V08p346a01 Marriage

Traditional nissu'in in Eastern Europe during the 19th century

Nissu'in is the Hebrew term for the act creating a marriage.

Although betrothal (Hebrew: erusin) is often used as a synonym for this by modern western society, they are technically quite distinct events; in the Bible and historic Judaism the distinction between them is strongly maintained. Since the middle ages[1], however, most Jewish communities have now amalgamated betrothal and marriage, embedding the betrothal ceremony into that for the marriage.

In the Bible

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 146

Rembrandt's depiction of Samson's wedding feast

In the biblical account of Samson's marriage[2], and a poetic description of the process in the Book of Canticles[3], the act of marriage is fairly basic, primarily consisting of the groom merely fetching the bride[4]. This is similar to the act of marriage in the adjacent Arabic culture, in the pre-Islamic period[5], although for the Israelites (unlike the Arabs) it had developed into a festive procession[4]. The procession traditionally occurred in the evening[4], and among the Jews of Roman Palestine it was traditionally accompanied by candlelight[6] and dancing[1]; scholars suspect that it was also accompanied by music[7][4].

In the biblical account of Jacob's marriage[8], and in that of Samson's[9], there are mentions of wedding feasts, which are implied to last for a week[7][4]. In the first century, passages from the Book of Canticles were sung at a few banquets[10][11]; this text is widely regarded as erotic love-poetry[12], and parts of it might even be constructed from ancient wedding songs[7]. Special festive clothing was also worn for the event, according to the accounts of the two most prolific literary prophets (though they don't specify further details)[13][14][7][4].

The biblical account of the marriage of Isaac[15] and of Jacob[16], and Jeremiah[13], imply that when a bride was in the presence of her groom, she was covered in some way[7][4][17]. Exactly what is meant by this is somewhat disputed, with opinions ranging from it being a simple face-covering veil to it being a large body-wrapping[17][18].

Merchants Museum Bedroom LC-G602-CT--054-color-bed cropped

A booth-like bed

In ancient Arabic society, it was traditional for the consummation of marriage to take place in a special tent[19]; this appears to be the background context[20] of the pitching of a tent in the biblical account of Absalom's sexual activity with David's concubines[21]. Among the Israelites this marriage tent appears to have eventually evolved into a booth[19][22]; the exact meaning of the Hebrew word for a marriage bed ( 'eres ) is somewhat uncertain[20], but its Arabic cognates are 'irris meaning thicket, and 'arrasa meaning booth-making[20].

In the account in the Book of Judges of the wedding of Samson[23], the bride is clearly given a morgengabe (a gift given to the bride, by the groom, on the morning after the marriage is consummated)[4]; scholars suspect that this was also the general Israelite tradition[4]. In most parts of the Bible, there is no indication that the concept of a dowry (a gift given to the groom by the bride's father/guardian) existed[4], although they do appear in books written after the babylonian captivity, such as Tobit and Ecclesiasticus (both of which are usually regarded as apocrypha)[24][25]; the Book of Tobit also mentions the use of a marriage contract (the ketubah)[26].

In the Talmud and Traditional Judaism


In the classical era, the period of time between the betrothal (erusin) and the actual marriage (nissu'in) was standardised, and fixed by the Talmud at 30 days; an exception to this was marriage to an under-age virgin, for whom the period between betrothal and marriage was fixed at 12 months (this does not always equate to 1 year; in the Jewish Calendar, some years have 13 months), even if she was still a child at that point[27]. However, this timing isn't exact, as there were a number of further conditions affecting it.

Marriage was forbade during periods of mourning, both for personal mourning such as the first 30 days after death, and for certain national Jewish remembrances[28]. These remembrances include the Counting of the Omer and The Nine Days[28]; Moses Isserles suggested that The Three Weeks should be included in this prohibition as well[29]. Marriage is also forbidden, by prominent rabbis of the middle ages, during more joyful religious festivals, including all Shabbats, unless the marriage was urgent[30][31][32].

In the classical era, it was considered preferable for virgins to be married on a Wednesday, and widows on a Thursday[1]; later the traditional time for widows came to be Friday afternoon[1]. This custom is still practiced in parts of the East[1], and in the Caucasus a bride is always married on a Wednesday[33]. In other areas, such as among the Jews of the Punjab and of Cochin, the wedding is usually held on a Tuesday[1][34]. In Sri Lanka, it is not held on a specific day of the week, instead being held exactly 10 days after the engagement[1]. However, in all these traditions, it was also usual to try to avoid having multiple weddings on the same day, especially if one of the weddings involved a sibling of another[1].

Generally, marriages are held in the evening, but in Iraq it is customary for marriages to occur five hours before the sunset, and in a few locations the wedding is held in the morning[1].

Companions and Guests

Jewish wedding

A selection of the guests at a Jewish marriage in the Middle East, in 1904

In most areas it continues to be the custom for the groom to be accompanied by his friends, and the bride by hers[1], but in some the bride is accompanied by a close male relative(s); among the Cochin Jews, for example, it is traditional for a bride to be accompanied by her father[34]. In the Caucasus, however, the tradition is for the bride's parents to stay at home, mourning the loss of their daughter (to the groom)[33]; here, the bride is customarily accompanied by her brothers, or if she has no brother, then by her uncle[33].

