Hitchhiker's Guide to our Wedding, or, So What Are We Going to Do Before Dinner?

I. What makes this wedding guide different from all other wedding guides?

Umm, not much. Read it anyway. You might learn something. If you see someone else milling around in the lobby, looking confused, hand that person another copy of this guide.

And by the way, if you're a man, even if you're not an Orthodox Jew, you should be wearing a yarmulke. If you're not wearing one, go to the basket in the lobby and put one on before you get struck by lightning. Don't even read further in this guide before you do it. It's very important. Really.

II. What's that Hebrew quotation on the invitations mean?

"These are the things for which people consume the interest in this world, while the principal remains for them in the World to Come.... escorting the bride...." It's a quotation from the Jewish liturgy. (The Artscroll prayerbook claims that it comes from the Talmud, Shabbat 127a, but we couldn't find it on that page. Maybe our edition of the Talmud has a misprint.) The line does not appear in the earliest Jewish prayer books; the first one in which it appears dates to the early sixteenth century. (What other wedding guide would tell you that? See, I told you you would learn something.)

III. So when are they going to get married, already?

After guests arrive and finish milling around and reading this guide, folks'll go upstairs and to their right (corner room) to the Groom's Tisch. Tisch is Yiddish for "table." Actually, it's the synagogue's table, not the groom's, but we call it the Groom's Tisch anyway. At the tisch, Seth (he's the groom) will attempt to give a learned talk on the upcoming parsha (Torah reading for next shabbat), "Ki Tavo". Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to attempt to keep him from giving the talk. This is a tradition which has come about for three reasons: (1) so less-learned grooms don't end up looking like idiots, (2) so nervous grooms (who in addition have been fasting all day) don't end up looking like idiots, and (3) so that the groom doesn't have to admit he has been too busy with wedding preparations to read the parsha.

During the tisch folks can drift in and out to visit Jen. (That's the bride. She's the one in the big white dress.) Be sure to tell Jen that Seth is keeping the audience spellbound with a brilliantly insightful lecture. If we all play along, she'll never know. Women who want to say mincha, the afternoon prayer service, can either say it with Jen at some point during the tisch or they can say it afterward (see below).

The men, meanwhile, will be wearing yarmulkes. You do have your yarmulke on, right? Good boy.

After Seth gives up trying to talk, he will acquire the obligations of the ketubah - the traditional prenuptial agreement - by yanking a hankerchief and signing his name to the ketubah, and the two assigned eidim (witnesses) will sign to certify his signature. We'll tell you what the ketubah says later, so stay tuned!

Sometime after the tisch, Seth and others who choose to do so will say mincha. If it ends up being in the corner room, women should step outside, as there is no mechitza (sex separator) in the room. If it is downstairs in the bet midrash (to the left of the coatroom) women should enter by the door on the right of the main door, and gather behind the wooden separator. Those of either sex who do not wish to remain for mincha can step out of the room and converse quietly or go downstairs and visit with Jen.

While all this nonsense is going on, the bride has curled up with a book in a big comfy chair in a quiet corner of the main lobby. (Unless one of the bridesmaids has wrestled it away from her.) Despite the book, it's ok to talk to her. Really. Just don't tell her I said so.

IV. Are You My Fiancˇe?

Right after mincha, everyone still upstairs will dance and sing to escort Seth downstairs to where Jen is sitting. There he will put the veil over Jen's face (so much for the book), after making sure that the chick in the fancy white dress is the woman he's more used to seeing in grimy jeans and a chemical-stained t-shirt. This ceremony, the bedeken, recalls the Biblical story of Jacob, who after working seven years for Laban in order to marry his sweetheart Rachel, failed to inspect the heavily-veiled goods and got Leah instead. If his father had only said to him "caveat emptor" instead of "neither a borrower nor a lender be" he'd have gotten the right girl the first time! He ended up working an additional seven years to get Rachel. Seth has little or no desire to mow Mr. Pell's lawn for the next seven years, so he's going to make sure he's got the right woman the first time around. In accordance with the midrash on the story, Seth will engage in some brief conversation to be doubly sure: he'll ask "what's new?" and Jen will respond "E over h." (If Jen's evil twin Yehoodis the Physicist is there in her place, she will respond "c over lambda.") Satisfied, he will veil Jen and return upstairs with the men of the wedding party. Jen will remain seated with the women of the wedding party.

