Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch
Bride of Christ/Song of Solomon
World Revival School of Ministry
2. Before The Wedding
2.1. New Testament Parallels
3. The Wedding Ceremony
3.1. New Testament Parallels
4. After The Wedding
A Jewish wedding follows biblical patterns as well as traditions that have developed over the centuries. We have many examples of weddings in the Tanakh, the most famous ones being Isaac & Rebekah (with a wonderful description of the pre-wedding customs) and Jacob & Rachel/Leah (whose wedding led to a number of customs, e.g. looking under the veil to assure having the right bride). Studying Jewish wedding customs does not only give us a better understanding of biblical accounts of weddings and marriages, but it opens our understanding for a much deeper perspective: The ultimate Bridegroom who will have the most beautiful bride, to reign with her for all eternity. Jewish wedding customs are full of parallels to our eternal Bridegroom Jesus, giving us a glimpse of the heavenly joy and anticipation as His bride is making herself ready for her Bridegroom.
2. Before the Wedding
As is still the custom in many cultures today, the bridegroom’s father usually chose a bride for his son, who would then give his consent. In Genesis 24 we see Abraham sending away his most trusted servant to find a bride for his son – a custom which was very common. Such a matchmaker was called a shadhan, which later became a ‘profession’ in itself.
Once a bride was chosen, a bride price – Hebrew mohar – had to be agreed upon, which was called shidukhin, the ceremony being called tena’im, meaning “conditions”. It was a “mutual agreement between two sets of parents for the date and financial conditions of the forthcoming marriage of their children” (Lamm 1980:176). The bridegroom’s family would pay the bride’s father to compensate for the loss of a worker, as well as to show the bridegroom’s love and appreciation. It also ensured the genuineness of the coming marriage and the material welfare of the young couple. Traditionally, this ceremony includes “the breaking of a plate, which … reminds those present that Jews still mourn the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem” (Routtenberg 1967:5). The two mothers would wrap a plate in a cloth and break it together over a table corner or chair.
Breaking these agreements was considered a violation of the law as well as a moral transgression, which affected the whole community and was punished. For that reason, this ceremony was frequently moved as closely to the wedding as possible, and today it is frequently left out altogether.
This first part of the wedding was with the engagement or erusin, also called kidushin, which “literally means sanctification or holiness with the idea of being set apart” (Lash 1997:9). Up to twelve months before the wedding the bride and bridegroom would enter into a covenant, which was always binding and could not be broken easily. “They were legally married in all aspects except for the physical consummation of the marriage” (ibidem).
The marriage contract presented to the bride’s father was called ketubah and is still part of Jewish weddings today, being read publicly. “In it the bridegroom promised to work for, honor, support and maintain his bride in truth, provider her food, clothing and necessities, and live together her as husband and wife” (ibidem).
After the ketubah was accepted, the bride and bridegroom would share a cup of wine together, after its traditional blessing called Birkat Erusin, to seal their marriage covenant.
“Wine in Judaism has always symbolized joy. Marriage in Jewish thought is the highest source of joy on earth. Wine also symbolized blood. The marriage covenant is a blood covenant in the eyes of God. Two lives become one in a lifelong commitment”
As a sign of their commitment, the bridegroom would give a coin to his bride, which later became a ring, which the bridegroom would place on the bride’s index finger, reciting a traditional Jewish espousal formula: Be thou consecrated unto me according to the law of Moses and Israel by means of this ring (Lash 1997:16). The coin or ring would continually remind the bride of her bridegroom, as bride and bridegroom would separate until the wedding day.
In ancient Israel the bridegroom left to go to his father’s house to prepare a wedding chamber for his bride. That period of time could last up to 12 months, during which the bride would prepare herself to leave her single life with her parents and join her husband’s household as his wife. She was set apart, consecrated – the Hebrew word for bride kallah meaning the secluded, enclosed one. Song of Songs speaks of the bride’s state: You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain (4:12). As months passed, the bride’s patience and faithfulness was certainly tested as she awaited her bridegroom’s return.
Over time this period of time that lasted for months was reduced considerably to a week or less. It was also meant as a safe-guard for the couple’s purity. The bride actually went through a mikvah prior to their wedding, a “ritual immersion in water as part of [her] physical and spiritual preparation for the wedding ceremony” (Lash 1997:18). The bride was required to begin the practice of family purity within four days before the wedding. Dr. Norman Lamm offers the following insight:
“By thus preparing for their wedding and afterwards for their monthly marital reunion – separating from eath other and then, before joining each other, the wife immersing in the mikvah, and reciting thereupon the blessing thanking the Almighty for sanctifying us through this instituation – husband and wife acknowledge, in the most profound symbolic manner, that their relationship is sanctified and blessed, that it is pure and not vulgar, sacred and not salacious.” (Lamm 1980:191)
While only the bride went through the mikvah, it was customary in some Jewish traditions that the bridegroom would also be immersed in the mikvah, to be purified and cleansed.
