My First (Orthodox) Jewish Wedding

Okay, so I don’t travel in moneyed circles, but I wasn’t the only person there who marveled, “I have never been to such an opulent affair.” As a matter of fact, every person I spoke to remarked on the posh display of food, its presentation, the music and the ornamentation. The traditional Orthodox ceremony, itself, was fascinating.

In this sect of Judaism, the women are relegated to a part of the building separate from the men. Sometimes they are seated in a balcony, so that they can still see the ceremony, but are not near the men to distract them. In this Long Island Temple, we were allowed to sit on the left side of the Sanctuary and the men on the right. Also, women must not expose their shoulders or arms, so that long sleeved dresses were the norm.

The music, played before, during, and after the ceremony was all Hebrew. The vocalist/cantor had a beautiful voice, which survived singing hymns, prayers and songs from 6:00 through 11:30 p.m. He must have been exhausted!

Back to the ceremony. Center front, there was a raised square, framed stage, if you will, the top and corners of the frame adorned with white tulle and flowers. The tulle was attached to the corner posts so that, if you had a good seat, you could see everything taking place on the “stage.” I won’t get into the whole ceremony because I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice, based on my ignorance of the practice.

But at the pre-wedding celebration—a reception of sorts, although there was never a reception line—the bride was led in by her attendants and the two mothers. She sat in her place of honor on a dais, surrounded by the mothers and her attendants. There was a folded large piece of white tulle behind her.

After a while, the groom was led into the room by his male attendants and the fathers. He walked up to the bride and, using the tulle behind her, brought it over to cover her face. This action stems from way back in Jacob’s time, when Rachel, the older sister, was substituted under the veil for Leah, the younger sister, by their father and fooled the groom into marrying the wrong sister. Since then, the groom is the one who covers the bride’s face with the veil to avoid any such errant shenanigans.

After some whispered intimacies between them, the bride and groom were each spirited away to separate quarters and the before-wedding eating frenzy began. There were 15-20 feeding stations with everything from mini ground beef burgers and mini rolls to roast lamb, veal, beef, (all this is Kosher, understand), salmon, grilled veggies, a station devoted to Asian foods, one for made-before-your-eyes pita bread and wraps, and more. I never did get to all of them, but believe me, I was well fed! And there was an open bar, of course.

The wedding ceremony was very formal, all in Hebrew, with several uncles and male relatives of the groom called up to pray. With all the Hebrew prayers and a few stand-ups and sit-back-downs, I was reminded of my Catholic Latin Masses and how confusing they must have been for those who had never studied Latin. After the ceremony (and the traditional breaking of the cup), the bride and groom were ushered off to a private place (the term is “sequestered”) and the rest of us found our way to the dining hall and our assigned tables.

Yes, for dinner! Of course, all tables were covered with white linen tablecloths and napkins, with an over cloth of satin-trimmed silky organza-type material. The centerpieces were elegant large bouquets of hydrangeas, roses, and purple orchids. Each alternate table had a vase about 18” high with similar bouquets and three or four orchids floating in the clear glass stem. Gorgeous!

We were given a choice of entrée, right there at the table (not pre-ordered), of grilled sea bass (the largest we’d ever seen), roast beef, I think, and vegetable. The portions were very generous, but fortunately there weren’t many potatoes or pasta or starchy fillers. Dessert was served on clear glass elongated dishes having three dips, each dip being filled with a scoop of ice cream, an apple tart or chocolate cupcake, and mousse or sherbet.

No, I didn’t see any doggie bags. But there was so much food left over, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to it all. I do hope it went to a homeless shelter or mission kitchen.

After the wedding dinner, there was dancing in yet another large room. The large dance floor was separated by a latticed fence so that the men danced on one side and the women on the other. The dancing, of course, was just people in circles jumping and kicking, one way and then the other. At about 11:30, the cantor sang and spoke a lengthy prayer/blessing, after which the fence was removed and the women were allowed to join the men. But by this time, people were leaving. Besides, the dancing and music was still the Hebrew Hora-type.

As I said, the ceremony and traditions were fascinating and I was spellbound by it all. But I couldn’t help thinking of how all religions (except for Buddhism, I’m told) subjugate women. I know for years, I was a very devout Catholic and practiced that religion… well, religiously. My first disappointment came when I learned that women had to wear hats in Church out of respect for men, not for God. One of St. Paul’s ideas. I haven’t worn a hat to Church since then. And thinking of when the nuns had to wear those confining habits, I realize they were nothing more nor less than burkas.

Yes, the Catholic Church and other religions (even Jewish) have adjusted their teachings and practices through recent years. But that only proves that those practices aren’t so sacred and set in concrete after all.

For me, it’s too little too late. They obviously don’t care about women and don’t want women to share in their celebrations, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m done. And I think I’m a much better person for it. I have my own faith and beliefs and respect for others.

Funny what evolves from a wedding.