Today's Jewish weddings are rich in ancient ritual

Jewish weddings vary widely in setting, structure, and style, but share richly symbolic traditions wherever they occur. For professional wedding planners and interfaith couples getting married, it's important to understand the rituals that are essential, the elements that are optional, and music that's appropriate when planning or participating in a Jewish wedding. At most Jewish weddings, it's up to the couple whether or not to exchange wedding vows, but signing a ketubah is always required. Jewish weddings may occur indoors or outdoors, in the temple or on the beach, but they're always held under a chuppah, the traditional wedding canopy symbolizing divine protection, openness to the world, and the covenant being made between the couple and their community. A Jewish wedding ceremony can be spoken by the rabbi or sung by the cantor, a trained singer who serves as the temple's music director and may also be authorized to officiate at weddings. Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism vary widely in their interpretation of Jewish wedding law, their adherence to Hebrew text, and their views on interfaith marriage. But performing religious music from non-Jewish traditions is inadvisable for all Jewish weddings, and anxiety about the loss of Jewish identity implicit in regulations about intermarriage can be found in almost every branch of Judaism. Wedding planners and couples who are unfamiliar with Jewish wedding traditions will be both fascinated and enlightened by this summary of their origins and meaning. Jewish weddings are rich in ancient ritual, and elements of the traditional Christian wedding ceremony, like components of Christian worship, have ancient Jewish roots.

Photo courtesy Kiet Do

Consult the Cantor before Selecting Non-Jewish Music for a Jewish Wedding

Ancient Jewish music influenced early Christian worship, and modern Jewish wedding music still has much in common with church wedding styles. Like Christian churches, Reform and Conservative Jewish temples feature choirs and organs, and organ music that is acceptable for a Jewish wedding is also appropriate for a Christian wedding ceremony. The use of additional musical instruments and non-religious classical music during the wedding ceremony is a common feature of both Christian and Jewish weddings as well. But blatantly Christian music should never be performed at a Jewish wedding, and classical music by anti-Semitic composers, especially Richard Wagner, should always be avoided. When in doubt about selecting music for a Jewish wedding, consult the cantor. Like the organist who provides the music for a church wedding ceremony, the cantor who sings and sometimes officiates at a Jewish wedding is the first person the wedding planner or couple getting married should consult about music for their Jewish wedding ceremony.

Course Video Tutorial: 'A Celebrated Cantor Teaches Jewish Weddings and Music' (21:00)

Roslyn Barak, the celebrated cantor of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, is an articulate authority on Jewish music, Jewish wedding vows and rituals, and the meaning of Jewish wedding traditions. Only the sixth cantor in the 160-year history of the West Coast's preeminent Reform Jewish temple, she trained as an opera singer and holds advanced degrees in cantorial music and counseling. In her role as the temple's music director, she commissions, performs, and records Jewish music from around the world; produces Emanu-El's eclectic concert series; and sings and officiates for Jewish weddings involving congregation members, interfaith partners, and couples having their destination wedding in San Francisco. In this course video tutorial, the cantor teaches Members the various components of the Jewish wedding process, including Jewish wedding ceremony traditions, rituals, and symbolism. She also outlines options and considerations for appropriate Jewish wedding ceremony music, as well as methods of administering interfaith marriage celebrations. She concludes the tutorial by performing inspiring examples of music sung at a traditional Jewish wedding.

Roslyn Barak, Celebrated Cantor

Learn 12 essential elements of Jewish weddings, Jewish music, and Jewish symbolism:

  • The complementary roles of the rabbi and the cantor
  • The ancient roots of worldwide Jewish wedding tradition
  • Differences in Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish wedding practices
  • What it means to keep kosher in planning a wedding
  • Why consulting the cantor before the wedding is a must
  • Non-Jewish music that should never be performed at a Jewish wedding
  • The history and meaning of the chuppah and the ketubah
  • The symbolism of the Kiddush cup, the golden ring, and the broken glass
  • Optional rituals including the bedeken and the hakafot
  • Typical sequence and duration of events in a Jewish wedding
  • How to involve family, friends, and guests from outside the faith
  • What's wrong with lighting a unity candle at a Jewish wedding?

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