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Ancient Jewish Wedding Customs and Yeshua’s Second Coming

Wedding rings and roses on prayer shawl

Since June is the month of weddings, there is no better time to reflect on the much anticipated gathering of the bride (kallah) and the wedding of the Lamb!

“For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. …  Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  (Revelation 19:7, 9)

Wedding-ring

Jewish wedding bands are often inscribed with Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine).  The words of this verse are also considered an acrostic for “Elul,” reflecting our very real potential to enjoy a vibrant, intimate relationship with Adonai if we will only turn from sin in repentance and seek Him.

While the exchange of covenant vows between a man and woman who love each other is a blessing in any culture, there are aspects of the Jewish wedding celebration that are rich in spiritual truths.

This ancient ritual prophetically points to the coming of the Messiah and the great celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  It also teaches us unique lessons about God’s covenant love for His people.

One would be hard pressed to find an occasion more joyous than that of a Jewish wedding.  In Hebrew, it’s called a simcha (a joyous occasion).

“Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom.”  (Jeremiah 33:1011)

Jewish bride and groom, chatah, kittel

An Orthodox Jewish wedding in Jerusalem: Traditionally, on the day of his wedding, the chatan (groom) wears first wears the kittel (white linen garment), which signifies purity, holiness and new beginnings. Thereafter, he wears it on special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Pesach (Passover).

There are three distinct parts to the ancient Jewish wedding:

  • shiddukhin (mutual commitment),
  • erusin (engagement), and
  • nissuin (marriage).

Shiddukhin: A Time of Mutual Commitment

“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  (Genesis 2:18)

Shiddukhin refers to the preliminary arrangements prior to the legal betrothal.

Ketubah

Signing the ketubah (marriage contract): In ancient times, the ketubah protected the rights of the wife by specifying the groom’s responsibilities in caring for her, and the amount of support that would be due her in the event of a divorce.

In ancient times, the father of the groom often selected a bride (kallah) for his son, as did Abraham for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4).

In Ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, many marriages are still arranged by a marriage broker or matchmaker called a shadkhan.  It’s considered an exalted and holy vocation to find and arrange a good marital match, called a shiddukh, between a man and woman.

In ancient times, marriage was looked upon as more of an alliance for reasons of survival or practicality, and the concept of romantic love remained a secondary issue, if considered at all.  Romantic love grew over time.

RebeccaAtTheWell_Giovanni

Rebecca at the Well, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

Of course, the consent of the bride-to-be is an important consideration.  Rebecca (Rivkah), for example, was asked if she agreed to go back with Abraham’s servant to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac.  She went willingly (Genesis 24:57–59).

Likewise, we cannot be forced into a relationship with the Son, Yeshua (Jesus).

In the same way that Rebecca was asked if she would go with Abraham’s servant, the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) asks us if we are willing to follow Him to be joined in a covenant of love with Yeshua.

Traditionally, in preparation for the betrothal ceremony, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) are separately immersed in water in a ritual called the mikvah, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing.

In Matthew 3:13–17, we read that Yeshua has already been immersed (baptized) by Yochanan (John) in the waters of mikvah at the Jordan River.

As the Bride-to-be, we are also asked to be immersed.

“Whoever believes and is baptized [ritually immersed] will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  (Mark 16:16)

mikvah_dance_Zev

A groom rejoices by dancing with his friends after immersing himself in the mikvah.  The water for this mikvah bath is outside and fed by a spring, from which the natural water runs down a hill into the mikvah, just outside of Jerusalem.

Erusin:  The Betrothal

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  (Proverbs 18:22)

After the immersion, the couple entered the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract.

Here, the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.

In this public ceremony under the huppah, the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year.  Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.

Jewish_wedding_Vienna_Jan_2007

An outdoor Jewish wedding under a huppah in Vienna

To annul this contract, the couple would need a religious divorce (get), which had to be initiated by the husband.

Matthew 1:18–25 provides an excellent example of this.

During the erusin of Yosef (Joseph) and Miriam’s (Mary), Yosef discovered that Miriam was pregnant, and he considered divorcing her, although he had not yet brought her home as his wife.

