I've been starting to think about programs, and I've always known that I want them to include an explanation of the Jewish wedding ceremony for our friends (most of whom aren't Jewish). I want all our guests to have a special experience - to witness something they haven't seen before - and understand what's going on. I started to write up this document, cutting and pasting from www.chabad.org and making my own comments. The first draft text is below. I think Jewish marriage ceremonies are full of meaning and I hope that you enjoy reading about them!
The Jewish marriage ceremony
According to Jewish belief a person’s wedding day is the holiest day of his or her life.
A traditional Jewish wedding is a tapestry woven from many threads: biblical, historical, mystical, cultural and legal. Threads carried from one generation to the next, forming a chain of Jewish continuity which goes back more than 3,800 years.
We are so grateful that you have come all this way to be a part of this special day with us and wanted to provide an explanation of the marriage ceremony, so that you can feel involved and understand its symbolism and significance of the events that will follow.
Before the ceremony begins
Since you arrived and enjoyed your first drinks, Marc and Vanessa have been in separate rooms, each with their closest family members. Traditionally the bride sits on a throne like chair and her close female friends and family come to bless her. At this time the bride is also concentrated in prayer and it is believed that brides have a special ability to bless others on their wedding day.
Badeken Ceremony (veiling of the bride)
Before the ceremony begins, Marc will go to the bridal reception room with his parents, and cover the Vanessa’s face with a veil. The veil affords the bride privacy and emphasises that the groom is not solely interested in his bride's external beauty, which fades with time, but rather in her enduring inner beauty.
When the groom veils his bride, he is saying, "I will love, cherish and respect not only the 'you' which is revealed to me, but also those elements of your personality that are hidden from me. As I am bonding with you in marriage, I am committed to creating a space within me for the totality of your being -- for all of you, all of the time."
The Jewish marriage ceremony takes place beneath an unenclosed canopy (a chuppah), open on all sides. This a demonstration of the couple's commitment to establish a home which will always be open to guests, as was the tent of Abraham and Sarah. Furthermore, a chuppah held under the open heavens symbolizes the couple's resolve to build a household which will be dominated by "heavenly" and spiritual ideals, rather than the pursuit of corporeal accomplishments and physical wealth.
Marc will wait for Vanessa under the chuppah, symbolically inviting her to his domain.
When she reaches the chuppah, Vanessa will circle Marc seven times. This recalls the seven times Joshua and the Israelites circled the walls of Jericho to bring them shattering down. Similarly, this circling is believed to break down any remaining walls or barriers between the bride and groom. With these circles the bride is creating an invisible wall around her husband into which she will step to the exclusion of all others.
Once the bride and groom are standing side-by-side under the chuppah, the cantor welcomes them on behalf of all gathered by singing several Hebrew greeting hymns, which also includes a request for G‑d's blessings for the new couple.
After all this preliminary activity, we are ready to begin the actual marriage ceremony.
According to Torah law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called kiddushin, loosely translated as "betrothal," and the second step is known as nisu'in, the finalisation of the nuptials. Both kiddushin and nisu'in are accomplished successively beneath the chupah: the kiddushin is effected when the groom gives the bride the wedding band, and the nisu'in through "chupah" -- the husband uniting with the wife under one roof for the sake of marriage
The mitzvah of marriage is performed over a cup of wine. After the bride and groom sip from the wine, the groom places the wedding band on the bride's right index finger. While putting the ring on her finger, the groom says in Hebrew and the vernacular: "With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel."
After the groom places the ring on the bride's finger, the ketubah is read aloud. The ketubah is a binding document which details the husband's obligations to his wife, showing that marriage is more than a physical-spiritual union; it is a legal and moral commitment. The ketubah states the principal obligations of the groom to provide his wife with food, clothing and affection along with other contractual obligations.
Reading the ketubah serves as a separation between the two phases of marriage -- kiddushin and nisu'in. After the ketubah is read, it is handed to the groom who gives it to the bride.
We now proceed with the final stage of the marriage ceremony, the nisu'in, which is effected by the Chuppah and the recitation of Sheva Brachot -- the "Seven Benedictions." The first blessing is the blessing on wine, and the remaining six are marriage-themed blessings, which include special blessings for the newlywed couple. The bride and groom once again sip from the wine in the cup.
It is customary to honour friends and relatives with the recitation of these blessings. In our ceremony [insert names] will say our blessings.
Breaking the glass
A cup is then wrapped well, and placed beneath the right foot of the groom. The groom stomps and shatters the glass; customarily to the crowd's jubilant shouts of "Mazal Tov!” (we’re counting on you!).
The custom of breaking a glass was incorporated into the ceremony following the dictum: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [its dexterity]. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I will not remember you; if I will not bring Jerusalem to mind during my greatest joy." This reminds everyone that even at the height of our personal joy, we must, nevertheless, remember Jerusalem, and mourn the destruction of the Temple.
Immediately after the chupah, the bride and groom adjourn to the "yichud” (seclusion) room, where they spend a few minutes alone.
After the public ceremony, it is time for the bride and groom to share some private moments. Even while surrounded by a crowd, they must take a break to be there for each other. This is an important lesson for marriage -- the couple should never allow the hustle and bustle of life to completely engulf them; they must always find private time for each other.
Participating in the wedding feast and rejoicing with the bride and groom, to cheer them and gladden their hearts on this special day, is a great mitzvah. We are so glad that you are here to celebrate with us!