Attending a Jewish wedding can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. There are many parts of the wedding ceremony that are symbolic. To add to the confusion are the Hebrew names of the different parts of the ceremony. Unless you have a Jewish friend sitting next to you at your first Jewish wedding ceremony you may not know what is coming next or why.
The first part of the Jewish wedding ceremony is the tradition of signing the ketubbah. This is the signing of the wedding contract by the bride and groom. Originally only the groom signed the contract, but brides today also sign the contract. It is the bride's responsibility to keep the contract after the ceremony. A Jewish bride typically has the contract framed and hangs it in her home after the wedding. After the signing of the ketubbah the groom lifts the bride's veil to make sure she is the woman he loves and is going to marry. This tradition has come about because of the story of Jacob. Jacob was deceived by Leah and married her instead of his true love, Rachel. Leah covered her face with a veil so Jacob wouldn't know until after he had married her.
The Jewish wedding ceremony takes place under the huppah, which is a canopy. It is usually made of white velvet with fringe, but there are a few fabric variations depending on the bride. The bride stands to the right of the groom and circles him seven times symbolizing the seven wedding blessings. This is an Orthodox custom but it is one usually followed by all Jewish brides. The immediate family members are all included in the wedding party down to the littlest sibling. Grandparents are included in the wedding procession as well.
The rabbi will introduce the couple followed by the exchange of the Jewish wedding rings. The groom recites his wedding vow and gives his ring to the bride. The ring is placed on the bride's index finger because it is the finger of intelligence that points to the words when reading the Torah. The ring is traditionally pure gold with no engravings or breaks. This is to symbolize the purity of the ring and that which it represents. Modern brides usually switch the ring to their left hand after the ceremony.
The ketubbah is then read aloud followed by the seven wedding blessings. During the readings by various guests the bride and groom sip wine. At the end of the readings the groom will wrap a wine glass in a white cloth and break it with his foot. The breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding symbolizes the destruction of the temple and also to remind us how fragile life is.
The Jewish wedding ceremony is then ended and the couple leads the procession down the aisle. The couple may then perform a ritual known as the yihud, which represents their union in a private room. The couple typically will eat some food or some broth and then go to their reception. The couple will usually perform a traditional dance where they are lifted above the crowd on their chairs. The rest of the celebration will be spent eating delicious food and dancing the night away, a tradition that all brides enjoy.