Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Israeli Weddings

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 2 February 2000

In the last 10+ years, I have attended more than a dozen weddings here. But it has been awhile since I went to a wedding, and things continue to change here, with more and more American and European influences affecting all aspects of Israeli culture. So while what I write was at one time true (in my experience, anyway!), things may be different by now. Here are a few characteristics of Israeli weddings I have attended.

Of the more than twelve weddings I have been to, only one was held in a synagogue. A few (including my own) were held in a hotel. The great majority take place at banquet halls. The wedding invitations are usually produced by the banquet facility, and come in a business sized envelope, complete with the logo of the establishment as the return address, and a map to the place imprinted on the back of the envelope.

Many people hand deliver invitations to close friends and relatives, and mail the rest. I will always remember making the rounds with my then fiance, visiting relatives he hadn't seen for ages, sitting through stilted conversations, eating and drinking refreshments I didn't want so I wouldn't seem rude to my soon-to-be relatives. In large families, the duty of distributing invitations is divided up between the couple and their parents. And by the way, no one is expected to RSVP (and usually, no one does).

In an interesting switch on the American system, the groom often wears a suit that is purchased especially for the occasion, and likely never worn again (even in corporate offices, many people still don't wear business suits to work). The bride, however, usually rents her wedding gown.

Most weddings are held during the week. Tuesday is considered a lucky day to get married, because in the Creation story in the book of Genesis, on the third day of Creation (which works out to Tuesday here) it is written twice that God saw that what He had made was good, instead of only once as on the other days (Genesis 1:9-13).*

Another common practice here is to have a professionally filmed video made before and during the wedding and reception. Many couples don their wedding finery and visit a few special sites in the city. I was married in Jerusalem, so my husband and I went to the Western Wall, to a neighborhood overlooking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and to the grounds of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) building. Many people also go to local parks.

Once at the wedding site, the families of the couple form a receiving line and await the arrival of the guests (some of whom show up wearing casual clothes, even blue jeans!) Most people bring an envelope containing check for the couple instead of a purchased gift. These envelopes go into a locked box provided by the banquet hall. The bride and groom make a grand entrance together, usually to some kind of fanfare music, after most of the guests have already arrived.

From there, the bride usually goes to sit in a special throne-like chair on a raised dias. The guests then go to greet her and wish her well. Meanwhile, the groom and his male family members, and friends - two of whom serve as witnesses - sit with the rabbi to sign the ketubah (marriage contract).

When everyone is ready for the ceremony to begin, the groom goes to the bride and places the veil over her face. This is to ensure that he does not suffer the fate of the biblical Jacob, who worked for seven years to marry one bride (Rachel) but was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah, instead (Genesis 29:20-25).*

Once the wedding is set to begin, the guests usually ignore the chairs provided and crowd around the chuppah (wedding canopy) to get the best possible view. This is one practice that I know is gradually changing.

There are many other Israeli wedding customs, particularly Ultra Orthodox ones, that I didn't cover here; mainly because I am less familiar with them. Still, as with weddings anywhere in the world, Israeli weddings are a time of great joy and celebration.

* The Jerusalem Bible, Koren Publishers, 1989.

(c) Amy Samin

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