Life Cycle 5 – Weddings

Question:  Is the wedding a Rabbinical Commandment, Biblical Commandment, or a Custom?  Where is the first mention in the Tanakh that we should get married?

Answer: The first mention of marriage in the Tanakh is Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the human to be alone . . . ;“ so God creates woman from man’s rib, and says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Marriage is a mitzvah d’oreita, a mitzvah from the Torah, as opposed to a mitzvah d’rabbanan, a Rabbinically ordained mitzvah.

Question:  I know that Jews do not get marry from Pesah because the counting of the Omer.  Lag B’omer is the exception.  I heard that you cannot get married during the month of September and October due to the Jewish Holy days.  Is that correct?  Can you give me a time frame as to when one can get married in those months if at all.

Answer: Weddings may not be performed on Shabbat, Festivals, during hol hamoed (the intermediary days of Festivals), and during periods of national mourning such as the three weeks before Tisha B’av and the counting of the omer (with some dates excepted).

Most of the period of September/October is permitted for weddings.

Question:  We are getting married and have tried to make the ceremony as personalized as possible.  Both of our families are from Eastern Europe (Russive{Kiev}, Poland, and Hungary) and we are interested in including traditions that our ansectors might have done at their wedding ceremonies.  Are there any simple traditions that we no longer do (i.e. stepping on the glass) that you recommend including?

Answer: At one wedding I did, the couple included a candlelighting ceremony based on a story from the Ba’al Shem Tov (the Besh”t), the founder of Hasidism.  It can be found in “The New Jewish Wedding,” by Anita Diamant, page 102-3.

There were three unlit candles under the chupah.  The mothers of the bride and groom each lit a candle, and the the bride and groom took those candles, and lit a third candle while the bride’s brother read the story:

“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven.  And when two souls that are destined for each other find one another, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”

It was a beautiful and powerful moment.  Of course, the attendants lighting the first two candles and reading the reading can be anyone you choose.  The Besh”t lived in Poland, and Hasidism began in Eastern Europe, so this could be a particularly appropriate custom.

Question:  Are there any specifications to follow when constructing a Huppah?

Answer: The only specification for a Huppah are that it needs to have a top and no walls.  Often a tallit is used to make the top, but it may be made out of any kind of material, including latticed wood and flowers.  There is nothing that need be written or stitched on the Chuppah, but phrases from the sheva berakhot or Song of Songs are appropriate.  The poles may be made of any material, either free standing or held by “chuppah-holders.”  I do suggest, however, that if they are not free standing, that they be long enough so they touch the ground while being held.

Question:  Is there a period after Passover or in the early summer when you cannot marry?

Answer: Traditionally, weddings are not performed between Pesah and Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, and again during the three weeks before Tisha B’av.

Question: Can a non-Jew sign a Ketubah?

Answer: A non-Jew may not sign a ketubah.

Question:  My grandparents were Jews in Cairo, Egypt.  I am getting married soon and have been doing research on a Ketubah.  How could I obtain a copy of my grandparents’ Ketubah.  They died in the 1950’s.

Answer: There is no national or international registry of ketubot documents.  Therefore, unless you can find it among your grandparents (or parents) papers, chances are that you will never find it.

The text of the ketubah is standard – there would be no significant difference between their ketubah and any traditional ketubah printed today.  Exception – a Conservative ketubah contains special language to make it a bit more egalitarian, and a clause at the end to address the possibility (God forbid) of divorce, and the need for a ketubah.

The only things that might be interesting would be your grandparents Hebrew names (and their father’s names), and the location/date of the wedding.  Of course, you would not need that information for your own ketubah.