Historically, a rabbi was not required at the marriage, although after the 14th century, the presence of one became customary in some areas[1]. In fact, it was usual for an entire Jewish community to be invited to the marriage[1]. In mediaeval Eastern Europe the invitation was made on the morning of the marriage itself, by the schulklopfer[1]. A more elaborate invitation is traditional in the Caucasus; on the morning of the shabbat preceding the marriage, the bride's friends, including at least five adults, wear the bride's clothes, and go from house to house leaving invitations to the feast, being given either sugar, coffee, apples, or eggs, at each[33].

In modern times, if the groom or the bride has come from a broken or scandalous home, or is a convert to Judaism, it is now sometimes customary for them to be accompanied by an upstanding, righteous couple from their local Jewish community.


Acknowledging the separation from parents

It is customary in some areas to have a feast in honour of the bride's and groom's parents (in addition to the week-long period of feasting in honour of the marriage)[1]. This feast occurs before the marriage; specifically, on the day before the shabbat before the marriage (in other words, the preceding Friday), or on the shabbat before that[1]. This additional feast was called spinnholz (meaning spindle), or sponsalia, or vorspiel (meaning foreword/preface)[1].

In the Caucasus, on both of the two days prior to the wedding, the bride and groom traditionally dress in mourning costume, to indicate their sorrow at being about to move out of the houses of their respective parents[33]. In this tradition, on these days, the bride visits the friends of her parents' household, accompanied by her female friends[33]; similarly the groom visits the friends of his parent's household, accompanied by his male friends[33]. Each person the bride or groom visits is expected to provide gifts and refreshments for them, and their companions[33]; however, if the bride approaches the groom's house on these days, it is customary for his friends to pelt her, and her friends, with sand and small stones[33]; the same principle applies to the groom if he approaches the bride's house on these days[33].

Seclusion of the bride

Traditionally, during the week before the wedding-day, the bride and groom were allowed to leave the house only with a chaperone[1] (Hebrew:shomer); in modern times, some Jews only apply this tradition to the day of the marriage itself. In Ashkenazic tradition, although it has become more widespread in modern times, couples deliberately ceased all forms of contact for one week prior to the marriage day[35][36]. In the Caucasus, the bride sleeps in a special room for this period[33]; on the first day, three or four girls related to her go out, while wearing her clothes, and invite other girls to sleep in the same room with her[33].

In the classical era, on the evening before the wedding day, the bride was taken from her father's house (where she would usually have been living) to the house of another of her relatives[1]. Among the Cochin Jews, this is performed as an elaborate ritual, and occurs on the Shabbat prior to the wedding[34]; first the groom holds a feast for his friends, after which the entire local Jewish community go to the bride's house, and escort her to the house of one of her other relatives[34]. At this house they are served coffee while they wait for the evening (this is the end of the Shabbat, in Jewish tradition), at which point they then take the bride to yet another house[34]; here they eat and drink until after midnight, then disperse, leaving the bride there[34].

Purgative preparations

In the traditions of Asia Minor and South Asia, the bride has a ritual bath up to two days before the wedding, typically during the night[34][33]. In a few traditions, the groom also ritually bathes, or has an ordinary bath, before the wedding[1]. The ritual bathings typically take place in a mikveh, and are frequently the cause for further festivities and ceremony[1]. In Sri Lanka the bathing is traditionally spread over the three days prior to the wedding:

  • On the first evening, the bride takes a normal bath, assisted by women singing[1];
  • On the second evening the bride is lead, accompanied by music, to a mikveh[1]. After her ritual bathing a rabbi sings a song, and a torah-scroll, opened at the Ethical Decalogue, is presented to her[1]; she is expected to kiss it while averting her eyes (usually by covering them with her hand)[1]. The wedding guests, having gathered near her, then sing songs, suitable for the occasion, and eat[1]; the guests subsequently leave after washing their hands[1].
  • On the third day - the day before the wedding - the wedding guests gather for two different meals, between which the groom takes his bath, and changes into his new clothes[1]. When the groom arrives at the second meal (the ajni), the guests sing an appropriate psalm, and then bless him, before he can sit down[1]. After the meal, a rabbi sings a traditional song, and each guest gives a different blessing[1].

In the Caucasus the bathing, which takes place in the sea (Caspian Sea or Black Sea), occurs immediately before the wedding procession[33]; the bride and groom are individually lead to the sea from their respective homes, and back again, the bride being lead by girls, the groom by young men, and both being accompanied by music[33]. In this tradition, when the bride has finished bathing, and combing her hair, the girls light lamps, and her mother gives her blessing to the marriage[33]; when the groom is returning, a procession of girls meet him, proffering sweets, and holding branches to which coins and silk hankerchiefs have been affixed[33].

It is traditional for the bride and groom to fast during the wedding day[1]; this tradition originates in the talmud, and is symbolic of their sins being forgiven (some talmudic opinions argue that the act of marriage causes all of a groom's sins to be forgiven[37], presumably even including genocide). In the Middle Ages, it was argued that this was tantamount to treating the wedding day as a personal Yom Kippur[38][39][40]; thus bride and groom sometimes include specific prayers for Yom Kippur in their afternoon prayers[41]. However, Judaism traditionally bans fasting on certain days, including Rosh Hodesh or Hanukah, so the bride and groom would not fast if their marriage occurred on such a day[38][39][42][43].

