremony, the bride and groom visit the Synagogue and make confessional prayers to the Almighty. They explain their past sins and pray that God grant them a fresh start by absolving these past sins. They gently beat their chests symbolizing penance.

Kabbalat Panim – The Kabbalat Panim refers to the period of separation preceding the wedding. Tradition dictates that the separation period be at least a week. The bride and groom get to spend time with their respective families and friends. It is considered a good omen if they miss each other.

Tish – A traditional jewish wedding begins with the Tish ceremony. Tish is the Yiddish word for Table. It is customary for the groom to stand on a table and present his interpretation of a Torah’s portion to his family and friends. They try their best to heckle and interrupt him by jeering or catcalling or by simply coming up with a question. During this time the bride is entertained by her female friends in a separate room.

Badeken – During this ritual the groom or Chatan takes one look at the bride or Kallah’s face and covers her face with a veil. The men lead the groom to the bride’s room where she is surrounded by her female friends and relatives. The inner meaning of the ritual is that the groom implies that he is only interested in the bride’s inner beauty. The roots of the ceremony are based on the biblical story of Jacob who was tricked into marrying the wrong woman, Leah, instead of his love interest, Rachel!

Wedding Attire

The Jewish groom wears a tailored white robe for the wedding ceremony known as the kittel. Underneath the robe he wears a white suit and the prayer shawl called Tallit over his shoulders. He must cover his head with a kippah or yarmulke. He may or may not wear a hat on top of that. Covering of the head is a must in Jewish traditions as it signifies respects towards God.

The Jewish bride wears a white wedding gown. In traditional ceremonies, the gowns must not be too elaborate or too revealing. She must wear a veil covering her head and face. She may wear minimal jewelry but all of it must be removed before she goes under the chuppah.

Jewish Wedding Rituals

Jewish Wedding Rituals

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Chuppah – Chuppah refers to the wedding canopy. Traditionally, outdoor weddings are preferred. The chuppah represented a sanctified and intimate space for the holy union of two souls. After the bride and the groom enter the canopy, the bride circles the groom seven times. These seven circles represent the seven blessings of the marriage and seven days of creation. This also implies that from here on, the bride agrees to make the groom the center of her world.

Kiddushin – Kiddushin refers to the betrothal ceremony and takes place under the chuppah.  Wine is offered to the couple and each take one sip from the same cup. The groom proclaims his intentions for the bride and puts a ring on her right index finger.

Giving of the Ring – The marriage becomes official once the groom presents the ring to the bride. The ring should be made of gold and there should not be any ornamentation or embellishment on it. He holds up the ring in presence of at least two witnesses, and declares his intention of marriage by presenting the bride with the ring. After the ring ceremony, the couple is considered married.

Ketubah Signing – Ketubah refers to the marriage contract. After the exchange of rings is done, it is time to read the marriage contract which is written in original Aramic. The contact outlines the bride and the groom’s individual responsibilities as well as their role in a life together. The contract is signed by two witnesses. The ketubah is then entrusted to the bride who is to keep it safe throughout their marriage.

Sheva B'rachot – This ritual refers to the seven blessings. The guests say praise for God, a prayer for peace and good wishes for the couple. The couple takes a second sip of wine. The seven blessings are then uttered by the couple and they are as follows –

  • “We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of all things for Your glory.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of man and woman.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates us to share with You in life's everlasting renewal.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, who causes Zion to rejoice in her children's happy return.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, who causes loving companions to rejoice. May these loving companions rejoice as have Your creatures since the days of Creation.
  • We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Creator of joy and gladness, friends and lovers, love and kinship, peace and friendship. O God, may there always be heard in the cities of Israel and in the streets of Jerusalem: the sounds of joy and happiness, the voice of loving couples, the shouts of young people celebrating, and the songs of children at play. We praise you, Adonai our God, who causes lovers to rejoice together.”

Breaking of the Wine Glass – the marriage ceremony is concluded by the groom once he has placed a glass on the floor and has shattered it with his foot. The crowd shouts “Mazel Tov” and the couple moves towards the reception ceremony. This ceremony is symbolic expression of sadness towards destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Post-wedding Rituals

Yichud - The couple is escorted to a private room and left alone in the room for a few minutes. These few moments of seclusion signify their status as married couple who will be living together. Since the couple has been fasting since morning, they are often offered a bite to eat during this time of seclusion.

Reception or Seudat Mitzwah – The Reception is the final event of the wedding celebration. The guests join the newlywed couple in the celebration. The couple greets all guests and they make merry by singing and dancing. They attend the wedding feast and say Grace to the Gods.