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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Lev Herrnson

Jewish Wedding Do's and Don'ts

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

I’ve met with enough couples and officiated at enough weddings over the years to have assembled a list of things not to forget and other things to avoid. Hopefully this list will be of some help to you in your planning. Mazal tov!

Don’t book your venue or other non-refundable commitments before consulting with your officiant.

I know, this sounds self-serving; it’s not. We rabbis hate to have to say “no”, but sometimes couples will set a date, sign the contracts and only afterwards consult with their rabbi. We clergy frequently receive inquiries from the nicest, well-intentioned couples who hope to have a rabbi marry them on a specific day, only to learn that their chosen date is a Jewish holiday or fast day, or that the ceremony has been scheduled to take place while it’s still the Sabbath, all days/times on which changes of personal status (including marriage) cannot take place in the Jewish tradition. We rabbis want to be involved, so call us early in your process!

Do order your Ketubah well in advance.

“We found a Ketubah we love, but it’s on back order! Now what?” Order your Ketubah at least three months in advance of your wedding date. At “three months and counting” before your wedding, you’ll arrange for the purchase and customization of your Ketubah. (You’ll need your rabbi’s help with the customization). Three months leaves enough time before your wedding for your provider to obtain a copy of the Ketubah, and commission a calligrapher/artist to “fill in the blanks” perfectly so that, on the night of your wedding, all you’ll need to do is sign it. If you leave yourself less than three months, you might discover that the particular Ketubah you’ve selected is on back order or otherwise unavailable, or that the artist’s studio cannot turn your order around in time.

Do leave enough time to get your marriage license.

Be certain to leave yourself enough time to get your marriage license. You’ll both need to go, and you may need to bring a witness. And make certain that you’re obtaining your license from the correct authority. (The general rule of thumb is that the state where the wedding will take place has jurisdiction over the license—regardless of where you live.) How is your civil marriage license related to your Jewish wedding? Your rabbi is your officiant, and s/he will not perform your marriage—even if you have the greatest Ketubah ever, if you don’t also have your state marriage license in hand.

Do choose your playlist, but don’t omit the traditional tunes.

Many couples will select their favorite songs for the live or recorded music at their wedding, which is the way it should be. Still, some of your guests will expect to hear a modicum of Jewish music—they’ll expect to sing “Siman Tov v’Mazal Tov” once the glass is broken, or will want to dance one hora. I suggest you consult with your family members to gauge just how important one or two traditional melodies might be. Yes, your wedding is all about you, but family members will, on occasion, express their disappointment. Isn’t it better to cover the religious bases so that an angry aunt or cousin won’t torment you at your own wedding? And you might even be surprised how much fun it is when your guests hoist you in the air on a chair while everyone dances a hora around you! Are you the last one in your immediate family to marry? If so, a mezinke tantz (dance) is in order!

Don’t leave home without it!”

Appoint a responsible person to remember to bring all the ceremony-related items. You don’t want to leave your marriage license on the coffee table at home, or find yourself asking the question, “Where are the rings?!” Accumulate all the important items in a box and have your responsible friend/family member bring the box to the wedding (and also take it all home afterwards). Relevant items include: Ring(s); civil marriage license; Ketubah; two kiddush cups/wine goblets; kosher white wine (less risky than red); pen(s) for signing your ketubah; easel for displaying your ketubah; kippot/yarmulkes; kippah clips/bobby pins; tallit; glass/light bulb; and wedding programs/booklets.

Do remember to give back.

Nationwide, wedding expenses (not including a honeymoon) average close to $30,000; many of the weddings that I officiate at cost significantly more! So much attention is paid to gifts: gifts for the bride and groom; gifts for the best man; gifts for maid of honor; gifts for the bridesmaids; etc. Wouldn’t it be nice--in honor of your guests, to contribute to a meaningful charity 1%-5% of the total cost of your wedding? When the back of place cards includes the words, “A charitable contribution has been made in your honour,” you demonstrate your appreciation, and your guests will be wowed by your generosity and thoughtfulness! In light of the lavish affair you are all about to enjoy, giving back is a classy thing to do!

Don’t forget about the kippot/yarmulkes.

Give yourself at least a few weeks (a month or more would be better) to source your ideal kippot/yarmulkes, leaving time for personalization. If you leave this to the last minute, you might end up with less than satisfactory kippot and/or kippot that clash with your color scheme.

Don’t leave anyone out.

There’s almost always someone whose feelings get hurt. Try not to omit them. True, not everyone deserves the honor of being a bridesmaid or groomsman. Still, there will be guests in attendance who perceive themselves to be higher in the familial pecking order than you might consider them to be. Is there an innocuous job you can delegate to your family members/friends to make them feel special? Similarly, are there relatives who will be listening for mention of their dear, deceased mother or cousin? Mentioning the names of deceased loved ones in your wedding program or under the chuppah helps everyone to feel valued and increases the loving and warm feeings of the day! For a comprehensive list of honors, see my blog post from January 15, 2015 entitled, "Who get's an honor at my wedding?"

Mazal tov!

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