1-Corinthians-13 Wedding Rings and Bible

Love is patient and kind

“… he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”  (Matthew 1:19–20)

William_blake_ten_virgins

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, by William Blake

During the erusin period, the groom was to prepare a place for his bride, while the bride focused on her personal preparations:  wedding garments, lamps, etc.

Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour.  He could come earlier.  It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride.

For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night, sounding the shofar (ram’s horn) to lead the bridal procession to the home he had prepared for her.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), Yeshua (Jesus) likened the Kingdom of Heaven to this special period of erusin, when the groom comes for his bride:

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.”  (Matthew 25:6–7)

A_JEWISH_BRIDE_FROM_KIBBUTZ_LAVI

In Jewish weddings today, there are two cups of wine during the wedding ceremony.  After the rabbi recites the betrothal blessings accompanying the first, the couple drinks from the cup.  Since wine is associated with Kiddish, the prayer of sanctification recited on Shabbat, and since marriage is the sanctification of the bride and groom to each other, marriage is also called kiddushin.

So too today, in the season of Yeshua’s end-time return, we should be careful to remain alert and prepared for His coming, since Yeshua was speaking to His disciples prophetically about the condition of the Church in the last days.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7: 21)

 Nissuin:  The Marriage

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:3)

The final step in the Jewish wedding tradition is called nissuin (to take), a word that comes from naso, which means to lift up.

At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carried the bride home.  Once again, the bride and groom would enter the huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows.

Jewish-Marriage-Orthodox

It is traditional in some communities for the bride to circle the groom seven times and then stand to the groom’s right side under the huppah.  Since seven is the number of completion and perfection, this act symbolizes the “wholeness and completeness they cannot attain separately” (Aish).

Now finally, they would consummate their marriage and live together as husband and wife, fully partaking of all the duties and privileges of the covenant of marriage.

Likewise, the Messiah, as the Bridegroom, has gone to prepare a place for us.

The day of the return of the Messiah for His Bride is soon approaching.

Although, we know approximately the time of His return from the signs of the times, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  (2 Peter 3:10)

The Bride (Believers in Yeshua) should be living consecrated lives, keeping themselves pure and holy in preparation for the Nissuin and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when the Groom comes with the blast of the shofar (1 Thessalonians 4: 16) to bring His Bride home.

Traditional Jewish Marriages Today

“Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber [huppah].”  (Joel 2:16)

Today, in traditional Judaism, the erusin and the nissuin are combined into one.

Jewish-bride-and-groom-beach

A Jewish bride and groom take a walk beside the ocean together for the first time as man and wife.

The bride and groom sign the marriage contract (ketubah) in the presence of the rabbi and two witnesses before the ceremony.

Unlike a Christian wedding, where it’s generally taboo for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony, in a Jewish wedding, the groom must see his bride before the ceremony.

Jacob Meets Rachel at the Well, by William Dyce

Jacob Meets Rachel at the Well, by William Dyce

Why?  Remember the story of Laban, who tricked Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter, Leah, even though he loved Rachel?

Since Jacob didn’t ensure the identity of his bride, he ended up marrying the woman he thought would be his sister-in-law, Leah.  (Genesis 29:21–30)

Although in ancient times, the wedding feast (seudah) after the nissuin might have included seven full days of food, music, dancing and celebrations (Judges 14:10–12), today the Jewish ceremony is usually followed by a wedding supper and reception with food, wine, music and dance!

However, Orthodox Jews celebrate after the wedding for seven nights, with friends and family, hosting festive meals in honor of the bride and groom.

Judische_Hochzeit_in_Marokko

Jewish Wedding in Morocco, by Eugene Delacroix (Louvre Museum)

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  (Revelation 21: 1–2)

When Messiah returns for us, and everything in the world today indicates that this will be very soon, we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with Him and our joy (simcha) will be beyond measure.

But there will be those who won’t share in our simcha or celebrate with us because they do not know Yeshua!

Now is the time to reach out to them, while we are still in the erusin period, before the Bridegroom comes.

“Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. …  The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  Whoever is thirsty, let him come.”  (Revelation 22:12, 17)

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