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Jewish Wedding Reception Customs and Traditions
An Orthodox Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

 • Wedding Reception How To's:
 • Badchanim: Wedding Jesters
 • The Wedding Meal

 • Tables for the Poor
 • Birkat Hamazon: Grace After Meals

Wedding Reception How-To’s
Strike up the band. Put on those dancing shoes. Pull your mother’s second cousin out of his chair. And dance. Bringing joy to the bride and groom is a wedding guest’s chief obligation.

Talmudic sages did their share to increase the merriment of the young couple. Rabbi Isaac would dance and juggle three myrtle twigs before a bride and groom. Hai bar Yehuda danced before a bride. Simon the son of Rabbi Isaac juggled while dancing.

Dancing with or around the new couple is one way to bring them joy. Fancy footwork is not a requirement. Hoist the bride and groom up on chairs as a circle of well-wishers swirl around them At some weddings, guests don oversized party hats and harlequin masks, light sparklers and rattle tambourines, balance wine bottles and turn cartwheels, all for the newlywed’s benefit.

The Talmud minces no words chastising those who refuse to gladden the newlyweds. “Anyone who has enjoyed a wedding feast but does notion to make the bride and groom happy has transgressed against the five voices: the voice of joy, the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, the voice of the bride., and the voice of the one who praises God.”

Badchanim: Wedding Jesters
Creating joy is a serious business. At some weddings, especially in Chassidic communities, badchans, professional jesters, are hired to entertain the crowd. These paid or voluntary jokesters deliver puns and comedic jabs in mostly Yiddish rhyme – couplets for the couple.

Wedding Meal
Wedding meals fall into the category of seudat mitzvah, a mitzvah feast. All Kiddushin, marriage ceremonies, must be accompanied by a meal and it is a mitzvah to partake in it. Bread elevates a snack into a meal and should be served. Grooms, in some communities, will say the hamotzi bread blessing over a long braided challah loaf and have the pieces distributed to the guests.

Additionally, wine and meat bring happiness according to the sages. Basic sacrifice recipes in the Beit Hamikdash, the ancient holy Temple in Jerusalem, included slabs of meat and libations of wine. These foods emerge from an opportunity for gluttony to an exercise in holiness.

Tables for the Poor
“Charity saves from death” (Proverbs 10:2, 11:4). A table would be, and still is, set out for poor people during the wedding meal. Their presence brought the gift of long life to the newlyweds.

Poor people will not know to come to distant wedding halls. But it’s no excuse not to think of the poor on a wedding day. Give tzedaka in honor of a new marriage. It’s the right thing to do – especially while huge amounts are being spent on hairdressers and tuxedo rentals and limousines.

Birkat Hamazon - Grace After the Meal
D’vay Haser, a brief prayer, is added before launching into the usual birkat hamazon, grace after meals. Written around 950 C.E. by Rabbi Dunash be Lebrat, who authored the Sabbath song “Dror Yikrah” and was a student of Saadia Gaon, D’vay Haser speaks about unparalleled joys. Except for wedding days, such happiness would contradict the shade of mourning we should feel for the loss of the Beit Hamikdash, Jerusalem’s ancient Holy Temple.

This prayer is recited by the person who is leading the Birkat Hamazon, and only if a minyan of ten men are present.

A cup of wine is poured for the leader who will hold the cup during the Birkat Hamazon. Unlike other days, this kos shel bracha, cup of blessing, does not have the borei pri hagafen, wine blessing, said over it. It is kept in reserve until after the Sheva Brachot, the seven marital blessings, are chanted.

Sheva Brachot, the seven marital blessings, are chanted afterward. Again, a minyan of ten adults should be present for the blessings just like the ceremony. Honor seven guests with the opportunity to say each of the Sheva Brachot. You’ll remember a wine blessing is part of the Sheva Brachot. A second glass is filled for the Sheva Brachot said during the Grace After Meals. The two wineglasses (one from Birkat Hamazon and one from the Sheva Brachot) have their contents mixed into a third cup. Newlyweds will sip from this one cup or the mixed wine will be poured into separate cups for the bride and groom. At some weddings, the guests will be offered sips from this wine as well.


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