V. There's nothing to see here. Move along.

At this point guests will go into the sanctuary and be seated, men on the left and women on the right. If you're not sure, ask an usher. When he finishes laughing he'll point out a seat for you. Don't sit in the center section, as you won't be able to see the festivities.

Meanwhile, the wedding party will line up in order in the lobby, and will come in with musical accompaniment (some Chasidic niggunim, or tunes) according to affiliation: chuppah pole holders, groom with parents and family, bridesmaids and ushers, best man with matron of honor, bride with parents. They'll take their places up in the front of the room. Hopefully.

The chuppah, or wedding canopy, is a traditional wedding symbol, signifying the home that the couple will build together according to Jen's instructions. The sides of the "home" are open to family and community, but except for those fulfilling a specific function (the rabbi, the matron of honor, the plumber) only bride and groom stand underneath. The symbolism here should be obvious.

The chuppah we are using was designed and made by Jen's father. He has managed to tie all of the dimensions somehow to the number 18 (the gematria of the Hebrew word "chai," "life"). Go ahead and ask him how.

When Seth arrives at the chuppah, he will put on a kittel, a white bathrobe-like garment symbolizing purity. The kittel is also worn at the Passover Seder, when one is buried, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We will pass over the opportunity for the standard male sexist pig joke about the similarity between marriage and death, and note that there are a number of ties between Yom Kippur and the wedding day. Both bride and groom fast all day and say the confessional prayers, just as on Yom Kippur. The wedding day is supposed to be a day on which the bride and groom's sins are atoned for (so they start their marriage with a clean slate), just as on Yom Kippur. After the rituals are over with everyone eats, just as on Yom Kippur.

When Jen arrives at the chuppah, she will walk around Seth seven times. The circles have a number of interpretations: According to some, it represents how the bride is like a planet, orbiting the "sun" - her husband and master. According to others, just as a person paces off his real property, the woman is marking off the man as hers. Guess which interpretation Jen prefers. While some brides carry their own train so no one else will follow them around the groom, Jen's matron of honor will carry the train. One who attempts completely to exclude community from her new household will end up tripping.

And if you're wondering why the bride's limping slightly, wonder no more! It's because she's got a silver sixpence in the old shoe she's wearing to the blue chuppah. What's borrowed and what's new is left as an exercise to the reader. This is an ancient custom of the Victorianer Chasidim, followers of the Grand-Rebbetzen Victoria z"tl, who said of her most faithful chassid, Sir Eugene of Golder's Green, "What makes this knight different from all other knights?"

VI. There is no Section Six!

VII. "A woman may be acquired in one of three ways...."
(Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1)

Now we get into the ceremony itself - finally! The marriage ceremony, while solemnizing the holy joining of man and woman into a new Jewish household, is also a business deal. As such, it must conform to three rules: (1) don't touch the merchandise before you buy it; (2) don't pay for the merchandise before you see it; (3) NEVER PAY RETAIL.

Jewish weddings have two parts, kiddushin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). These parts were historically separated by a time period up to a year long. However, since Jewish history, particularly in Europe, was never very peaceful, it became risky to have too long a time between betrothal and marriage, since the groom might end up dead in a pogrom or something in the meantime. So now the two parts are done consecutively in one day.

