Marriages are some of the happiest, most colorful, and most memorable events in Jewish life if you’re lucky enough to have found your perfect partner, congratulations! In preparation for your own wedding or someone you love’s, read below to learn about the right gift-giving practices in the Jewish culture.
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What is the Jewish wedding Tradition?
At their core, Jewish weddings consist of three parts: the ketubah, the chuppah, and the party to follow. These events usually occur on the same day, each after the other.
First, the ketubah is signed. The ketubah is actually just a Hebrew word for ‘contract’– during this part, the groom signs a formal promise to provide and care for the bride throughout her life. This tradition is a relic from the days in which women had no independence; the contract granted her legal protection. Thankfully, this is no longer the case, but ketubah signing remains a meaningful ceremony, and modern couples often emphasize its importance by ordering highly decorated copies they can hang up in their homes as a keepsake for the wedding day.
Next is the chuppah. This is the most important part of the day. Technically, it consists of two ceremonies: the first is an engagement ceremony, and the second is the actual marriage. In past times, the engagement was done long before the marriage and sometimes was accompanied by its own lavish celebration. Although it is now read just before the marriage ceremony, in most ways, the engagement is similar to what it has been for centuries: a series of blessings, known as the seven blessings, are said over the couple, usually by a rabbi or cantor. Some couples ask family members or honored guests to recite the blessings instead.
The marriage ritual is then carried out, marked by the giving of the Jewish wedding ring to the bride. Sometimes, rings are exchanged to reflect more egalitarian principles. Following this moment of joy, the groom (or both newlyweds) smashes a glass by stepping on it. This tradition is to commemorate the destruction of the Temple; the newlyweds do this to acknowledge and remember its loss even on the happiest day of their lives.
Lastly, there is a party, or a feast. This part of the event looks most like any secular wedding reception. It is almost always accompanied by music, dancing, a copious amount of food, and celebration. As part of this, it is common for the new couple to be lifted up in chairs by their close friends and family members. In Orthodox Ashkenazi weddings, the bride and groom take some time alone to eat and talk together, giving them privacy in their first moments as a married couple. They then rejoin the party, and the celebration continues!
Keep in mind all of this is just a guide. Jewish weddings will vary dramatically according to a number of factors: the origin of the bride or groom, their families’ specific traditions, religious denomination, and budget are only a handful of reasons. Some couples will also incorporate pre-wedding rituals; for example, many Sephardic and Middle Eastern communities have a hinna party before their marriage, where their palms are decorated with henna dye, and their families come together to eat sweet foods (representing a sweet marriage) and wish the couple luck in their life together.
For others, it is customary to have a Shabbat Chatan. This is when the groom is called up to read from the Torah the Saturday before or after his wedding. This, of course, takes place in his community’s synagogue. It is not unusual for guests to be invited to this as part of the wedding celebrations.
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What Do You Give People as a Wedding Present?
There are a few options for what to give as a wedding present. Here are some ideas that are traditional:
- Judaica: objects such as Shabbat Candlesticks and Shabbat Kiddush Cups that used in Jewish ritual life. Usually, they are elaborately decorated to reflect their ceremonial importance.
- Kitchenware, fine furniture, bed linen, towels, and anything else a couple might need to build a home together.
- Cash or check, weddings are expensive, so this will undoubtedly be appreciated.
How Much Do You Give For A Jewish Wedding?
This will depend on the couple, the community’s usual practice, and, of course, what you can comfortably afford.
As a general rule, acquaintances or distant family members give slightly less–up to 100 or 150 dollars. Close friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and first cousins will usually give more. The amount of money given reflects the closeness of the guest with the couple.
The amount of money will also depend on how lavishly the couple has spent on the wedding. For particularly large weddings, it is polite to give a larger amount to reflect this investment and say thank you for the night. If you can’t afford to give as much as you would like, that’s okay: just write a check large enough to cover the rough cost of your meal, any drinks you had, and a small, symbolic amount in addition to the gift itself. Just make sure to express your gratitude in another way.
It is also customary to give in multiples of 18, a number corresponding to the Hebrew word ‘Chai’ (meaning ‘living’). This is thought to grant extra luck to the couple, but it is not strictly necessary.
