03 November 2023

Seven traditional blessings
recognise the intimacy
and the significance
of a Jewish wedding

A ketubah or traditional Jewish wedding contract in the Jewish Museum in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Most people are aware of how traditional it is at Jewish weddings to break glass at the end of the ceremony. As one writer puts it, ‘You can forgo almost every other element, but if you aren’t breaking the glass, folks will not believe you are really married.’

Traditionally, the man alone broke the glass. Today, some couples break the glass together or break two glasses. The glass-breaking is typically followed by a communal ‘Mazel Tov!’ In addition Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov is usually sung after breaking the glass.

To avoid injury, the glass is typically covered in cloth. Some people use a wineglass, others a lightbulb – which breaks very easily.

There are countless interpretations for this tradition of breaking glass. Some see it as a reminder of the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Others say it is meant to remind us that marriage is as fragile as glass. It also has been interpreted to demonstrate how life is so fragile that the couple should enjoy every day as if it were their last together.

The glass is broken to protect this marriage with the implied prayer: ‘As this glass shatters, so may your marriage never break.’ It also reminds us that love, like glass, is fragile and must be protected. It ought to be as difficult to break the newly-married couple apart as it is to put the glass back together.

Breaking a glass is also a reminder that sweetness can only exist alongside bitterness, that although a wedding is a time of celebration and joy, the world is still in turmoil, and needs our care and love. Its breaking is a reminder of sorrow and an expression of hope for a future free from all violence.

However, this Friday evening, in my prayers, I am reflecting on the Sheva Brachot (שבע ברכות‏), literally ‘the seven blessings’ and also known as birkot nissuin (ברכות נישואין‏) or the ‘wedding blessings’ in Jewish tradition. These blessings are recited for the bride and groom as part of nissuin or wedding ceremony.

Although the Sheva Brachot are a stylistically harmonious whole, they are actually a mosaic of interwoven Biblical words, phrases and ideas. It is not certain who composed the benedictions; the text is recorded in the Talmud, but its origin is probably several centuries earlier.

The Sheva Brachot are recited under the huppah (wedding canopy) and then also at the meal following the wedding, as well as in the week after the wedding. The Sheva Brachot or seven blessings) are the heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony.

1 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

א בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי ‏
הַגָּֽפֶן׃ ‏

2 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created everything for His glory.

ב בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהַכֹּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ׃ ‏

3 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created humanity.

ג בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם׃ ‏

4 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created humanity in His image, in the image of the likeness of his form, and made for them an everlasting establishment. Blessed are you, Lord, who created humanity.

ד בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶֽלֶם דְּמוּת תַּבְנִיתוֹ וְהִתְקִין לוֹ מִמֶּֽנּוּ בִּנְיַן עֲדֵי עַד. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם׃ ‏

5 May the barren one (Jerusalem) rejoice greatly and delight in the ingathering of her children within her in joy. Blessed are you Lord who causes Zion to rejoice with her children.

ה שׂוֹשׂ תָּשִׂישׂ וְתָגֵל הָעֲקָרָה בְּקִבּוּץ בָּנֶֽיהָ לְתוֹכָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה ‏
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ צִיּוֹן בְּבָנֶֽיהָ׃ ‏

6 The loving partners shall rejoice as You caused your creatures to delight in the Garden of Eden of old. Blessed are you Lord who causes the groom and bride to rejoice.

ֳו שַׂמֵּֽחַ תְּשַׂמַּח רֵעִים הָאֲהוּבִים כְּשַׂמֵּחֲךָ יְצִירְך בְּגַן עֵֽדֶן מִקֶּֽדֶם. ‏בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן וְכַלָּה׃‏

7 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates happiness and joy, groom and bride. Exultation, delight, amusement, and pleasure, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. Soon, Lord our God, may the sound of happiness and the sound of joy and the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem — the rejoicing of groom from their huppahs and youths from their singing banquets. Blessed are you Lord who makes the groom rejoice with the bride.

ז בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה חָתָן וְכַלָּה. גִּילָה רִנָּה דִּיצָה וְחֶדְוָה אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה וְשָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת. מְהֵרָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ יִשָּׁמַע בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָםִ, קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה קוֹל מִצְהֲלוֹת חֲתָנִים מֵחֻפָּתָם וּנְעָרִים מִמִּשְׁתֵּה נְגִינָתָם. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן עִם הַכַּלָּה׃ ‏

During the ceremony, the seven blessings are traditionally chanted in Hebrew and may also be read in English. In the Sephardic tradition, a parent often wraps the bride and groom in a tallit (prayer shawl) before the recitation of the blessings, to recognise the intimacy and the significance of the moment.

Many contemporary couples use the theme of ‘blessing’ to creatively interpret the reading of the Sheva Brachot. They may invite seven friends or family members to each recite one of the blessings or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer seven non-traditional blessings in English.

There are many English interpretations of the Sheva Brachot. Some use neutral or feminine God language instead of the traditional male imagery. Often couples will include the Sheva Brachot in Hebrew and/or English in their wedding programs so that guests can fully participate in this important moment in the ceremony. Traditionally, everyone present joins with the leader in singing parts of the final blessing.

It is customary for the Sheva Brachot to be recited again during the wedding celebration over a glass of wine, following the Birkat Hamazon or grace after meals. In this case, the first blessing (Kiddush) is moved to the final position. This second sharing of the blessings gives couples an additional opportunity to honor their loved ones by inviting them to offer one of the blessings.

Another beautiful custom for this sharing of the Sheva Brachot is for the wine to be divided into two different cups — representing bride and groom — that are then poured together into a third cup. The wine that has been mixed together is poured back into cups for the bride and groom, and also poured into the third cup, shared by the community. This tradition shows how the couple is now connected, and how their life together is intertwined with community.

Shabbat Shalom

A ketubah or taditional Jewish wedding contract in a synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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