Question:  I have a few important questions regarding a wedding ceremony and I hope you can help me answer them. Just a few words telling you why I’m writing you. My first cousin is getting married shortly, and the Rabbi they had asked to perform the ceremony took very sick and passed away. I am the sexton at the same synagogue and my cousin asked me to apply for a one day solemnization letter for permission to marry them. I was approved by the state of Massachusetts. Now for the questions at hand. I went to his house to speak to him and his fiancee. Everything went well until it came time to talk about the veiling of the bride. Is it true or at all possible that the groom doesn’t have to be present to do the veiling of his wife? Do both witnesses need to sign their names in hebrew and english, or can the calligrapher do the hebew only and have them sign just in English? Also, and probably most important, they were told but the Rabbi, to get a Liberman Clause ketubah. Please explain what this is and if possible, please give me an example of all the fill-ins for it (i.e. names of all blanks).

Answer: I will try to answer your questions.  You might, however, be better off calling your local Conservative rabbi on the phone.  There is only so much I can do over the limited medium of email.

1)  A veiling (or a veil) is not a halakhically mandated portion of a wedding ceremony.  If the bride chooses a veil, but does not want to do a bedekin, then she can put the veil on herself.  There is, however, no ceremony or ritual to this.  If the couple is doing a bedekin, the husband certainly must be there.  It doesn’t make sense for anyone else to do the veiling in the context of this ceremony.

2)  The witnesses need to sign the ketubah with their Hebrew names.  To be kosher witnesses, they should be unrelated to bride, groom, or each other; and should also have a reasonably strong commitment to Jewish life.

The Liberman clause specifies that if the marriage ends in divorce, both parties agree to accept/receive a get from the joint Beit Din of the Conservative movement.  It is automatically found in any Conservative ketubah text, which you can get from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism book service (possibly via their web site,, or by phone, 212-533-7800 ext. 2003, or fax. 212-353-9439.  It may be easier to buy one from another local Conservative synagogue, but a Jewish gift store should have some as well.

Question: We had a firm commitment from a Rabbi (whom we know) to officiate at our wedding but, subsequent to his assuring us he had nothing scheduled for our specific day, he committed his services to 3 weddings and mandated we change the time of our wedding to accommodate his schedule.  When we said this was not possible, he reneged on his agreement (we no agreement in writing).  The question is this — is it ‘preferred’ or ‘actually necessary’ to have a Rabbi officiate at a Jewish wedding? We are considering having a Justice of the Peace (family member) and a Cantor (family member) as co-officiates.  We understand that we might have to see a Rabbi to sign the ‘Contract’, however we think it might be more meaningful to us to have officiates whom we already know rather than to just ‘hire’ a Rabbi with whom we have no real connection.

Answer: What a horrible story!  I am very sorry that you have experienced this trouble with your Rabbi’s schedule.

It is critical that the person officiating is knowledgable about the halakha and traditions associated with Jewish weddings.  This person, however, does not have to be a Rabbi.  I would suggest that the cantor officiate.  Any wedding may have someone else present to share other remarks, so I see no problem with the Judge taking part in the ceremony, but the Cantor should be clearly in charge.

I don’t know Mass. law, but I am pretty confident that a Cantor is authorized by the state to perform weddings.

Question: When a parent dies, is it permissible for a child to marry during the 11 month period of mourning?  I understand there could be no celebration, but could the marriage ceremony take place during that period?

Answer: The general rule is that one should not get married during sheloshim, the first 30 period of mourning, but one may get married anytime after that.  However, there is, as you noted, a separate prohibition against celebrations for the entire 11 months.  Generally, a celebration has been defined as a party with music, so in theory there could be a wedding ceremony followed by a wedding meal without music within the 11 months.  If the couple wanted a wedding ceremony with music, however, they should wait until after the year of mourning.  In any case, the couple should consult their officiating rabbi for more details.

Question:  What are the events that took place in ancient times that lead up to the wedding, the wedding ceremony and after the wedding ceremony to complete the marriage, consummation (honeymoon rituals) and all. I’m writing a paper on ancient customs. I have found several things on this topic of the ancient Jewish wedding ceremony, but some of the materials that I have read contradict each other.

