Jewish weddings are much like most other weddings in basic content but often more elaborate. They take place usually on a Sunday, sometimes midweek but very rarely on Saturday and then only with special rabbinic permission and at least three hours after sunset to ensure the Sabbath has passed. (The Jewish and Quaker religions are exempt from the law that decrees that marriages cannot take place after 6.00 pm.)
Unlike Christian weddings which, if conducted by a minister, must be held in a church, Jewish marriage ceremonies can be held almost anywhere. All that is required is the marriage canopy, known as the “chupa”. So a Jewish wedding ceremony held in an hotel, or a park, or on a beach (this happens often in Israel) is just as ‘religious’ as that held in a synagogue. The word ‘chupa’ also means ‘wedding’. Before the chupa the bride will ‘hide’ in a side-room known as the ‘bedekin room’. The groom, accompanied by his male relatives and friends, will ‘find’ her and ceremoniously lift her veil.
After the chupa (ceremony) the bride and groom will be put into a private room known as a yukid whilst a rabbi guards the door allowing entry to no one. This lasts for a minimum of seven minutes and sometimes considerably longer. This allows them to converse privately for the first time as man and wife. Food is also provided as by that time they are usually feeling famished.
Don’t expect some sort of ethnic, biblical, old-time religious dress at a Jewish wedding. The bride will wear the traditional, white wedding dress. The groom and the principle ushers will wear morning dress or possibly dinner jackets for a late afternoon wedding. All the women and children too, will be in their best, probably newly bought for the occasion, outfits and dresses.
The final, formal, part of the wedding meal is known as benching. The word itself means ‘blessing’ and can be described as a ‘grace-after-meal’. This takes anything up to fifteen minutes and includes Shava Barochas (literally seven blessings) and involves at least seven readers with the other guests joining in. From then until the end the time is filled with dancing fortified with a generous buffet. Food is very important at Jewish functions of all types just as it plays an important part in almost all Jewish traditions.