One tradition that has lasted to this day is that one week before the wedding, the bridegroom was “called to recite the blessing over the Torah at the Sabbath service” (Lamm 1980:189), thereby publicly announcing his wedding and giving the community (those not invited) the opportunity to celebrate with the couple by attending the Sabbath refreshments after the service. “During the service, the cantor inserted special prayers into the regular service in honor of the couple, and a special reading was recited (Isaiah 61)” (ibidem).
2.1. New Testament Parallels
The Father sends out the Holy Spirit to find a bride for His Son Jesus. As in Matthew 22, Holy Spirit is going into the streets asking people to come to the wedding of the Lamb. Everyone is given a choice to either love Him or reject Him, as the Jewish bride has the option to not agree to the chosen bridegroom. Today some resist, others exchange their veil of blindness with the bridal veil. As a bride price had to be paid in ancient Israel, so our heavenly Bridegroom has paid the ultimate price to purchase us for Him. For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross (Heb 12:2). This joy was His bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish (Eph 5:27). At Jesus’s last Passover, He mentioned the bride price: And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:19-20). We now no longer belong to ourselves, but to our Bridegroom who exclaimed on the cross: It is finished (Jh 19:30) – a verb (ka’lal) from the same Hebrew root as the word bride (kallah).
What the ketubah is for a Jewish couple, the Bible – “a love letter to the bride” (Lash 1997:10) – is for us. In Matthew 6 our heavenly Bridegroom promises to clothe us, feed us and provide for us – we are now in covenant with Him; a covenant He will never break. Jeremiah foresaw this time, when he said:
"The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant …"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
(Jer 33:31, 32-34).
Today, we can know Him – a Hebrew word that describes deepest intimacy with our heavenly Bridegroom.
As bride and bridegroom drink wine to seal their marriage agreement, so Jesus drank from the cup at His last Passover, telling them that Jeremiah’s new marriage covenant would be sealed with His blood. As all the disciples drank from the same cup, they all became one, part of His Bride.
The bridegroom gave his bride a coin or ring; our heavenly Bridegroom gives us the greatest gift: the Holy Spirit to live in us, always reminding us of our beautiful Bridegroom. And with Him, His gifts are abundantly poured out in our lives.
As the bride prepared for her bridegroom’s return, His Bride today is making herself ready for her Bridegroom’s return. We also have to go through the mikvah, cleansing ourselves and making us beautiful for the wedding day, as Esther did, while He is preparing a wedding chamber for His Bride (John 14:2-3).
3. The Wedding Ceremony
In ancient Israel a bride did not know when her bridegroom would return for her, nor did the bridegroom know when the father would tell him to get his bride. According to the custom, the bridegroom returned late at night, just before midnight.
“Shofars would break the silence of night. There would be shouts in the streets, and a torch-light procession which would wind its way through the town to the home of the bride. This gave her a few extra moments to make final preparations” (Lash 1997:25).
Then the bride would trim her lamp and get ready to go meet her bridegroom. She entered a bridal litter or palanquin called aperion, which is described in Song of Songs 3:9-10: King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior lovingly inlaid by the daughters of Jerusalem. Accompanied by musicians, friends and family carrying torches, the procession would joyously take her to her bridegroom’s home, the whole town hearing the celebrations going on. The most important officials of the community would often come to greet the bride, which was later omitted because of concerns of mixing sexes, and today it is even reversed by the bridegroom being accompanied to his bride.
The bride was veiled, and – resulting from Jacob and Rachel’s story – the bridegroom, who would be waiting for his bride to welcome her, would make sure he had the right bride by looking into the palanquin and under the veil. Today, the bride does not approach her husband veiled, but a veiling ceremony takes place. The bride is flanked by both mothers, as the bridegroom, the rabbi, the fathers and all visitors approach the bride. The bridegroom places the veil over the bride and recites the blessing Rebekah was given in Genesis 24:60: Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands. Then the rabbi and the parents pray for them, sometimes the bride’s father placing his hands on her head and blessing her.
The second part of the wedding ceremony would start, which is called huppah. The name for the bridal chamber is the same and can be found in Joel 2:16: Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber (huppah), and Psalm 19:5: which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion (huppah).