Answer: If you have already done the research on ancient Jewish wedding ceremonies, then you most certainly know more than I do.  I know about modern Jewish weddings, and a bit about the history of the rituals, but I do not have any substantial knowledge of ancient weddings.

If I were doing the research, I would start with The Religion of Israel, by Yehezkiel Kaufman, an excellent book on Biblical Israelite religion; and the Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. sex, weddings, or marriage (use the index, volume 1).

Question:  If the bride circles the groom 7 times, is there anything wrong with the groom also circling the bride — to show his new commitment to making her the center of his new family life as well?

Answer: This is, in fact, exactly what I suggest to couple who approach me to get married — to circle each other 3 or seven times, representing the fact that from this point on, their lives revolve exclusively around each other, and no other.

The number seven, by the way, represents wholeness and completeness; and the number three represents the Jewish “trinity” of God, Torah, and Israel.

Question:  I am from a conservative background.  My fiancee is Reform.  There seems to be difference of opinions regarding our upcoming wedding ceremony.  For example, my fiancee would like to wear the wedding band of her great grandfather during the ceremony.  My gut feeling is that this isn’t proper.  Can you recommend a good resource (book, online site) regarding wedding procedures?

Answer: Your gut feeling may be correct.  The ring which you give to your fiancee  must be one that you own outright.  The idea behind giving a ring is that you are giving something of value in exchange for acquiring a wife.  If you do not own the ring, then you do not have the right to give it away.  If the current owner of the ring gives it to you with no strings attached, or better yet, if you buy the ring from the current owner, then it should be possible to use it at the wedding.  This is a question, however, that you should discuss with the rabbi officiating at your wedding.

I usually do not recommend giving a ring in this way, because I think it is extremely important to own the ring which you give to your wife at the wedding.  Despite this, there is ample precedent in Jewish history to use a family or community ring that was acquired in this way.  In the Jewish Museum in New York, for example, I recall seeing community rings with houses on them that were apparently used for every wedding in the community.

I do not know of any on-line wedding resources, but I can refer you to a book called “The New Jewish Wedding Book” by Anita Diamant, which is an excellent summary of the traditions surrounding a Jewish wedding ceremony.  I recommend it highly.

Question:  Why is the wedding ring worn on the index finger instead of the ring finger?  Are Jews allowed to get married in a synagogue? I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding in a temple. They are always at the reception site.  Is it true that the rabbi doesn’t really marry the couple and that they actually marry themselves? How does that work?

Answer: The wedding ring is not worn on the index finger.  It is placed on that finger during the ceremony because the giving of a item of value is a key element in the marriage ceremony, and must be done in a very public way.  The index finger is used because it is the most easily visible finger.  Following the groom’s (and bride’s, in an egalitarian ceremony,) statement the ring may be moved to the ring finger.

Jews may and do get married in synagogues.

The main part of a marriage happens when a groom gives a bride an item of value, while making a statement in front of witnesses that this item of value is being given for the purpose of effectuating a marriage.  The seven wedding blessings at the end of the ceremony actually formalize the marriage, but even if they are not done the couple would need a get, a Jewish divorce document, if they were to divorce.  These blessings may be done by anybody, not necessarily a rabbi.  While a rabbi is not necessary to effectuate a marriage, the mesader kiddushin, the person who organizes the wedding ceremony, should be somebody familiar with the halakha, Jewish law, or weddings.

Question:  Why at weddings do we not throw our garter and have the song Macarena in a Jewish wedding?

Answer: I have never heard of the Macarena being banned at a Jewish wedding.  However, I discourage grooms from lifting up their brides’ dresses in public in order to remove the garter because it is a violation of the Jewish principles of modesty.

Question:  Our second and youngest daughter is being married. I have heard that when a parents last child is married there is some ceremony or part of a tradition to mark this event for the parents of the child. If so can a rabbi tell me what this process is.

