A Jewish marriage is solemnized generally in a synagogue. Civil law, however, permits the solemnization in any building whatsoever and at any time of the day. In all cases, before the Jewish religious ceremony of marriage is performed the parties must obtain and produce the certificate of the Superintendent Registrar(s) for Marriages of the district(s) in which they live, permitting the marriage either by certificate or by license. If the parties have already married civilly at a Marriage Register Office, they must produce their marriage certificate before the Jewish religious marriage will be solemnized.
Thus a Jewish marriage will not be solemnized unless the requirements of civil law in regard to marriage have first been duly and properly fulfilled. In addition, if the marriage is to be solemnized at or through an orthodox synagogue under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi (orthodox synagogues form by far the largest in number) the parties must obtain the authorization of the Chief Rabbi.
This will be granted only if the requirements of civil law in respect of the certificate or certificates of the Registrar or Registrars (as before mentioned) and the requirements of Jewish religious law have been satisfied. The certificate(s) of the Registrar(s) for Marriages and, in the case of orthodox synagogues, the authorization of the Chief Rabbi, having been produced to the synagogue, the marriage will be solemnized. Also the parties to a Jewish marriage must be Jews.
The bride usually wears a veil. She should wear long sleeves or gloves. The bridegroom and all other men attending the orthodox or Reform synagogue must wear hats. In orthodox synagogues the women, too, should have their heads covered.
An outstanding feature of Jewish weddings is the rectangular canopy or chuppah made of silk or velvet and supported by four poles about five or six feet apart. It symbolizes the home which the bridal couple are about to set up, and its frailty reminds them of their own weaknesses and of their dependence upon divine guidance and help; and that they must so live as to deserve and enjoy these if their home is to be secure. Instead of a chuppah, a tallit (shawl-like wrap worn by Jews in prayer) may be used, held aloft by four men, one at each corner.
The marriage ceremony should be held in the presence of at least a minyan, a quorum of ten adult males. The service opens with a blessing of welcome from the Psalms pronounced by the Minister and/or the choir: “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we bless you out of the house of the Lord” (Psalm 118).
A Psalm, generally Psalm 100 (“A Psalm of Thanksgiving”) is chanted and the minister delivers an address to the bridal couple. Following this he pronounces the betrothal blessing. The groom then places a ring on the second finger of the bride’s right hand and declares to the bride: “Behold, thou art consecrated unto me by this ring according to the law of Moses and of Israel.” This action and declaration witnessed by those present consummates the marriage.
A Jewish wedding may not take place on the Sabbath, which lasts from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, nor on festivals and certain other specified days.