Why break a glass at a Jewish wedding?
It’s a custom that’s defined Jewish weddings for centuries. Breaking the glass is the last act—other than a kiss under the wedding canopy—that is performed in public, thus confirming the happy couple’s mutual consent to spend the rest of their lives together. But why a glass? Presumably a spare drinking glass was easily found at wedding celebrations, even centuries ago. As for the custom itself, that’s a matter of history.
As for the reason to break something delicate at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding ceremony, the most common explanation is rooted in ancient Jewish history. In the year 69, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman army breached the walls that surrounded the city of Jerusalem. One year later, the Jewish temple at the heart of the city was destroyed, and the Jewish people were then dispersed among the many nations that comprised the Roman Empire, and elsewhere. Our national grief and 2,000-year-old longing to return to Jerusalem is symbolized by the breaking of the glass. Every Jewish wedding marks the establishment of a Jewish family—and for centuries our hope was that every family would one day see the restoration of a Jewish nation. With the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, other interpretations also abound.
A Broken Glass, a Broken World
As an alternative to the preceding “Jerusalem-Temple-centric” explanation, I will often speak about the state of our world and our role in its repair. For example:
We conclude this wedding with the breaking of the glass. While every wedding is a happy occasion, we temper our joy at this moment to be reminded that ours is a broken world. We pray that ______ and ______, as they build a life together, will also do their part in repairing the world, that their marriage serve as a tikkun—one of the multitude of fixes necessary to bring greater peace to the world. We ask God to bring ______ and ______ joy each and every day. Let us pray that, however many pieces this glass will break into, so may _______ and ______’s happiness be multiplied, and that their kindness and goodness similarly increase.
An Incandescent Light Bulb?
Glass broke easily a few hundred years ago. Today, however, glass is tempered and so only the most delicate glass will break and shatter easily and safely. I recommend that all of my couples substitute a small, incandescent light bulb for a small drinking glass. A light bulb breaks easily and delivers a satisfying crunch! The bulb should be neatly wrapped in a knotted, white catering napkin, so that the glass shards are easily contained without danger of flying away.
A number of Jewish artists offer specialized glasses that come with a pouch. Once broken, the colored glass shards are used to fill a decorative, glass mezuzah case, or are preserved in a Lucite block for posterity. Either way, you’ve captured a moment of brokenness and used it to mark your wedding, and your life together, as a new beginning for hopes and dreams, and the repair of the world.