Answer:  There is a tradition at the wedding of the youngest daughter (the last daughter getting married) for the children to put the parents in the center of a circle and dance a special dance around them, called a “Mazinka.”  The music can be found in most Jewish Wedding music books, including “The Jewish Wedding Music Book,” by Sol Zim, available from Tara Publications, 800-TARA-400, or on their web site,  The Jewish Marriage Anthology, by Philip and Hanna Goodman, also has a version of the dance along with the Yiddish words.  It is a song about a father rejoicing that God has granted him the privilege of being at his youngest daughter’s wedding.  I’m afraid my Yiddish is not strong enought to translate the song, and I do not know any more about the history of the Mazinka.

Question:  Who normally pays for the Rabbi at the wedding?  My son is getting married soon and asked me to give a toast.  Is there anything special to be said?  I am at a loss for words.

Answer: I don’t know who normally pays for the wedding.  If you are members of a congregation, it is common for there to be no charge for the Rabbi.  I figure that the family supports the synagogue with dues, then they have already paid for my services, and I don’t accept any extra remuneration.

There is no traditional Jewish toast that I know of for a wedding, other than L’hayyim, since we always wish for a happy and long life.  How about saying a simple, “I love you!”, following by a wish for a life of happiness, love, and contentment in one another.

Question:  I am getting married for the second time and have a few questions:

1.  I do not plan to wear white or a veil.  Does a Jewish bride have to wear either of these? I plan to wear a nice dress of a different color.

2.  I was married orthodox the first time and had an orthodox ketubah and have an orthodox get.  How will the ketubah for conservative second wedding ceremony be different?  Is there a different version for second weddings?

Answer: 1)  There is no requirement either to wear white at a wedding or to wear a veil.

2)  The traditional language of a ketubah calls an unmarried bride a “virgin,” and a divorced bride a “divorcee.”  Many Conservative rabbis substitute the word “bride” or “woman” for these terms, corresponding to the term “groom” used to describe the groom.  There are also some monetary amounts mentioned which usually differ for second marriages, but again, many Conservative rabbis use the same amounts as for first marriages.  In other respects, the ketubah for first and second marriages is identical.

However, a Conservative ketubah usually contains an additional clause, known as the Liberman clause, not found in a Orthodox ketubah.  This clause specifies that if the marriage ends in divorce, both parties agree to accept/receive a get from the joint Beit Din of the Conservative movement.

Question: Who should witness the signing of the Ketubah?  I always thought that it was an honor that is given to 2 people who are special in your life?  Is there a law or tradition connected to the selection of the witnesses who sign?

Answer: The traditional requirements for a witness to a Ketubah is that they be male, keep kosher, and keep Shabbat.  They may also not be related to each other, the bride, or the groom.  The reason for these restrictions is that one who is witnessing the signing of a religious document should be a knowledgeable and firm adherent to the principles of the religion; and women were in general not considered to be reliable witnesses.

I do accept both men and women as witnesses.  I prefer that they be people who keep kosher and attend synagogue regularly on Shabbat.  I do not require them to be totally observant of either kashrut or Shabbat, but only that they take mitzvot and Jewish life in general very seriously.

To me, it doesn’t make sense to have people sign the Ketubah unless they themselves are deeply committed to the principles of Jewish living that are outlined or implied by the Ketubah and the marriage ceremony.

However, given these constraints, it is certainly an honor that should be given to people who are special to the bride and/or groom.

Question: I am getting married in Sept. by 2 rabbis, one is a humanistic (since my fiancee’s parents are humanistic) and one is conservative (since my family is conservative).  My question is regarding the Humanistic ceremony.  We were told by the Humanistic Rabbi that a Jewish Humanistic wedding is actually a civil ceremony with Jewish symbolism, but not a Jewish wedding, yet it was told to my fiancee’s parents that it is a full Jewish wedding under Judaic law, and it is causing a lot of unrest.  Can you clarify this for us as my fiancee’s parents don’t understand why we feel it is necessary to have a ceremony with a conservative rabbi as well.

