Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Everything Jewish

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These customs have stuck around for thousands of years, but obviously, times change — and sometimes brides may borrow something old and something new to fit their wedding taste.

When you go to a Jewish wedding, you can expect a few standard customs: breaking a glass, signing a ketubah, watching the future spouses drink some wine, a family member saying or doing something extremely embarrassing — just to name a few.
Have you ever wondered how that changes when you go to, say, India? Or how those traditions have changed over time?
Since the days when the OG couples of our biblical past started getting hitched, Jews have adopted certain customs. Veils, for instance, have a history that goes way back when — thanks to Leah, the original “catfish” in that whole Jacob and Rachel situation.
These customs have stuck around for thousands of years, but obviously, times change — and sometimes brides may borrow something old and something new to fit their wedding taste.
The Modern Wedding
Many wedding traditions have been slightly modified to fit the times of the more modern bride.
Marlena Thompson wrote in an article about how wedding traditions have changed on the Jewish Federations of North America website that veils are now no longer a requirement.
“Some modern women reject it because of its similarity to the purdah — the requisite face covering worn by married Middle Eastern women — an emblem of modesty to some and of oppression to others,” she wrote.
A few modifications of these older traditions might not be as newly popular as you think. Wedding rings, for instance, now are pretty much a universal staple at wedding ceremonies, but this tradition has truly ancient roots.
Jewish marriage requires kinyan, Thompson continued in her findings, which she defined as an act requiring “that the bride be given — and that she accept — something of nominal value from the groom.”
In ancient times, an act of kinyan was symbolized by a coin given to the bride. While that custom still has roots in present-day Sephardic traditions, nowadays a ring is much more immediately recognized in fulfilling that requirement. Plus, if a groom hands you a coin when you say “I do,” it might look a little weird.
The notion of a bride and groom each exchanging a ring is more modern concept, Thompson noted, and has faced its share of scrutiny.
“The double ring ceremony popular today is a relatively recent custom, and one that raises some objections among traditional Jews,” she explained. “Some think that an exchange of rings invalidates kinyan” — the formal acquisition of a thing of value by the bride. “However, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis find no legal objection to the double-ring ceremony.”
Inscriptions on the inside of the wedding bands is also a more recent concept. She cited the growing trend to inscribe Hebrew phrases, including the popular gender-neutral phrase “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li (I Belong to My Beloved and My Beloved Belongs to Me).”
Sign Me Up
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to customary Jewish marriage traditions is the signing of the ketubah — more specifically, the terms laid out in the document.
“Spelling out a husband’s obligations to his wife, the ketubah was a radical document in its day because it provided women with legal status and rights in marriage,” Thompson wrote. “Up until recently, the text for ketubot has remained virtually unchanged. But many couples that consider the traditional ketubah to be out of touch with contemporary views on relationships are creating new ones.”
The writing itself has even become more inclusive and egalitarian.
“Many ketubot now include parallel declarations of commitment made by both bride and groom with a joint declaration of faith in God and a connection to the Jewish people,” Thompson wrote.
Further, whereas the ketubah was written in Aramaic in the past, many couples now choose “English text that describes the home they want to build together or the nature of the love they share,” according to an article by Valerie S. Thaler on MyJewishLearning.com observing the changes in today’s Jewish wedding ceremonies.
“Still other couples do away with the Aramaic entirely,” Thaler wrote. “These couples may compose their own ketubot in English and Hebrew in accordance with the values they want to govern their marriage.”
But the most interesting shift with the signing of the ketubah is how popular it has become among those who aren’t even Jewish.
With interfaith marriages becoming more common — a 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that “that almost four in 10 Americans (39 percent) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group” — people are seeing the ketubah as a means of consecrating their marriage, even if they aren’t Jewish.
An article in The New York Times stated that “such sentiments have been reshaping the market for ketubot in the past decade.”
The author of the article, Samuel G. Freedman, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, shared how Michael Shapiro, who sells artistic ketubot through his website ketubah.com, had seen “the non-Jewish share of his customers rise from zero to about 10 percent.”
As a result, Shapiro started ArtVows.com, a new site focused on selling ketubot for non-Jewish customers.
Ketubot have also become more of an artistic statement than just a signed document that gets stashed away for safekeeping. Many businesses like Shapiro’s offer decorative ketubot that people can frame and display in their homes after their wedding — even the National Museum of American Jewish History offers more than 500 ketubah choices through their online store.
Global Traditions
Jewish weddings often carry over the same customs and traditions, but in many countries, Jews sprinkle in elements of their culture as well.
In India, for example, a henna tattoo carries cultural significance that marries itself (sorry) into a Jewish wedding ceremony.
The biggest Indian element at a Jewish wedding is the mehndi ceremony, in which the bride’s hands are adorned with designs in henna, according to an article about one Indian Jewish couple’s wedding in the Times of Israel.
The article also lists local wedding rituals, including “wearing a garland strung from jasmine flowers and smearing a yellow paste of turmeric on both the bride and the groom’s faces.”
The turmeric smearing is said to bless the couple with fortune and prosperity, according to a source in the article.
Ring exchanges are not focused on as heavily in Indian-Jewish weddings as they are in Western culture. The article explained that “instead, they’ve adopted the Indian practice of tying the mangalsutra — a gold and black bead necklace which symbolically keeps the couple safe from harm.”
Indian Jewish weddings also abide by laws of kashrut — with their own twist.
The article focused on one couple’s wedding, whose culinary fare included fiery mutton curries and the popular chicken biryani, a “rice dish with pan-Indian appeal.” The article mentions that all meals were cooked with kosher meat but with their own cultural zest.
“With its strong spices and condiments, the biryani is made in over 30 different ways in various parts of the country. Indian Jews, not to be outdone, have their own recipe,” said the bride in the story.
Other wedding traditions in other countries also have a lot to do with food — but then again, as Jews, food is important.
According to WeddingTraditions.com, Japanese Jewish couples and western Russian Jewish brides and grooms have their own sets of customs.
“Immediately after the religious ceremony,” the article stated, “the newly wedded Japanese Jewish couple jumps three times over a large platter filled with fresh fish, or over a vessel containing live fish, or step seven times backwards and forwards over a fish. The ceremony is expounded to be the symbol of prayer for children.”
In other parts of the world, prayers for fertility are taken to eggs-traordinary lengths.
A tradition in Jewish wedding culture in western Russia was to “set a raw egg in front of the bride as a symbol of fruitfulness, and that she may bear as easily as a hen lays an egg.”
In his book Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, George P. Monger wrote: “Another Jewish wedding tradition is to throw a raw egg toward a bride to express the wish that she may have an easy and joyful childbirth.”
(No, thanks.)
Something Blue
As they saying goes, there are four components that constitute good luck for brides: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
Brides in ancient Israel used to wear a blue ribbon to denote modesty, fidelity and love.
Nowadays, brides can find much more subtle ways to incorporate the color into their otherwise all-white getup. From nail polish, to garters, to even the bouquet, websites offer immeasurable advice for modern brides to incorporate this ancient tradition.
But no matter where in the world the wedding takes place, modifying ancient traditions to keep up with modern trends will continue to marry the old and the new for Jewish couples.
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