In some eastern traditions the groom's hair is cut before the wedding[1]; in Sri Lanka it is cut when the groom has his bath on the day before the wedding[1]; in the Punjab, immediately before the wedding procession, it is shaved completely[1].


Following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, it ceased being customary for the bride and groom to wear extravagent garlands; now it is only customary for the bride to wear a wreath, and for it to be a simple one made from myrtle[1]. In Eastern Europe, prior to the holocaust, they mourned the Temple's destruction - the bride wore a shroud under her celebratory clothing, and the groom wore a garment with an ash covered hood, which he placed over his head[1]. Historically, these mourning garments were not worn at the start of the wedding; the bride was temporarily escorted home shortly after arriving at the wedding, so that she could put on the shroud under her robes[1]; meanwhile, the groom placed the hood of his garment over his head (having previously not been wearing the hood), and covered it in ashes[1].

In America and the modern State of Israel, many Jews of which have primarily European ancestry, the shroud (specifically, a kittel) is still worn by grooms, in Orthodox Judaism[44]; unlike the historic tradition, the groom's men dress the groom in the shroud prior to the ceremony, and as hoods are not so common in modern formal wear, the ashes are placed on the groom's forehead, in these traditions[44][45]. A remembrence of the Temple's destruction is also the reason for it to be traditional, in these Jewish communities, for the bride's outer covering to not contain any silver or gold strands[46].

Not all Jewish communities are miserable at weddings, and in several parts of Asia (including most of the Middle East) there is more colour and celebration. One of the most distinct traditions about wedding dress is perhaps that of Egypt, where an element of transvestitism is present; the bride wears a helmet and sword, while the groom and his male friends wear feminine garments and paint their finger-nails (which is not the normal custom for men there)[1].

In the areas of the Middle East and the Punjab, where people ordinarily walk barefoot, it is traditional for the hands and feet of specific participants to be coloured. In the Punjab the groom's hands and feet are coloured red, on the morning of the wedding, by his friends[1]. In Iraq, the bride's palms and soles, and those of her friends, are coloured with henna, on the night before the wedding[1] (this custom may have recently died out : as a result of the American invasion of Iraq, there is now only 1 Jew who knows how to read the Torah and can recite the prayers - Emad Levy - and even he intends to leave[47]).

In Asia Minor and South Asia, the groom wears a turban and silken clothing[34][33]:

  • Among the Cochin Jews, the groom traditionally wears a white turban, and the bride wears a finely made cap[34]
  • In the Punjab, the groom's turban is given to him by the bride. In return, the groom gives turbans to his friends and the bride's brothers[1].
  • In the Caucasus, a rich groom is also obliged to give his bride enough money to make silk wedding-garments for the members of his household[33]. If the bride's father is also wealthy, he too contributes to the cost of this manufacture[33]. It is traditional for these newly made clothes to be inspected at noon on the wedding-day, by a male relative of the groom, some women, and a rabbi, which often leads to quarrels[33].

The marriage procession

In Jewish weddings, the marriage procession often became quite an elaborate event. A feast was sometimes held before the groom's procession began, at which the procession's participants would gather[1]; in other cases he would be lead by the community elders, or the wise men[1].

Historically, the procession usually took place on foot, although the bride herself was occasionally carried. In Sri Lanka it is still usual for a bride to be carried by litter[1]. In the Caucasus, the bride departs on a horse, lead by a relative of the groom, and a mirror (facing her) is carried in front of her[33].


The historic use of young girls with candles, to provide the lighting for the procession, continued in mediaeval Eastern Europe[1], and still remains the practice in the Caucasus[33]. However, in the Punjab the lighting is achieved by means of torches, and in Iraq (prior to the American Invasion) it was achieved by lamps, carried by paupers (who were paid for the service)[1]. In Arabia the Jewish custom is to affix a light to a long pole, and carry it at the head of the procession[1].

Music and dance

Music continues to accompany Jewish marriage processions[4]. In the (rare) event of the wedding occurring on a Shabbat - a day on which Jews traditionally did not work - non-Jews were employed to play the music[1]; in a similar way, it was historically the case for Christians to deliberately employ Jewish musicians for certain festive occasions[1].

In some areas, dancing also is still part of the procession; in Spain, the women of the bridal procession still dance[1]. The traditional Spanish bridal procession (of a Jewish wedding) is also accompanied by mime-artists, and armed riders, both of which are generally located at the head of the procession[1].

Fertility symbolism

In mediaeval Eastern Europe, the historic practice of strewing the groom's path with nuts and flowers[1], which was a fertility symbol, evolved into wheat and coins being thrown over the bride and groom, at the point at which they meet each other (afterwards, the coins were given to the poor)[1]. In the Caucasus, it became rice, and it is only thrown during the part of the procession following the bride meeting the groom[33].

In Iraq, it was the custom to thrust live sheep before the groom during the procession[1]; for each sheep he treads on the head of, he must pay its owner a fine (hence paupers usually performed this ritual)[1]. Animal-based fertility symbols also feature in other locations: in early classical Jerusalem, two hens were carried in the front of the procession[48]; in other parts of the east the couple must jump over a fish (contained in a vessel)[1].