How Much Do You Give For A Wedding Gift In Israel?
Read above; convert to shekels.
Is A Kiddush Cup An Appropriate Gift?
Yes. Kiddush cups are cups from which wine is blessed and drunk in a ritual ceremony known as Kiddush. This takes place on Shabbat night. However, there are a number of ceremonies and festivals in which there is a blessing of the wine; the Kiddush cup will often be used for these, too.
Kiddush cups make excellent Jewish wedding gifts. First, they are a traditional present–on a purely practical level if nothing else, they provided the new family with their first vessel for the blessing of the wine. But the appeal of a kiddush cup as a wedding present goes beyond tradition and certainly beyond practicality.
Because of their ritual importance, kiddush cups are usually elaborate, and a lot of effort is put into their design and craftsmanship. As a result, they can also be somewhat expensive, and a beautiful and long-lasting kiddush cup is not always a luxury a young couple can afford. Giving a kiddush cup as a wedding gift can therefore be a thoughtful gesture.
The Kiddush ceremony is practiced by each household, often by the father or grandfather of the family. A newly married couple will usually start doing Kiddush with each other for the first time after they are married. A kiddush cup is a touching wedding present because it symbolizes and celebrates the couple leaving their parents’ household and, together, creating their own.
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What Does a Kiddush Cup Symbolize?
A Kiddush cup is associated with the entry of the Sabbath. The blessing of the wine, for which the cup is used, is part of the ceremony that sanctifies the Sabbath and separates it from the regular weekday. By extension, a Kiddush cup can represent holiness, observance, and the peace of the day of rest.
Which Judaica Gift is Okay to Buy as a Jewish Wedding Gift?
There are a number of Judaica gifts that are appropriate to give at a Jewish wedding. As a general rule of thumb, as long as an object will add beauty and usefulness to both people getting married, it is fine to give as a gift. Below are a few examples:
- A Chanukiah. This is a nine-pronged lamp used for celebrating the festival of Chanukah.
- Shabbat Candlesticks. These are lit each Friday night to welcome in the day of rest, traditionally by the bride.
- A Challah board and cover. Challah is a bread also blessed during the Friday kiddush ceremony.
- Tzedakah boxes. Literally meaning ‘righteousness’ boxes, these are boxes with a slot in them for coins where the household collects change for charitable causes. This gift encourages philanthropy and passion for justice in the couple’s new household.
- Seder plates. During the Passover holiday, a Jewish household will bless a number of ritually relevant foods to commemorate the exodus from Egypt. A seder plate is a way to organize each food for convenience while it is blessed.
- A set of holy books. If the couple-to-be has no Siddur or Sefer Torah, they will most likely need one to observe Jewish life.
Usually, a couple will only require one set of each item of Judaica in their daily lives. So, to prevent clashing presents, plan ahead with other invitees, particularly the couple’s close family.
Remember, many Judaica gifts are for ritual use that has a gendered element. For example, tefillin boxes or Torah pointers will most often be used only by men and not in the context of the household. It is fine to give these gifts, but out of consideration, it is best to also extend an equally thoughtful present to the other partner if possible.
What To Put On a Jewish Wedding Registry
Of course, this is up to you. But here are a few ideas to get the ideas flowing:
- Judaica presents. Yes, it is possible to list these on registries with modern Judaica sellers online. Pick the kiddush cup, spice box, or seder plate you like the most to make sure you absolutely love the object you’ll be blessed with for the rest of your life.
- Household appliances. It’s not the most romantic gift, but washing machines, dryers, irons, microwaves, and ovens are expensive!
- Silverware and crockery–a fancy set for festivals and special occasions don’t go amiss.
- Bedlinen, towels, and clothes. These are actually traditional presents, part of the bridal trousseau of times past.
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The Bottom Line
To summarize, gift-giving is an important part of the celebration at Jewish weddings. If you’re lucky enough to be able to watch a person you care about find their match, commemorate their marriage with a gift that will last. Whether you go for a Judaica gift or just buy whatever’s next on the registry, mazal tov to the happy couple!
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