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The Guide To A Thoroughly Modern Jewish Wedding

Among the most memorable Jewish wedding traditions, “breaking the glass” ranks near the top. Traditionally, at the end of the ceremony, the happy groom stomps a shrouded wine glass with a satisfying crunch, everyone yells, “Mazel Tov,” and the party begins.

But if you’re looking for something different, something fresh and modern, here are a few of my favorite Jewish traditions with contemporary twists for you and your intended – before, during and after your ceremony. Plus, some new trends for you to try, not based on ancient traditions at all.

Before the Ceremony

The Ketubah

One rabbi I know calls the Ketubah, “The first wedding prenup!” Although slightly simplistic, it does sum up the traditional Ketubah. According to Ketubah.com, “The Ketubah outlines that the groom must take care of his bride throughout their marriage in shelter, food, clothing, and even sexual fulfillment. It also includes a husband’s requirement to pay a certain sum in the event of divorce. As well as inheritance in case of the unfortunate event that he die before his wife.”

Want to update this tradition? Choose your Ketubah text and artwork to reflect your personality. You can find Ketubah text online that is egalitarian, good for same-sex weddings, interfaith weddings or that includes a custom phrase or wedding related quotation.

A ketubah incorporates the traditional text alongside Chinese symbols, to reflect the bride’s heritage. Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

The Jewish Wedding Program

The wedding program is especially useful to any guests who have not previously attended a Jewish wedding. But, even for those of us who know our Hakafah from our Chuppah, the wedding program is a chance for us to see into the personal details of the wedding. Even the design of the program gives wedding goers a glimpse of your personality as a couple.

Samples of creative wedding programs. Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

Kabbalat Panim

Every bride wants to be Queen for A Day. Did you know that the concept is a Jewish one? In ancient ceremonies, the bride sat upon a throne-like chair, and friends and family would come and greet her in a “kabbalat panim” reception.

A modern update? A little pre-wedding celebration and beautification (mani-pedi and hair up do’s?) for the bride and her gals. Toast the bride with a bit of bubbly to make it even more fun.

Image by Jeff Kolodny Photography

During the Ceremony

Hakafot

The circling symbolically creates a new family circle, demonstrating primary allegiance shifting from parents to spouse, binding the couple more intimately to one another.

Couples who want to update this tradition have made the Hakafah more egalitarian: Each member of the couple gets to circle the other in front of the Chuppah.

Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

Chuppah

Chuppah, which means, “covering,” in Hebrew, is the most recognizable symbol of a Jewish wedding. Nothing is more expressive of the couple underneath then their chosen covering.

A tie-dye chuppah. Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

Designing a chuppah with your fiancé is a unique way for you both to create something symbolic and beautiful together. Unlike many other Jewish ritual objects, like a tallit or mezuzah, there are no legal requirements for the chuppah. In other words, it can be symbolic or fun, adorned or simple. Most importantly, it can represent who you are (or aspire to be) as a couple. You can make your chuppah just wide enough to hold the two of you and your officiant, or you can make it roomy and invite your entire wedding party to join you underneath the canopy. You can have a freestanding chuppah, or you can invite honored family and friends to hold it over you.

This chuppah was fashioned the morning of the ceremony by the Groom Ben and his brothers using branches found around the property. Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

Rings

One beautiful tradition says that a Jewish wedding band should be simple and unbroken gold. A smooth ring portends an untroubled life, and the continuity of the Jewish wedding rings represents the hope for an everlasting marriage.

Image by www.themodernjewishwedding.com

But some feel strongly that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Contemporary Jewish rings might include a little bling, as long as the wedding officiant is in favor. In the double ring ceremony, the Jewish wedding rings are placed on the right index finger rather than the “left ring finger” because this finger has the closest bloodline to the heart.

Once the ceremony ends, most people switch the wedding ring over to the more well-known ring finger.

Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings)

In some traditional families, the wedding reception is ended with the same recitation of the seven blessings before the departure of the bride and groom.

Rather than chant the traditional seven blessings for a second time, have guests give their own verbal blessings to the wedding couple. The blessing I remember the most from this tradition at my wedding: “May you always be happier than you are right now!”

Breaking the Glass

After the glass is broken, don’t throw away those shards. Instead, have your trusted wedding planner collect them and use them to create a Mezuzah for your new home or bedroom door. There are many beautiful, modern Mezzuzot that will compliment your style or décor.

Yihud

Seclusion. Traditionally, unmarried men and women could not be alone together. To symbolize their new status as a married couple immediately upon exiting the chuppah, the bride and groom would go into a room of seclusion. No photographers, videographers or mothers-in-law allowed!

This tradition doesn’t need any updating. It’s such a good idea that it is experiencing a lot of crossover appeal into weddings of other faiths. It’s a time to look into one another’s eyes, take a deep breath and pause, reveling at the moment. Also consider enjoying some of the food and drinks you won’t have time to enjoy once you join your reception, which will already be in full swing when you walk through the doors.

Brand New Traditions

The Photo Booth

Having a Photo Booth at the wedding reception is now almost a given. Everyone has one, from the DIY version to the sophisticated station that posts right to social media. They scream fun souvenir loud and clear.

#Hashtag It Up

Image by Debra Gulbas Photography

Couples are creating their own wedding hashtags to track all the Instagram worthy moments posted by friends and family. The creativity of the hashtag and getting the word out requires some planning all its own.

Skip The Huge Cake And Go Creative With Dessert

Image by Erin Johnson Photography

Consider going for doughnuts over sponge cake. Image by Suzy Goodrick Photography

Need I say more?

Midnight Snack

Serving an informal snack like cookies and milk, breakfast tacos or even burgers and fries, is a way to incorporate some of your favorite junk foods into your wedding reception. Your drunk wedding party will love you for it.

Check out more stories in the Forward’s guide to Jewish weddings.

Michele Schwartz began her career in hotels and weddings at Walt Disney World. She is a published author and speaker, and is the creator and editor-in-chief of The Modern Jewish Wedding, where she shares her expertise in Jewish wedding design, fashion and culinary trends.

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