This is the tale of two religious Jewish weddings, one from the far, far right (Belz Hasidic) and the other from the far, far left (Conservadox).
Both of the weddings followed halacha (Jewish law) - kind of.
The Hasidic wedding adhered to halacha and a whole lot more, adding strictures and stringencies to separate the genders as much as possible. The Conservadox wedding adhered to halacha, but used the most lenient and minority opinions it could find to equalize the genders as much as possible (and went a few inches over those opinions).
The Hasidic wedding added a number of customs that were developed over the last few decades and centuries, but which, they claim, go back to the bible. The Conservadox wedding jettisoned several well-known customs that originated in the last few decades and centuries, because the couple didn't feel that they engendered a sense of equality.
Both of the weddings were rather odd compared to the more usual religious weddings I've attended in my twenty years in Israel.
Wedding 1: Tue, Dec 29, 2009
The bride and bridesmaids before the wedding starts. The bride is already wearing a sheitel (wig). In modern religious weddings, the bride doesn't cover her head with more than this bridal headpiece until she leaves the wedding, after which she might wear a sheitel, hat, snood, tichel, or whatever.
The father of the bride (front), Rachel (looking at camera). The bride's family is Conservadox; their daughter became Belz Hasidic over the last few years.
The signing of tenaim and ketubah. The tenaim are extra marriage agreements, a custom of certain Hasidic groups which has infiltrated to a minority of modern Orthodox congregations, as well.
The hall was sparse and utilitarian. I've had good, even fantastic, food at Haredi weddings; the food here was abominable (sorry, guys, we love you anyway). The music was loud but good: two great singers singing in harmony, one drummer, and one guy operating a music computer system (all men, of course).
The ketubah text is traditional, and specifies the husband's obligations to the wife, and sums to be paid upon divorce. Unfortunately, in Israel, the ketubah is generally ignored by both religious and secular courts (the wife is assumed to agree to waive its contents).
The wedding was held outside, after dark. The parents held candles.
Here comes the bride, assisted by her mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law.
In a modern religious wedding, the bride typically has double translucent veils on her head, both veils behind her head until the badekken. At the baddeken, the groom then takes one of the veils and places it over her face. Under the huppah, the veil stays over her face until the second cup of wine is sipped, at which point the front veil is moved behind her head again.
Here, the bride's face was covered with what appears to be a thick cloth napkin, or perhaps a small tablecloth. This covered her more than a burqa would have. For all the groom knew, anyone could have been under there.
She couldn't see. A wide series of hoops in her skirts completed the effect by making her unable to walk without tripping every few feet.
The bride circled the groom seven times.
The groom kept his eyes closed during the badekken, except for a brief flash before he tossed the napkin onto her head. He kept his eyes closed, fervently praying, during the entire huppah. Likely the bride did the same.
Stamping the wine glass, in remembrance of our broken temple.
The groom gives the ketubah to the disembodied hand of the bride.
The dancing after the huppah is usually full of joy and happiness, as it was in this wedding. Under the huppah is usually joy mixed with holiness. Under this huppah, there was holiness, but no external expressions of joy.
The Rabbi intoning the last traditional blessing - which includes the words "... Who creates joy and happiness, bride and groom, gaiety and gladness, rejoicing and jubilation, love and comradeship, peace and affection ...", and is usually accompanied by singing from the audience - made the blessing sound like an anguished prayer for forgiveness.
The bride emerges from the veil after the ceremony is complete (wearing a sheitel, of course). Off to the dancing!
Wedding 2: Wed, Dec 30, 2009
Mother of the groom.
The location: on the shore of the Dead Sea, with traditional Moroccan furniture and fixings: elaborately tiled walls and tables, hand-sewn cushions, and Tangeen pots. All the food was vegan, and very good (although pity that Moroccan's don't know about chocolate). The music was somewhat anemic (sorry, guys, we love you anyway).
Father and brother of the groom.
Groom and bride before the wedding. The usual custom is a white wedding dress for the bride, and a kittel or white over-garment for the groom, symbols of purity (not virginity, as it is for Christians). The white wedding dress was discarded, I'm not sure why. They might have felt it was sexist, for some reason.
Traditionally, the bride and groom don't see each other before the wedding.
Dancing before the huppah.
Much of the wedding party, before the wedding.
Signing a prenup.
A woman cannot force her husband to divorce him, unless she can prove something about the husband that should have been revealed to her before the marriage (such as a lame leg, or infertility). If a husband refuses to let a woman get divorced, she is "chained" to him, a status called "agunah".
In contrast, a husband can divorce a wife for nearly any reason; in modern Israel, however, the courts will not give the divorce against her consent. A husband can get around this by taking a second wife (in certain communities this is still legal) or by gaining signatures from 100 respected Rabbis.
Many people feel outraged by this discrepancy in the modern world (I'm one of them), but changing the system within the framework of halacha is tricky. One possible solution is in the form of a carefully-worded pre-nuptial agreement, such as the one they are signing here. Their doing so, as they announced while doing so, was also meant to encourage others to take the same step in the hopes of eventually establishing parity in the laws.
The huppah, hand-sewn by 75 of their friends. Patches include those for the struggle in Darfur (an issue about which they work to raise awareness), love of Israel, and so on.
No aisle. No baddeken. No veil. No circling the groom. The bride and groom held hands.
The groom gave a ring to the bride, as "eirusin". Then, for "kiddushin", the groom accepted a ring from the bride as a symbol for agreeing to the terms of the ketubah (which was slightly modified from the traditional text in certain ways).
They broke a cup in remembrance of the temple.
Women and men both recited the traditional blessings under the huppah (according to the the booklet that they handed out before the ceremony, the extreme lenient opinion allows for women to make the traditional blessings only at the wedding meals, not under the huppah; I'm not sure how they justified this.) The blessings were repeated in both Hebrew and English (the English served as a translation).
The couple, right after the ceremony. Minority opinion allows a married woman to go with uncovered hair. Off to the dancing!