Formal marriage ceremony

In Judaism, it generally became the custom that once the groom's marriage procession had reached the bride, there would be a formal marriage ceremony, in which the giving of the marriage contract (the ketubah), by the groom to the bride, played a significant part[28]. Often, the subsequent consummation also formed part of the ceremony, at least symbolically.


In many cases, the traditions which developed about a formal marriage ceremony meant that the home of the bride was often too small to host it. Consequently, it became customary in several locations, including Asia Minor and South Asia, for another house to be loaned to the bride for the occasion, if necessary[1][33]; in these situations, the marriage procession heads to such a wedding-house, rather than the home of the bride[1][33].

An alternative to borrowing another house, was to hold the ceremony in the open air[1]; some weddings were evidently celebrated in this manner during the classical period[1]. Although the Talmud subsequently protests against doing this, Jewish weddings were still occasionally held in the open air during the Middle Ages[1]. The custom later came to be interpreted as a symbolic reference, to the biblical account of Yahweh telling Abraham that he should look up and count the stars, as his children would be that numerous[1][49]. In modern times, many Hasidic Jews prefer to conduct the entire ceremony outdoors.


In other areas, following the invention of synagogues, the formal marriage ceremony often came to be held in one. Sri Lanka, though, exhibits an intermediate tradition: there, the tradition is for the procession to travel to the wedding-house via a synagogue, at which the groom, and his best men, merely light four candles[1].

In some such areas, including mediaeval Germany, the marriage procession came to travel via a synagogue, before collecting the bride, and deposited the groom there[1]; after the procession had collected the bride, it would return via the synagogue, the marriage ceremony being held on its arrival[1]; it would then continue to the groom's house, taking the bride and groom with it[1].

In the other areas which came to hold the formal ceremony in a synagogue, the procession came to be split; instead of the procession taking the groom to the synagogue and then collecting the bride, one procession would take the groom to the synagogue, and a different procession would take the bride there. Among the Cochin Jews, the custom is for the bride to be called to the synagogue (by the use of trumpets, shouting, and drums), by the groom's procession, once it arrives there[34]. In the Caucasus, however, the tradition is for the two processions to be completely independent of each other[33]. In both cases, the two processions are combined at the end of the formal ceremony, for the procession away from the synagogue[34][33].

In synagogue-based marriages, it is sometimes customary for the ceremony to co-incide with the morning or evening prayer service (as appropriate to the time of day)[1]. In such a case the prayer service is usually performed between the arrival of the groom and that of the bride[1].

It is often customary, in a synagogue-based marriage ceremony, for the bride and groom to sit beside the Ark of the law or the bemah[1]. Sometimes it is traditional, in a synagogue-based marriage ceremony, for the bride to be seated to the right of the groom or of the Ark[1]; this is an obscure reference to a psalm containing the line upon thy right hand did stand the queen[50] (in the masoretic text, the last letter of each of these words, in reverse order, spells the Hebrew word for bride)[1].

Signing of the marriage contract


A modern ketubah

In the ceremony, a vernacular translation of the marriage contract (the ketubah) is read out or chanted[1] (the latter being the tradition of the Cochin Jews[34], for example); usually it is the groom who performs this task, but in locations such as Sri Lanka it is performed by a presiding rabbi[1]. The ketubah is then signed by the groom and witnesses, if it has not already been, and is then handed to the bride[1]; in some locations it is traditional for the groom to thrice announce here is your ketubah while handing it over[1].

In a few places, particularly the Indian subcontinent, a presiding official (Hazzan or rabbi) symbolically obligates the husband to fulfil his duties specified in the ketubah, by making him take hold of the presiding official's outer garment, either once or thrice[1][34]; the traditions vary in regard to whether this occurs just after the ketubah is handed over (as among the Cochin Jews[34]), or just before it is (as among the Jews of Sri Lanka[1]).

The nuptual chamber and canopy

V06p505001 Chuppah

An engraving of an historic Jewish wedding, in which a garment is spread over the bride and groom, while they stand under a huppah

In a number of Jewish communities, the chamber in which the bride and groom consummated their marriage came to be symbolically represented as part of the formal marriage ceremony, by means of a baldachin-like structure, known as a huppah[51]. In these traditions, the consummation itself came to be represented in the ceremony by spreading a garment, still being worn by the groom, over the groom and bride, while they stand under the huppah[51][1]; this practice, minus the involvement of a huppah, had been followed by Christians a few centuries before it had begun to be adopted by Jewish communities[1].

Jewish wedding Vienna Jan 2007 005

Orthodox Jewish wedding with huppah, but without a cloth spread over the marital couple, in Vienna's first district, close to Judengasse, 2007

In modern times, Reform Jews have completely abandoned the use of a huppah in the marriage ceremony[51]. It is still used by Orthodox Jews, although many of them do not spread a garment over the couple as part of the ceremony[51]. When a huppah is used, the entry of the bride and groom into this structure often forms the conclusion of the formal marriage ceremony; however, in several areas, including Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, it became customary for the entire marriage ceremony to occur under the huppah[1][33].

Chupah closeup

A modern Huppah from the Sixth & I Synagogue (in Washington D.C.), still having a residual resemblence to a bower

In the 18th century, it was common in Europe for huppahs to take the form of a bower, made from roses and myrtles[52][51]. However, in modern times, a huppah frequently consists of a simple rectangular piece of cloth, or a tallit (a prayer shawl designed to specific ritual rules), supported by four poles (one at each corner)[53].