During kiddushin, the bride and groom drink from the same cup of wine - symbolizing that they will even share their germs - and the groom will give the bride an object having at least a known minimal value. The Talmudic minimum of the p'rutah (worth about 24 mg of Ag) eventually gave way to a standard in which the groom gives the bride a ring made of precious metal. The ring must be unadorned, as while anyone (?) can estimate the value of a simple ring by the weight of the metal in it (Jen reserves the right to do an elemental analysis first), the value added by craftsmanship requires expert appraisal. Since the bride must know the value of what she's being given, and is assumed not to be an expert jewelry appraiser, she gets a plain ring. The groom must be the owner, free and clear of the ring. Two witnesses will come up to verify that the ring is proper. Seth will then put the ring on Jen's finger and say "Harei at m'kudeshet li b'taba'at zo k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael" - "Behold, you are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Jen's failure to protest at this point signifies her consent to this arrangement.

At this point, the ketubah (wedding contract) is read aloud for all to hear what Seth's agreed to do. The ketubah, written in traditional Aramaic, is meant to protect the wife from neglect or over-hasty divorce by setting out the husband's economic responsibilities toward her. Her responsibilities are also mentioned. While this seems to be horridly legalistic, the legal protection of the woman as the weaker party in this agreement is actually rather forward-looking; some things are too important to overlook for the sake of "romance." For instance, listen carefully for the line about taking out the garbage.

After the ketubah is read, seven blessings are said by friends and family called up for the purpose. These bless G-d for the happiness and sacredness of the union of man and wife. In our wedding bentschers (the little booklets with all the Hebrew, which you'll find on the dinner tables), you can find translations of the blessings on pages 34 to 36.

After the final blessing, the couple drinks again. This marks the end of the legal part of the ceremony.

The groom now steps on a glass. This is supposed to remind guests of the significance of the celebration as having a sacredness in addition to the opportunity to party down. It is also supposed to remind all present that our lives are not completely happy while the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed.

VIII. Watch the couple run and hide!

After the ceremony, the bride and groom recess (which is a fancy term for "retreat") from the sanctuary, followed by the wedding party and guests. They will have some time alone - this is the first time their being alone unchaperoned is ok in Jewish law - and break their fasts and let the fact that they're now married settle in on them. There are guards posted at the door of the yichud ("together alone") room to ensure that the new couple is not disturbed, and to bear witness to the fact that they were closeted alone together. During this time guests should go down to the social hall and talk about how incredibly brief that all was and now they're married, and how I remember when Seth was just a little tot, but hasn't changed a bit...and so on.

IX. The moment you've all been waiting for: Dinner. Almost.

When the bride and groom have had an appropriate amount of time together, they will c'mon down to the social hall where the guests will do the rejoicing thing and will break into single-sex circles on one or the other side of the mechitza for boisterous traditional Jewish folk dancing and some nuttiness known as shtick. All of this is part of the mitzvah of entertaining the bride and groom. So get down and dance, and if you don't know how, don't worry, the bride has two left feet too.

Before dinner, the guests who want to wash netilat yadayim (the ritual washing of the hands before bread) will do so, and then they will remain silent until Seth makes the blessing over the bread. The guests who do not want to wash netilat yadayim will not be offended when they try to engage someone in conversation and only get gestures or grunts in reply. Seth will make motzei on behalf of everyone there keeping in mind the rolls on the tables. Don't wait for a piece from our loaf to come around.

X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's dessert.

Because Seth and Jen are health-conscious, they have arranged for more dancing between dinner and dessert, to burn off some of those calories.

After dessert, we have benching (grace after the meals). During benching, which is said over one cup of wine, the seven blessings said under the chuppah will be repeated over a second cup of wine by assorted friends asked to do the honors. At the end of all this, the two cups will be mixed, and bride, groom, and the person leading the benching will all drink.

Depending on how tired everyone is, there may then be more dancing, and/or people will start heading home.

Thank you very much for coming and celebrating the start of our marriage with us. We hope this guide has oriented you to what's going on. The main goal is to have fun and make this the joyous occasion it's supposed to be. Oh yeah, and for Seth & Jen to end up married. Right. We knew that.