It’s our favourite time of year once again – it’s wedding season! Now that the sun is starting to come out and spring is fading into summer, wedding season is in full swing and many of us will be sifting through the invitations to figure out when the big days are. Weddings are a fantastic time for celebration, love and unity. They are also a time to honour tradition, reconnect with heritage and enjoy the customs of our own countries, religions, races and backgrounds. Following on from our post about English wedding traditions, we wanted to talk about something a bit closer to home for us – the traditions and practices of Israeli weddings.
Much as is traditional for guests in many cultures to bring gifts for the bride and groom to the wedding, in Israeli weddings it is just not done. Instead, the guests are expected to bring monetary donations to pay for the cost of the wedding. We all know just how expensive weddings can be and in Israeli culture, it’s common practice to spread the cost around. Typically a couple would be expected to bring a minimum of 500 NIS (currently valued at £107.41) and a single person 300 NIS (or £64.44) – and much more if you are a close friend or a family member. This is why you should choose carefully whose weddings you attend in Israel – you could end up seriously out of pocket if you went to all of them!
No matter what country you go to, weddings take a long time to prepare. But for Israeli weddings, the preparation for the ceremony itself starts months in advance. You see, Israeli weddings, particularly Jewish ones, are a very solemn and spiritual affair, one that takes rigorous preparation from both the bride and the groom. In the months leading up to the wedding day, the couple will undergo a series of rituals designed to purify and prepare them for marriage. These include the ‘Mikveh’ – where the bride and groom bathe (separately) surrounded by their own loved ones. The couple will also spend several hours in deep religious ceremonies and strict coaching in the months running up to the wedding. The couple will then not see one another for a few days before the wedding to ensure purity is intact – although for some couples this rule is bent to allow for practicalities.
In most countries you go to, weddings will follow a similar pattern of ceremony, meal, reception. In Israel, the tables are turned. Most Israeli weddings take place in the evening so that people can attend after work. Because of this, ‘reverse weddings’ developed, where the big meal will come first and everyone can eat after a hard days work. Time is not a sacred concept is Israel, so it is also common for weddings to be ‘fashionably late’, with ceremonies sometimes not starting until 3 hours after the time stated on the invitation, so it’s important to keep everyone fed and happy. The chuppah ceremony will be performed after the meal, followed by an evening of celebration. Another thing to note is that Israeli weddings will rarely take place on a Friday, as virtually no rabbi would agree to officiate a wedding on Shabbat. It’s also the cheapest day to get married for exactly that reason – there’s not a lot of demand for Friday weddings.
The wedding ceremony itself is a beautiful affair. Since most of Israel is Jewish, the wedding ceremony follows these patterns, even if the couple isn’t Jewish. The ceremony itself is conducted under a large canopy called a chuppah, which symbolises the home the new couple will build together. Before the bride is allowed to enter, she must let the groom cover her face with her veil – a crucial stage in the wedding which signals that she is now his wife. This is called the ‘badken’ and symbolises modesty and the importance of spiritual connection over beauty. The bride and groom then stand in the centre of the chuppah, along with the witnesses and their parents. Once under the chuppah, the groom will circle his bride seven times in order to build the walls of their new world together (just as the world was built in 7 days). Betrothal blessings are said and 2 cups of wine are drunk by the bride and groom. The groom then gives his bride a simple, usually gold ring, to symbolise the simple beauty of their marriage and life together. Now it’s all in the details – the marriage contract (known as the ketubah) is read in the original Aramaic text before being signed by the two witnesses. Seven blessings are recited, and finally, a glass is placed on the floor before the groom. He shatters it with his foot, signalling the end of the ceremony. The couple will then retire to celebrate with their guests.
Of course, modern times are having many influences on wedding traditions, and Israeli weddings are no exception. For example, the size of Israeli weddings, traditionally around 500 people, is shrinking considerably, and many couples are choosing to have socially conscious or ‘down to earth’ weddings instead of lavish, indulgent celebrations. If you’re interested in finding out more about Israeli wedding traditions, get in touch at one of our boutiques today – we’d love to have a chat.