As is the case in all cultures, Jewish weddings are always a cause for celebration. That being said, there are certainly customs which one should know pre-Jewish Israeli wedding, that will help you fit in with the crowd. Here are our top tips.
Crowd, and we do mean, CROWD
Jewish weddings in Israel are often rather large occasions. Unlike American or more-European weddings, the Jewish Israeli motto for traditional weddings, seems to be “the more, the merrier.” People from all facets of the bride/groom’s life will be in attendance. This means; childhood friends, friends from their army units, friends from their travels around South America/India/the Philippines (e.g. the people Israelis meet during their typical post-army tiyul (trip)), university friends, work associates, and all family and friends.
Dressing for the occasion
Weddings in Israel are typically outdoors (weather permitting of course). With warm weather and sunshine nearly 9 months out of the year, chaval (pity) not to take advantage. There are gorgeous venues throughout the country, from coastline Mediterranean views to vineyards, Israel has it all. Guests to weddings should be mindful of two very important things 1) that even at evening occasions, weddings tend to be more casual – usually only the groom is wearing a suit, and 2) be cognizant of the outdoor weddings (and the heat) and dress for the occasion.
So where are you registered?
One thing that will stand out to most first-timers at Jewish-Israeli weddings is the lack of a gift registery for the betrothed couple. Gifts for the couple consist of cheques from the guests in attendance – you will often see a box or barrel with a slot as you enter the wedding venue, and this is where you can drop your well wishes complete with cash. The better you know the couple, the more money you should be spending.
Making it legal
Jewish Israelis have an interesting dilemma when it comes to deciding whom to have officiating their ceremony, and whether the wedding will be kosher (genuine and legitimate according to Jewish law). Basically, the only truly kosher wedding in Israel is between two Jewish partners, and performed by an approved Rabbi of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. Without the Orthodox Rabbi, the marriage is technically not legal and not recognized by the State. What does this mean? Very often, it means that secular couples are getting hitched with Orthodox Rabbis and kosher ceremonies, even if they themselves are not particularly observant.
What else makes it legal? The signing of the Ketubah, is the Jewish document outlining the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. The ketubah holds traditional significance in so far as it dictates the obligations (as outlined in the Halakha – Jewish law), that the Jewish husband will fulfill for his bride. The ketubah is signed by two witnesses and traditionally read out loud under the chuppah. The ketubah in modern times are typically ornate and can be displayed as artwork for the couple, commemorating their bond and responsibility to one another.
Orthodox weddings stand apart from secular weddings in Israel. The observant couple will dress more modestly (women will have long sleeved gowns with less revealing styles), and the attendees to the wedding should also be prepared to dress more conservatively. The ceremony will also have separate seating for men and women, and there are different sections of the traditional pre-wedding practices in which only the men will be needed to participate. Often once the ceremony is over, very Orthodox weddings will have men and women separated by a mechitza (partition), creating two separate dance floors. Modesty is the best policy at traditional Orthodox Jewish weddings.
Traditional Sephardic Jewish Customs
Sephardi Jews are from the areas along the Mediterranean Sea, including Portugal, Spain, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Among the traditions these Jews brought with them as they immigrated to Israel was the tradition of the hina (henna). The henna ceremony typically happens a few days prior to the wedding itself, and is a grand celebration of luck for the couple. The tradition involves painting a reddish-brown dye on the hands of the bride with the drawings ranging from a single large dot to very intricate and detailed drawings, to symbolize health, wealth, and fertility. The festivities typically feature the families dressed in traditional caftans and traditional foods are served.
The order of things
The typical order of a Jewish wedding ceremony in Israel is: Apéritfs, Chuppah (canopy under which the couple is married), Dinner, Dancing, but prepare for the order to be mixed up. Make sure to double check the invitation to see what time the chuppah starts and plan your pre-wedding meal accordingly, you do not want to be too hungry! Keep in mind that Israelis tend to run behind schedule, so if the invitation says 8.00pm, the chuppah may not actually start until 8.30pm or later.
The Chuppah, or bridal canopy is used at Jewish weddings to symbolize a roof under which the bride and groom will be covered during the ceremony. It consists of a sheet or cloth which is stretched across and attached to four poles, one at each corner of the sheet.
The Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, are the heart and soul of the traditional wedding ceremony. Themes of love and joy are expressed and the blessings, numbered from one to seven, begin with a blessing over the wine (kiddush), and increase in their imagery and metaphorical value as they ascend in order. The final blessing culminates with imagery of the couple being celebrated by their community, reminding all in attendance of the couple’s part in the chain of the Jewish community.
L’Chaim! (To Life!)
Why does the couple smash a glass while under the chuppah? Following the Sheva Brachot the final stage of the marriage ceremony, nisu’in (nuptials), is the customary smashing of the glass. A cup is wrapped in a cloth napkin and (traditionally) placed beneath the foot of the groom. The groom then stomps down and shatters the glass. What is the symbolic value of this tradition? The shattering of the glass reminds the couple and those in attendance that even at the height of personal joy, we must remember the destruction of Jerusalem. As the glass is broken, the wedding attendees shout: “Mazel tov!” (Congratulations and good luck!).
Getting there and back
Many couples will arrange hasaot (transportation) between major cities in Israel (Tel Aviv or Jerusalem), where many of their guests may be traveling from, to the wedding venue itself. Tip for first timers – young couples in Israel often have weddings that run late into the early hours (2:00 or 3:00am), with the hasa’a typically leaving to return back to the city of origin at the close of the wedding celebrations. So, if you’re hoping to party a little and then get home to get a good night’s sleep, make sure to arrange an alternative ride back.
Commemorating the occasion
One of the highlights for most Israelis attending weddings, (beyond the joyous celebration itself), is getting magnets with friends to commemorate the evening. Typically, there is a photographer at the wedding specifically tasked with taking photos that will immediately be printed on-site for guests to take home with them. Make sure to grab your friends and take advantage of the photo op – you will be hard pressed to find an Israeli home without a myriad of wedding magnets decorating their fridge.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.