This description of a Jewish wedding in Jerusalem is excerpted from a Jewish friend's email. She lives there, and her observations are beautifully recorded in her emails to friends. As a relative by marriage to the groom, she was invited. She has given me permission to share this:
"The groom is the oldest of fourteen in an Haradi (ultra orthodox religious family, his father being a Rabbi and scribe, also the head of a yeshiva, and his mother a leader and teacher in that community as well.) The wedding was called for and would likely last until at least There was much tradition that I wasn't fully familiar with, and I wasn't really looking forward to being there, but it was 'required,' as was a head covering, which I dutifully donned.
At weddings here [in Jerusalem] the ONLY gift given to the bride and groom is money. A wedding 'gift' as we in the west thought of it, would be an item, but here those gathered know that they are attempting to make the young couple's way ahead of them as easy as possible for that first year in particular. The economy here is so different than in the west for the most part, and 'community' is very important in supporting one another in every way, so it is 'natural' that the community would give into the support of this young couple.
There were perhaps 500 people present (often weddings draw over 1,000) to bless the union and ALL of the little children come and are welcome too! They were dressed like tiny princesses and princes, and none of their 'disruptions' were considered annoying. In other words, it was really one big family, blessing the noisy little ones who ran along the wedding area, which is the chuppah [or canopy], the covered area where the vows are made. The children were 'messing' it with their small feet, doing cartwheels and dancing around, and no one was at all critical or disturbed by this. Considering how formal the wedding area was, that impressed me, and I thought back to the days when Yeshua and His family went up to Jerusalem to the feast. Only after three days did His parents seek Him among the procession of family and friends. At this wedding I totally understood why they were comfortable with not seeing Him for three days! I SAW what it was for our one year old and three year old granddaughters to be cared for by the entire extended family, the safe feeling that there was. There was real 'care' for all of the little ones; it was a comfortable and natural feeling. I learned a lot by watching this.
As the family and friends mulled around visiting, the bride sat on a 'throne-like' chair, set apart, and received guests [see photo above]. The entire time she was praying and reading her 'bridal prayer book'. I watched as guests would come up and pray along with her as they embraced. At one point my dear three year old Maya came and sat on my lap. We talked about the color 'white' and about 'brides' and 'clean things,' and I asked her if she would like to go and 'see the bride.' 'Oh yes, Tata!' she answered, so hand in hand we went. Although I had been watching the bride- Rivka- pray, it wasn't until I approached that I was jolted by the intensity and reality of her prayers. She seemed to me nearly in a trance…NOT an 'occult trance' but a rapture of seeking God, and intensely she was crying out 'Shalom bayit! teni lanu shalom bayit, ana Adonai!' I was taken aback, nearly to tears. 'Shalom bayit' is literally 'peace home,' but the meaning is very deep in its short description of a 'peaceful home' - peace and order between all members of the family, initiating from God, through husband and wife to the children and beyond, an undisrupted peace in the home. She was praying, 'Shalom bayit! Give us shalom bayit! I beseech you, Adonai!' Over and over she prayed, clutching her prayer book. As friends would approach her she would grab them, and they would agree with her, 'Shalom bayit! Amen!' She was so intense in her 'beseeching' that one friend or cousin or sister came to pray, and she literally beat her chest! Yes, I was taken aback, because it WASN'T a 'show.' She WAS beseeching The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with all of her heart. She was not participating in the festivities, but she was seeking God. Little Maya saw the pretty dress and smiled shyly.
I did not see the groom and do not know what the groom's preparation is, but I am now curious.
A middle eastern group of musicians played the exotic instruments. The groom stems from a French Algerian Jewish family. 'Traditions' are probably as varied as the places on earth that we were all dispersed to from Jerusalem to the four corners 2,000 years ago!
A call to the 'minyan' was made (a 'minyan' is at least ten elderly men who were to stand together to pray the set prayers of preparation). Probably 30 gathered, many elderly rabbis among them, and the groom's father.
The wedding began with the groom 'kidnapping' the bride from her 'throne,' and then the young men dancing him up to the wedding chuppa. He is soon followed by the bride, accompanied by her mother and grandmother. The three of them encircle the groom seven times and then leave her there by his side for the ceremony, which has now begun.
I don't know if there are ever any two weddings 'alike,' but this one had at least three rabbis officiating and several different cantors (singers of the prayers). Three of the bride's young friends moved noisily in front of me, blocking most of my view, but their ongoing commentary actually 'helped' me to understand some things, as they strongly disapproved of much of what the rabbis said! (Is it that way in Churches? I am often so naïve.) Indeed, the Rabbi DID say many things that I had not heard at a modern wedding. For example, Jews do not celebrate birthdays like the Gentiles do, because it is the MARRIAGE that is the creation of a new person through a covenant, and this is a true 'birthday' of a new being. The friends did NOT agree. Nor did they agree when he spoke of the dowry of 500 shekels that had been given, 'according to scripture.' There was (I believe) discussion of the 'evidence of her virginity' presented and accepted, making them a holy household in Israel. I had not heard that before and will confirm it with my daughter.
All through the ceremony the small children played joyously on the podium; only under the chuppah they were not allowed. I felt as if I was peering into a different world than I had known before. There is so much that none of us know and understand about one another. Lord help me to be HUMBLE and DISCERNING and to walk as YOU walked…"A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth." Isa. 42:3 and Matt.
As always, the center of religious Jewish weddings is Jerusalem and the temple. 'If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.' Psalm 137:5,6 was read, the admonition being that our chief joy is not to be 'one another' but to have HIS chief joy FIRST…considered to be Jerusalem and the Temple…God with us…Emmanuel! God dwelling in the midst of His people! [See photo above for ending of the ceremony when the groom smashes a glass to indicate the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Even at a time of greatest joy, the Jews must remember the glory of the temple era and also its destruction.]
With the ceremony ending and the joy breaking loose, it was about 10 p.m., WAY past my bed time! The little ones were dancing around, unaware that they were exhausted, but I knew that I had faded and made my way through the two-cheeked kisses and the 'Mazel tov! Brachot!' wishes. I was all too aware that I was indeed exhausted, and that my next morning would be arriving soon."
(The next blog will explore the meaning of the Jewish wedding as it relates to the Messiah and His bride, the Church.)