Covering and uncovering of the bride

Although the ancient Jewish practice of covering the bride has mainly died out, it remains traditional for the bride to at least be covered during part of the marriage ceremony, though the covering is usually removed at the end of the formal ceremony (before she is lead away from the venue)[1]. In some areas it is now not even traditional for the bride to be covered when she arrives at the marriage ceremony[1]; in these situations, the process of covering up the bride is sometimes performed as a ritual, known as Badeken/Bedekung, rather than as a casual act[54].

The Badeken ritual takes different forms, depending on what type of covering is customary, and on which portion of the marriage ceremony the covering is worn during. In Sri Lanka, it is still traditional for the bride to be wrapped in a large cloth for the entire duration of the ceremony[1], but in several other places, including America and the modern State of Israel, the bride merely wears a small veil, and only wears it while she is under the symbolic huppah. Among the Cochin Jews the bride merely arrives at the ceremony under a parasol (carried by her father, if possible)[34].

The veiling is often accompanied by joyous singing[55][56]. With a small veil this would be quite a brief process, but in Sri Lanka it takes much longer, as the covering there must be wrapped around her[1]; it is customary for Sri Lankan brides to be seated for this, the chair symbolising the litter in which she would once have been carried to the ceremony[1].

Combined ceremonies

In the Middle Ages, the gap between betrothal and marriage gradually became unfashionable[1]; consequently it is now the custom in most Jewish communities for the marriage to follow the betrothal immediately[28][1]. In practice, this means that these Jewish communities prefix the betrothal ritual to the formal marriage ceremony. In these combined ceremonies, the offer of the mohar begins the formal ceremony, the wine vessel is then broken (or the bride drinks some of the wine), and these are immediately followed by the handing over of the marriage contract, and the rest of the formal marriage ceremony.

The Wedding Blessings

In the seventh century, it was traditional for seven specific wedding blessings to be said at the groom's house, and at the house where the bride had spent the night previous to the marriage[1]; this is still the tradition among Jews in some parts of Asia, but in most regions the wedding blessings are now said at the end of the formal marriage ceremony[1]. However, if the bride and groom have both been previously married, only three blessings are recited[57]

If there is a presiding officer (a Hazzan or Rabbi), it is they who pronounce the seven blessings, but otherwise they are sung by the wedding guests en-masse[1], unless someone is specifically invited, as an honour, to pronounce them. In many traditions, the groom, and (if there is one) the presiding officer, hold a cup or glass of wine during these blessings, and drink from it either after each blessing, or after all seven[1].

Traditions vary as to whether additional songs are sung before the seven blessings[1]; some traditions (including some of those which sing before these blessings) add a final song or psalm after the seven blessings[1].

According to the tradition of Orthodox Judaism, a specific quorum must be present for the first six of the blessings[58][59].

Household dominance and property ownership rituals

In many areas, there exists a superstitious belief that if the bride is able to place her feet on the groom's feet, during the seven blessings, she will have mastery over the couple's household (and vice-versa)[1].

In mediaeval Eastern Europe, however, the result was already fixed by custom: here, when the couple reach the groom's house, at the end of the marriage procession, it was traditional for the groom to place the bride's hand on the upper doorposts of the front door[1]; this act signified that the bride had been made mistress of the house[1]. A similar ritual exists in the Caucasus: after the procession, when the bride reaches the house, it is traditional for honey to be smeared on the doorposts, and for the men of the procession to then discharge their pistols[33].

In some areas, it is traditional for the groom to attend the morning prayer service at a synagogue, on the Sabbath following the wedding[1]. When the groom returns to the bride, after this service, it is sometimes customary for him to hand his mantle, girdle, and hat, to his bride[1]; the purpose of this was to signify that the bride had the right to share the groom's property[1].


In classical times, the marriage procession culminated in the bride and groom being ushered into the nuptial chamber[60][61][62][51]. Historically, the groomsmen and bridesmaids stood guard inside the chamber waiting for the consummation to take place[51]; in classical times, attitudes to witnessing sexual activity had changed, and Jewish groomsmen and bridesmaids stood guard outside the chamber instead, to await news of the completion of the consummation[63][64][51].

Isolation (Hebrew:yichud) of the bride and groom, in a private room on their own, still forms a key moment of the act of marriage[65][66]; it is regarded as imperative that a certain amount of time is allowed to elapse while the couple are isolated like this, in order for the marriage to be valid.

In the Caucasus, following a meal, after the marriage procession has reached its destination, the bride is secluded in a room and the groom is led to her[33]. After a suitable amount of time, he is called out of the room by young men symbolically discharging their pistols[33]; these men are given a cock and hen by the bride's mother (otherwise the men steal all of her chickens)[33]. The bride and groom are then given fruit, which they eat in the bride's room[33].

Among the Cochin Jews, the groom goes to the bride on the day after the marriage ceremony[34]. The bride wears a white gown for this, and once the groom has gone, the gown is taken away by other women[34]. Having examined the dress, the elder women gather on the following day to pass judgement on the bride's virtue[34].