Answer: First of all, Mazal Tov on your wedding.  Your question, however, is not entirely clear — you write that the humanistic rabbi told you that the ceremony was not a real Jewish wedding, but that “it was told to your fiance’s parents that it is a full jewish wedding under Judaic law.”  This makes me wonder, who told them?  If it was the humanistic rabbi, then I wonder why he told them something so drastically different than what he told you.  If it was someone other than the rabbi, I suggest you have the rabbi explain that were he to do the wedding alone, it would only be a civil ceremony with a few Jewish symbols tossed in.

Your fiance’s parents, given that they are affiliated with a humanistic congregation, have rejected the ritual and God-centered rituals of Judaism.  Therefore, they would have no interest in a ritually correct wedding, and may find it hard to understand why you want one, which is why you have invited a second rabbi to co-officiate.  What is important here is that both you and your fiance want a traditional Jewish wedding, and this is all that you need tell your fiance’s parents.  They may not like it, but it is you, after all, who are getting married.

Question:  What are a few appropriate blessings/stories/quotes that I can include in the bride and groom’s present?

Answer: As long as you know that there are no serious fertility problems or other obstacles to beginning a family, it is always appropriate to with them the blessing and happiness of children, as the blessing of Rebekah, Genesis 24:62:  “O sister, may you grow into thousands of myriads?.”

The blessing of love is illustrated by the story of Rebekah meeting Isaac for the first time, Genesis 24:67:  Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife.  Isaac loved her?”

You might also try looking in the book, “The Book of Legends” by H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitzky, translated by William G. Braude.  It has wonderful rabbinic sources and stories.

Question:  I will be getting married shortly.  What are the traditional dances at the wedding and what are there histories?  Also what is the history and the tradition of the mezinkah.  This is the dance for the parents if it is there last child to marry off.

Answer: Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much more about the mozinka than you already know.  I have sent your letter back to AskaRabbi – perhaps another rabbi knows more.

The tradition of the mozinka, as I have seen it, involves putting the parents in the center of the dance circle, and playing a specific melody known as the mozinka, while the bride and groom and guests dance around them.

As far as other dances – find a band or DJ that plays Jewish festive music, and have a good time dancing around in circles!  At some point, you and your bride can sit on chairs in the middle of the dancing, and your friends can lift you up and carry you around.  The main thing – have fun!

Question:  What time is Shabbat over next April15- 2000?  I want to get married on Saturday night but have to wait for the sun to set — what time can I call for the wedding?   My rabbi is Conservative — how about a reform Rabbi  — would he be more flexible?

Answer: I cannot tell you what time Havdalah is, because the exact time depends on where you are in the time zone.  You own rabbi should be able to supply you with the information.  He or she can also tell you what is the earliest time the wedding could start, given that he/she would need to get dressed, travel to the wedding location, and do the pre-wedding ceremony — all after Havdalah.

Would a Reform Rabbi marry you on Shabbat?  Probably.  But the question that I urge you to consider is not only ‘What kind of wedding do you want?’ but also ‘What kind of marriage do you want?’  The approaches to Jewish life presented by a Reform and Conservative rabbi are very different.  If you are a member of a Conservative synagogue, and that is the approach with which you intend to live and raise children, then it doesn’t make sense to compromise these principles and engage a Reform rabbi just for the wedding.

Please — schedule an appointment with your rabbi, and hash out some of these issues.

Question:  What is an Aufruf for the  couple who is to be married?

Answer: Aufruf is a Yiddish word meaning Aliyah — to be called up to say the blessings before and after the Torah reading.  It is customary for a couple to be called to the Torah on a Shabbat morning before their wedding for a special blessing.  After the blessing, the congregation throws candy at them as a wish for a sweet life together.