When I first start working with a couple towards their Big Day, I do so with an eye towards getting to know the couple really well, so they’re assured that a stranger won’t be officiating at their ceremony. Over weeks, or more often months, I do a lot of pre-marital work, which is mostly about preparing for their married life—working on communication skills, conflict resolution… but of course, most couples come to me to craft the perfect wedding ceremony.
About a month before their big day, couples become most concerned with how long the ceremony will be, what are the actual parts of the ceremony, etc. I generally can conduct a ceremony of 30 minutes, which is what most wedding coordinators count on. This excludes the ketubah signing, if there is one. There is also a lot that can be tailored to best fit each individual couple. So what should you expect at your service when I conduct your ceremony? Glad you asked!
Here’s a list of the components of the ceremony I conduct:
- The Ketubah signing (30 min prior to actual time of ceremony start); includes witnesses for ketubah, marriage license, parents, grand parents, bridal party
- Procession (Usually the couple has this under control. Your on-site coordinator will line you up. If not, I’ll help you out!)
- Circling – yes or no (most of my couples don’t do this; If you read this blog article, circling and several other rituals will make sense)
- You’re now under the khuppah! We now welcome family and friends (I can use as much or little Hebrew as you like in general; just let me know! I also sing because I’m a cantor!)
- Mentioning of deceased relatives that you knew/were close to. This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list of your entire genealogy, but rather relatives who might have died recently or that made an impact on your lives.
- Cantor’s address—this is the real personal part. I’ll be asking you to write some love letters addressed to one another but sent to me. I usually send this assignment one month prior to date, but if you want me to send you it earlier, I can.
- Birkat Erusin—the blessing of Betrothal or Engagement. This is over one of two cups of white wine (If one of you is wearing a white dress, we don’t want to have any stains!); If you have a cup that has special meaning to you, we will include one at this point, and another on step 11. Tell me the special significance to you or your family and I’ll mention it at this time (ex: Bar/Bat Mitzvah cup; Scottish friendship cup used in your family; new gift from your aunt/uncle; etc.).
- Reading of the Ketubah. I’ll do this in English so everyone understands what’s going on!
- Optional: Additional vows. Since the ketubah already mentions vows, it is somewhat redundant to have additional vows, but many couples like the “movie moment” of “to have and to hold,” etc. Others like to create short, personalized vows that each read to the other. If you want to do this, I just need them emailed to me for editing and inclusion in my printed service as a “just in case” measure.
- Exchange of rings. Tradition would tell you these should be plain, solid bands. I’m fine with whatever jewelry you’re going to wind up wearing! This will include a formula that you will recite one to the other. Very short.
- Birkat Nissuin / Sheva Brakhot—the blessing of the Marriage. I tend to use a very universal interpretation of these blessings, mostly in English. I have other options for you to look at. You can also check out ritualwell.org to see some other options besides.
- Declaration of you as a couple. Hooray!
- Moment of silence. This is intended to be the “grateful” moment when everyone takes a pause and reflects on the joy of this day.
- Priestly benediction over the two of you. Some couples like to be wrapped in a prayer shawl (bar/bat mitzvah tallit) for this one. It’s an “awww” moment.
- Smashing of the glass.
Here’s another very important note that I cannot stress enough: Especially in the Tri-State area, if you want your ceremony to start at a particular time, you absolutely need to put on your invitations either a time that is a half-hour earlier, or the word “promptly,” or your guests will be late for your Big Day! So if you want to start at 6pm, write either “5:30pm” or “6pm promptly” and your guests will know what to do!
So all this is what typically goes into the ceremonies I write for each of my couples. If you are looking to add your own creativity to this structure—all the better! You’ll get out of the ceremony what you contribute. I look forward to celebrating with you!