In some Jewish traditions, wedding gifts continue to be given by the groom to his bride after the day of the marriage; in the Punjab, for example, they are given during a feast on the Friday after the betrothal (Friday being the day before the next Shabbat)[1]. However, in most Jewish traditions, it became customary for prominent members of the local Jewish community to take the groom's gift(s) to the bride, on the day before the betrothal[1].

In mediaeval Eastern Europe, the traditional gifts were, like those at non-Jewish weddings, clothes - girdle, veil, mantle, and wreath[1]; later these also included a prayer-book, known as a siflones (this word is a corruption of symbolum, a loan-word from Latin[1], meaning symbol), which was inscribed with the phrase Love, fraternity, peace, and good-fellowship[1]. Among the Jews of Greece and western Anatolia, a ring was additionally included[1]. In Sri Lanka, however, it is customary for the gifts to include gold and silver objects, which the bride subjects to examination by a goldsmith, to ensure they are each worth at least the same as the peruta[1].

Gifts for the groom

Although the bible mentions that some women had enough wealth to support their husbands[67][68], in the classical era it was frowned upon to marry a woman for her wealth[69]; this continued to be the attitude of respected rabbis in the middle ages[70].

In mediaeval times, it had become the custom in some Jewish communities for a bride to give a gift to her groom. Traditionally this was a ring, and some shoes; later it became a tallit (a prayer shawl designed to specific ritual rules) and a shroud[1]. In Poland, before the holocaust, the groom was also given a special type of cake (chosenbrod) each time he visited his bride[1]. In the Caucasus, in the 19th century, instead of the bride and groom giving each other gifts, other people bring gifts to the couple[33]. These are traditionally made only from gold, and are presented at the meal on the night of the betrothal; each gift-giver is blessed by a presiding rabbi[33].


The Talmud insists that a bride's father must give her at least 50 zuzims upon her marriage[71]; if the father was too poor to be able to afford this, it was common for the payment to be subsidised by the local Jewish community's charity funds[72]. However, rich fathers were expected to pay the bride more than this minimum, in proportion to their wealth[72]. According to the Talmud, non-payment by the father (or his heirs) wasn't a valid cause for postponing the marriage, unless the bride herself had promised her groom that a specific payment would be made[73].

If the bride's father was dead, the bride could claim the payment from her father's heirs[72]. Rabbinic courts helped to ensure that the bride receives a fair payment, by providing an estimate of how much the father would have given her, had he still been alive; the Talmud makes it compulsory for the heirs to give the bride this estimated amount[74]. The rabbinic courts based their estimate on the bride's father's position in society, his generosity, and on the marriages of any other of his daughters; if these things were not known, they insisted that the bride should receive a tenth of her father's estate[72]. The rabbis of the middle ages argued that if several of a deceased man's daughters were to be married at the same time, the eldest should receive a 10th of her father's estate, the next eldest should receive a tenth of the remainder, and so on[75][76].

Unlike Western Dowries, such payments, known in Hebrew as nedunya[72], were not entirely gifted to the groom. Although the groom had the right to the usufruct of the property involved, if he later died, or divorced the bride, she had the right to reclaim ownership of the property[72]; it was thus referred to as the property of iron sheep (Hebrew:nikse tzon barzel), since the groom could claim the profit, which could grow like sheep's wool, but was financially responsible for any damage or deterioration, rendering it somewhat indestructable, like iron (in the view of Jewish tradition)[72].

In classical times, if a woman died, her husband could claim full ownership of her nedunya[72]. However, Jacob ben Meir, a prominent 12th century rabbi, argued that the entire nedunya should be returned to a bride's father (or his heirs), if the woman had died in the first year of her marriage, and she had not had any children[72]. Later, the Synod of Mainz argued that if a wife died in the second year of her marriage, the husband should return half of her nedunya to her father (or his heirs)[72]; this became the custom among the Jews of Germany and Poland[72].

In 1761, a further modification was made by a gathering of rabbis in Slutsk, who argued that if the wife had died within five years of the marriage, half of her nedunya should be returned to her family[72]; indeed, they argued that if she had died within three years of the start of the marriage, everything possessed by the wife (not just the nedunya) should be returned to her relatives[72]. Only the latter rule was accepted by later Jewish religious authorities in Russia and Poland[72].

The feasting

In Judaism, the standard duration for marriage feasting came to be a week[1], usually beginning on the evening following the wedding[1]. However, in the Punjab it begins on the next Shabbat to occur after the wedding[1]. In the Caucasus, it is held during the week prior to the wedding[33]; here, the wedding night itself is the last day of the week, and on that day there is only a simple meal for the wedding guests, unaccompanied by music[33].

As the number of guests at the marriage could be quite large, it is now customary in some areas for the feast(s) to be held in a suitably large alternate venue, rather than the groom's house[1]. Among the Cochin Jews, for example, it is traditional for the largest house in the local Jewish community to be loaned to the couple, without charge, to be used for the wedding feasts[34]. In areas where it is customary to hold a formal marriage ceremony in the bride's house, or in a house specially loaned for the purpose, these venues are sometimes also used for the feasting[1]; in such cases, which include the traditions of Iraq (prior to the American Invasion) and Sri Lanka, the marriage procession does not travel beyond the bride's house once it arrives - for these places, there is no procession after the formal marriage ceremony[1].

