by Rivka C. Berman
• The Veil
• Groom's Special Attire
• Ashes in Commemoration
If you think wedding gowns and accessories go overboard, read the list of adornments listed in Isiah 3:18-24. Brides were beautified with anklets, tiaras, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, scarves, bonnets, armbands, belts, perfume boxes, amulets, rings, nose ornaments, cloaks, mantles, gowns, handbags, gauze, fine linen, hoods and veils.
Wedding wear has changed throughout the years. Current practice has the bride wearing white. One reason may be to recall purity, not in the virginal sense, but because in marriage life begins anew and a bride and groom are pure of misdeeds. (Grooms according to some traditions wear a white
kittel coat for this and other reasons.) This purity is achieved through personal atonement.
Many traditional wedding day customs resemble Yom Kippur observances, such as wearing white. The couple also fast and recite the
Vidui (confession prayer central to traditional Yom Kippur liturgy).
All fluff and sentiment aside, bridal gowns are often vastly expensive. Fortunately, there are Jewish organizations who collect used gowns for brides who cannot afford to purchase one. This is also an opportunity for the more affluent brides to donate their beautiful gown to such a
chessed (charitable) organization, and know that their dress is adding to the happiness of other brides on their most special day. Contact your local synagogue for information on a local charity, or write to Jewish Celebration. (A Brooklyn, NY wedding apparel charity:
Zichron Yehudis Miriam Bridal Gemach's number is 718-854-0334)
Rebecca is the first bride in the Torah and the first one to use a veil. When she first approached her fiancé, Isaac, Abraham’s son, she lowered her veil across her face as a sign of modesty. Later on, their son Jacob had his bride switched on him by his father-in-law Laban, who used the thick covering his daughter’s face, to replace Rachel with her sister Leah. The custom for the groom to personally veil the bride emerged, in part, to guard against future nuptial surprises.
Gloves go in and out of bridal wear fashion, but the Jewish ring ceremony remains constant. The groom must slip the ring directly onto the bride’s finger. Gloves are a barrier to this, so it is customary not to wear gloves during the ceremony under the
Chuppah. If this will spoil the look, consider making a slit in the glove’s right forefinger, where the ring will be placed during the ceremony.
Sephardic Jews do not have this concern. Indeed the custom is exactly the opposite. A Sephardic bride who receives a coin as the sign of matrimony will take it with gloved or otherwise covered hands, so as not to look like she is receiving charity.
In many communities the groom wear a white kittel jacket over his wedding wear. Kittels are also part of the burial shroud ensemble. They are worn at weddings to keep one’s thoughts focused on what is ultimately good and reminds the wearer and the observers of our mortality. Though sounding a bit morbid, one ought to keep in mind that Judaism believes in an afterlife, and the thought of ultimate departure from this world is more of a reminder on how to live life, with integrity and decency that would merit one the great rewards of the afterlife, rather than sadness at the inevitable end. And thus, like the attendants who dress the dead in a shroud, attendants assist the groom in putting on his kittel. The assistance of the attendants who help the groom on with his kittel, on the other hand, is also to remind us that a groom on his wedding day is compared to a king, whose servants dress him.
The kittel also symbolizes a prayer that love declared on this wedding day will last a lifetime, and the belief that “love is as strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6)
Levity at a wedding is counterbalanced by the obligation to remember the fall of the Beit Hamikdash, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. It is customary in some communities to smudge a groom’s brow with ashes just before the ceremony. Some grooms will wipe the ashes off immediately in accord with their custom, yet other grooms will stand under the chuppah bearing the ashes’ shadow.
Sephardic Jews express the same mourning sentiment in a different fashion. A wreath of olive branches is placed on a groom’s head; the bitter olive leaves represented the sorrow of a fallen national Temple..