When the bride arrived, the guests would be greeted and the couple then led to the bridal chamber (huppah), where they would be alone for seven days, which was called the “week of the bride” (Lash 1997:27). The best man kept standing outside the wedding chamber, waiting for the bridegroom’s voice to tell him that the marriage was consummated. The consummation of the marriage completed the second part of the wedding.
Over time the huppah became the bridal canopy covering the couple, instead of an actual bridal chamber:
“This canopy was usually a square cloth of silk or velvet, supported by four poles, and held up by four men. It symbolized the new home to which the bridegroom would take his bride. As a symbolic house, open on four sides, the huppah represented the Jewish home filled with hesed (acts of love) including hospitality to strangers, hence its ‘openness’.” (ibidem).
Today, as the bride arrives under the huppah, she walks three times around the bridegroom, the meaning of which is not very clear. One rabbinic scholar says that the man was considered a half person before and was now “completed and encircled by his wife” (Lamm 1980:214), but the more plausible explanation is that the bride makes “invisible walls” (since it used to be a room), showing a “public declaration of togetherness, and a separation from the rest of society at this most awesome and decisive moment” (ibidem).
The bride would stand to the right of her bridegroom, with all the guest standing around them. As in their engagement celebration, they are drinking from another cup of wine. But first it is blessed by the rabbi, and then six more blessings follow, which are recited by the rabbi and are called Birkot Nisuin. As they drink from the wine, the bride’s veil is lifted and not lowered again, as a sign that the bride now fully is a wife.
At the end of the huppah, the bridegroom breaks a glass wrapped in a napkin – “the betrothal was over, the marriage had begun and the two lives would never be the same” (Lash 1997:29). From the ancient custom of the bridal chamber the tradition called yihud developed for the young couple to spend the first few minutes alone. They hold hands as they enter the room, where food is prepared for them and where they stay for about ten minutes. Outside the room, two witnesses are waiting. It is when bridegroom and bride emerge from that room that they are husband and wife.
3.1. New Testament Parallels
Like in the parable of the then virgins (Mt 25), we are today waiting for our bridegroom’s return – the time of which only the Father knows (Mk 13:32). We are to stay awake so we can hear his coming just before midnight, as His best man loudly proclaims His arrival. His best man, or the friend of the bridegroom, is the one proclaiming the consummation of the marriage. John the Baptist, Jesus’s best man, proclaimed about Him: The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (John 3:29).
As the bride is taken to the bridal chamber, so Jesus will lift His Bride off the earth to be taken to our heavenly wedding chamber, to become one with Him and become like Him (see 1.John 3:2). Richard Booker suggests that the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 represents a heavenly huppah to descend on His Bride.
4. After The Wedding
In ancient Israel, the new couple would join their guests for a marriage feast after the seven days in the bridal chamber. The purpose of the meal was and is to bring joy to the young couple. Music and dancing are both an integral part of the celebration. For a long time it was customary to “invite the poor to the wedding, in order to bring happiness into their often drab lives” (Lamm 1980:232), but this custom has become impractical today.
The first week after their wedding, the married couple repeats the seven nuptial blessings daily, as a reminder of that precious moment under the huppah, which requires a minyan to be present every time. During that week they have to stay together and continue to celebrate, which is traced back to Moses.
“On the Sabbath after the wedding, in a custom celebrated mostly by the ancient Sephardic community, a reading from a second Torah was specially arranged for bride and groom. This was the Genesis narrative of Eliezer and Rebekah, which, according to Rabbi Bachya, emphasizes that one should marry for right values and not for money, prestige, or beauty alone” (Lamm 1980:189f).
It is interesting that the Bible gives the young couple a full year to adjust to their new life: If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married (emphasis mine) (Deuteronomy 24:5).
A Jewish wedding is full of beautiful biblical customs and pictures for God’s greater purpose in marriage. All of history is based on one thing: the Father choosing and preparing a beautiful, worthy Bride for His Son, sending His servant, the Holy Spirit, to prepare her and speak to her continuously about His beauty, love and awesomeness. Today we are have entered the marriage covenant and we are eagerly awaiting our Bridegroom’s return to consummate the marriage for all eternity. The book of Revelation ends with the Bride’s heart cry for her Bridegroom to return: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" (Rev 22:17). And as she longs for His return, so He also longs for the day He will come back to finally become one with His Bride, who He’s paid the highest possible bride price for in His great love: Yes, I am coming soon (Rev 22:20).
Lamm, Maurice, The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage, Harper & Row: New York, NY 1980
Lash, Jamie, The Ancient Jewish Wedding, Jewish Jewels: Ft. Lauderdale, FL 1997
Routtenberg, Lilly S. & Ruth R. Seldin, The Jewish Wedding Book, Harper & Row: New York, NY 1967