As with many cultures, most of the costs of the feast are now usually borne by the bride's father[1]. Among the Cochin Jews, the groom's father supplies the wine and meat[34]; this traditionally including an amount of beef equivalent to forty cows, which is given entirely to the servants (the guests eat poultry)[34]. However, the Cochin Jews are magnanimous with their wealth; if the fathers in question are poor, rich members of the local community provide anything which the fathers cannot afford[34].

The week of feasting in detail

During the wedding night meal, the men and women are sometimes customarily segregated; among the Cochin Jews the men sit on one side of the bride and groom, while the women sit on the other[34]; in the Caucasus, the women eat in a completely different room to the men[33]. After the second century, it became customary for the groom to give a Talmudic discourse (Hebrew: derashah) at this meal[1]. A religious speech might additionally be given by a rabbi at this point[1]. In eastern Europe, before the holocaust, a jester (Yiddish: marschalik) might also give a serious speech at this feast[1]; jesters were still typically present even in the late 19th century[1]. Plays are also sometimes performed[1].

The first day of the feast week (the wedding night in many places[1], but 6 days before it in the Caucasus[33]) is usually an occasion for dancing[1]. The tradition of the Caucasus is quite distinctive in this respect; the groom holds a feast for his friends, and sends meat and rice-flour to the bride and her friends[33]. But the rice-flour is not for eating; the Caucasian bride and her friends go out and sprinkle it on young people, who dance while other youths clap (musically)[33].

On the Shabbat during the feast-week there is usually another large feast (in the Punjab, this is the first day of feasting)[1]. In addition to the meal, this is often includes music/singing by the women, and sometimes (as among the Cochin Jews[34]) dancing by the men, before and/or after the meal[1]. For the Cochin Jews it is also traditional for the bride to dress grandly for this feast, wearing a wreath of pearls on her head, with a throne behind her[34].

On the last day of the feast-week, it is traditional to hold yet another large feast[1]; in the Caucasus this is held on the penultimate day (the final day of the week, in the Caucasus, is the wedding day)[33].

Feasts are not always held on the other days of the feast-week, but when they are they are usually small[1]. In the Caucasus, for example, the fourth day (which is usually a Sunday) is the occasion for the bride to hold a small feast just for her friends, while the groom holds one for his[33].


Jüdische Hochzeit in Marokko-1024

Dances at a Jewish marriage in Morocco, in the early 19th century

It is in keeping with the joyous occasion of a wedding that the invitees dance in front of, entertain and praise the new couple[45]. During the main feast, there are several dances; many traditional dances exist:

  • A dance in which the bride and groom hold opposite corners of a handkerchief while they are lifted up on chairs by the guests and whirled around.
  • The Krenzl, in which the bride's mother is crowned with a wreath of flowers as her daughters dance around her (traditionally at the wedding of the mother's last unwed daughter).
  • The Mizinke, a dance for the parents of the bride or groom when their last child is wed.
  • The gladdening of the bride, in which guests dance around the bride, and can include the use of "shtick"—silly items such as signs, banners, costumes, confetti, and jump ropes made of table napkins.
  • The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance in front of the bride (or sometimes with the bride in the case of a father or grandfather), often holding a gartel, and then dancing with the groom. At the end the bride and groom dance together themselves.

Form of songs

A few traditional wedding songs are still based on passages from the Book of Canticles[1], a popular choice being Aishet Chayil, sung to the bride by the groom, accompanied by his friends. Following the precedent set by the riddle in the Biblical account of Samson's wedding[77], it is now also traditional for some wedding songs to take the form of riddles[1]; in mediaeval Europe such songs were often improvised by a jester[1]. Derived from this tradition is the custom of singing songs containing acrostics, particularly acrostics of the names of the prominent figures from the Book of Genesis whose marriages it partly describes[1].

Mournful songs are also sometimes customary. The Talmud contains mournful wedding-songs grieving about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem[1]; wedding-songs of this nature, written by Judah ha-Levi are still sung in the Punjab on the Shabbat preceding the wedding[1]. Similarly, as the fate of Jewish communities in the Middle Ages became more unpleasant, the songs composed in the groom's honour became more solemn and less joyful[1].

Reading about Isaac's marriage

On the next Shabbat after the wedding, it was traditional for the biblical account of Isaac's marriage[78] to be read to the groom, usually at the synagogue, during the morning prayer service. This tradition ceased within Europe during the seventeenth century (and hence it is not customary in America), but in Asia it continues, sometimes with slight variations[1]; in Asia Minor it is repeated in Arabic (except among migrants to the modern state of Israel, and their descendants)[1]; in Sri Lanka it is recited by the groom; in the Punjab it is read on the Shabbat before the wedding[1].

