Talk with your Rabbi
You may already be in a congregation where you know the rabbi and feel comfortable having him or her conduct the ceremony. For couples who do not attend synagogue, sometimes the parents of one or the other have close connections with a rabbi who would officiate at the wedding. If there is no close connection with a synagogue, you may wish to attend services at various synagogues in the area to see how the rabbi conducts services and interacts with people.
Choose the Date
Choosing the date for the wedding is an essential step in planning a Jewish wedding. Weddings are not performed on Shabbat, so Friday evening or Saturday weddings cannot be planned. Also, weddings are not done on any of the Festivals; Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot or Sukkot cannot be scheduled for weddings. In many congregations, the days when counting the Omer, between Passover and Shavuot, may not available for weddings. Since this depends on tradition, some rabbis may perform weddings during this time. Other days may also be unavailable depending on how traditional the rabbi is. Check with your rabbi! Also, consult with your rabbi about local practices and customs that affect dates available for scheduling your wedding. Getting the date settled and scheduled with your rabbi should not be delayed.
Plan the Ceremony
Planning the ceremony may be easier if you decide to follow the traditional ceremony, as there is a distinct ritual from the Talmud in rabbinic times. Many rabbis do work with couples who want a more egalitarian ceremony. Again, check with the rabbi about adapting the traditional rituals for some of the practices. One example is whether to have the traditional one ring, or to have two rings as part of the ceremony. Traditionally one ring was used to signify the acquisition of the bride by the groom. Some couples prefer to use two rings to symbolize the commitment each is making to the other. Another example is the use of seven blessings said during the ceremony. The first is usually about creation, and an adapted ceremony can focus on significant aspects of the couple’s life.
Decide on a Ketubah and Huppah
The traditional ketubah was a marriage contract spelling out the terms that protected the woman in a marriage. Items such as food, clothing and sex were specified within the marriage as well as what would be the woman’s rights in the case of death or divorce. Modern, more egalitarian ketubahs are available and some couples work with an artist to create a ketubah that reflects their own ongoing commitment to each other. Traditionally, two witnesses are asked to sign the ketubah during the wedding ceremony. The huppah is the canopy that is held over the couple’s heads during the ceremony. It can be free standing, or it can be held by four persons who are close to the couple. It is a symbol of the new home that the couple is creating together. Some couples have their huppah designed so that it can be hung as a wall tapestry or even as a canopy for their bed.
Some topics need to be brought up with the rabbi at the beginning of the planning process. Interfaith couples or same-sex couples need to check with their rabbi to be sure that their situation is not an issue that will keep that rabbi from conducting the wedding ceremony. Many rabbis work with interfaith couples or same-sex couples, although more traditional rabbis may have reservations. Again, open discussions with your rabbi will prevent any surprises.
Websites for More Information
Judaism 101. https://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm
Brownstein, Rita Milos. Jewish Weddings: A Beautiful Guide to Creating the Wedding of Your Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Kaplan-Mayer, Gabrielle. The Creative Jewish Wedding Book: A Hands-On Guide to New & Old Traditions, Ceremonies & Celebrations. Jewish Lights, 2004.
Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. Jonathan David, 1991.
Latner, Helen. The Everything Jewish Wedding Book. Adams Media Corp., 1998.
Rapp, Bayers, Lea. Mazel Tov! The Complete Book of Jewish Weddings. Citadel, 2002.
Schwartzman, Ana & Francesca, Zoe. Make Your Own Jewish Wedding: How to Create a Ritual That Expresses Your True Selves. Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Shire, Michael. Mazal Tov! The Rituals and Customs of a Jewish Wedding. (Illuminated).Stewart, Tabor & Chang, 2002.