See also


  1. 1.000 1.001 1.002 1.003 1.004 1.005 1.006 1.007 1.008 1.009 1.010 1.011 1.012 1.013 1.014 1.015 1.016 1.017 1.018 1.019 1.020 1.021 1.022 1.023 1.024 1.025 1.026 1.027 1.028 1.029 1.030 1.031 1.032 1.033 1.034 1.035 1.036 1.037 1.038 1.039 1.040 1.041 1.042 1.043 1.044 1.045 1.046 1.047 1.048 1.049 1.050 1.051 1.052 1.053 1.054 1.055 1.056 1.057 1.058 1.059 1.060 1.061 1.062 1.063 1.064 1.065 1.066 1.067 1.068 1.069 1.070 1.071 1.072 1.073 1.074 1.075 1.076 1.077 1.078 1.079 1.080 1.081 1.082 1.083 1.084 1.085 1.086 1.087 1.088 1.089 1.090 1.091 1.092 1.093 1.094 1.095 1.096 1.097 1.098 1.099 1.100 1.101 1.102 1.103 1.104 1.105 1.106 1.107 1.108 1.109 1.110 1.111 1.112 1.113 1.114 1.115 1.116 1.117 1.118 1.119 1.120 1.121 1.122 1.123 1.124 1.125 1.126 1.127 1.128 1.129 1.130 1.131 1.132 1.133 1.134 1.135 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage ceremonies", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. Judges 14:11-12
  3. Canticles 3:6-11
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "MARRIAGE", a publication now in the public domain.
  5. William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 81
  6. Matthew 25:1-12
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage", a publication now in the public domain.
  8. Genesis 29:27
  9. Judges 14:12
  10. Sanhedrin (Tosefta) 12
  11. Sanhedrin 101a
  12. Peake's commentary on the Bible, s.v. The Song of Solomon
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jeremiah 2:32
  14. Isaiah 61:10
  15. Genesis 24:65
  16. Genesis 29:25
  17. 17.0 17.1 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "VEIL (VAIL)", a publication now in the public domain.
  18. Paul de Lagarde, Semitica (1878), 24
  19. 19.0 19.1 William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 167-168
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "TENT", a publication now in the public domain.
  21. 2 Samuel 16:22
  22. William Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, (1885), 291
  23. Judges 15:1
  24. Tobit 8:21
  25. Ecclesiasticus 25:22
  26. Tobit 7:16-19
  27. Ketubot 57b
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage laws", a publication now in the public domain.
  29. Jacob ben Asher, Arba'ah Turim, Orah Hayyim (gloss by Moses Isserles), 551:2-10
  30. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Shabbat 23:14
  31. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Ishut, 10:14
  32. Jacob ben Asher, Arba'ah Turim, Eben haEzer (gloss by Moses Isserles) 64:5
  33. 33.00 33.01 33.02 33.03 33.04 33.05 33.06 33.07 33.08 33.09 33.10 33.11 33.12 33.13 33.14 33.15 33.16 33.17 33.18 33.19 33.20 33.21 33.22 33.23 33.24 33.25 33.26 33.27 33.28 33.29 33.30 33.31 33.32 33.33 33.34 33.35 33.36 33.37 33.38 33.39 33.40 33.41 33.42 33.43 Joseph Judah Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot, 1884 (published posthumously)
  34. 34.00 34.01 34.02 34.03 34.04 34.05 34.06 34.07 34.08 34.09 34.10 34.11 34.12 34.13 34.14 34.15 34.16 34.17 34.18 34.19 34.20 34.21 34.22 34.23 34.24 Salomon Rinman, Mas'ot Shelomoh, 1884
  35. Book of Customs (Hebrew: Sefer haMinhagim), published by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, page 79
  36. Kaplan, Aryeh. Made in Heaven, page 67.
  37. Yebamot 63a
  38. 38.0 38.1 Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 146:1
  39. 39.0 39.1 Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:1
  40. Moses Halevi Mintz, Responsa, 109
  41. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, 146:4
  42. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer Moses Isserles 61:1
  43. Jacob ben Asher, Orah Hayyim 573:1
  44. 44.0 44.1 Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, 147:4
  45. 45.0 45.1 Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man, 129:17
  46. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 126:2
  48. Gittin 57; the district of Jerusalem appears there under the name tur Malka, an archaic Aramaic transliteration of the phrase Har HaMelech, meaning hill of the king
  49. Genesis 15:5
  50. Psalms 45:10; note that in the King James Version, this appears as verse 9 instead
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 51.3 51.4 51.5 51.6 51.7 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Huppah", a publication now in the public domain.
  52. Tanya, 90
  53. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:1
  54. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Veil", a publication now in the public domain.
  55. Jacob ben Asher, Arba'ah Turim, Eben haEzer, Ramoh 31:2
  56. Yoma (Tosafot, ulekhada), 13b
  57. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man, 129:4
  58. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:3
  59. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:6
  60. Kiddushin, 5a
  61. Ketubot (Palestinian Talmud only) 4:7
  62. Ketubot (Palestinian Talmud only) 28d
  63. Ketubot (Palestinian Talmud only) 1:25a
  64. Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, 12
  65. Abraham Danzig, Wisdom of Man 129:13
  66. Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, 148:1
  67. Tobit 8:21
  68. Ecclesiasticus 25:22
  69. Kiddushin 70a
  70. Shulchan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 3, 1 (gloss by Moses Isserles)
  71. Ketubot, 67a
  72. 72.00 72.01 72.02 72.03 72.04 72.05 72.06 72.07 72.08 72.09 72.10 72.11 72.12 72.13 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Dowry", a publication now in the public domain.
  73. Ketubot 109a
  74. Ketubot, 68a
  75. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Ishut 20:4
  76. Joseph Caro, Shulkhan Arukh, Eben haEzer, 113:4
  77. Judges 14:14
  78. Genesis 24

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