As word gets around of my proficiency and legality in performing weddings I’ve been getting more questions about the laws of weddings and keeping track of everything which is required. I complied a checklist for the first wedding I officiated and I’ve already needed to forward much of the contents a few times to other people asking similar questions. So once again as a combination of personal convenience and public service, I give to you the Jewish Wedding Checklist.
I’m going to assume that you have the big things like a wedding date, a hall, F.L.O.P.1 (or F.L.O.P.S2 as the case may be) taken care of and I’m going to focus on the aspects relating to the actual marriage ceremony. Note that some of the things will be taken care of by the mesader kiddushin or the caterer/wedding hall. While this should be useful in preparing for the ceremony and knowing what to expect, all halakhic matters should be discussed with your mesader kiddushin.
MARRIAGE LICENSE – Not halakhic but definitely required. Double check the laws in your state to make sure everything is nice and legal.
T’NAIM – This is basically a preliminary contract saying that any pre-wedding arrangements (mostly financial) between the families have been fulfilled. It is not halakhically required and if one family’s side isn’t Jewish, it’s kind of pointless and can be safely ignored.3 You can often pick this up in a set with the Ketuvah.
KETUVAH – The traditional Jewish marriage contract. Contrary to the actual text of the Ketuvah, most people use a traditional form with the mesader kiddushin filling in the blanks at the wedding itself.4 Regardless if you’re using a form or having one custom made, both the bride and hatan should know exactly what the ketuvah says. Prepared rabbis will bring a backup just in case.
HALAKHIC PRENUPTIAL – This is not a typical financial prenup (that’s really the ketuvah), but a binding arbitration agreement to a particular bet din in the event one party requests a divorce. While this is not a halakhic requirement, it is gradually becoming standard practice among Orthodox rabbis to require it and assumed to be a Good Thing. This is the text of the RCA’s version (PDF), but in theory you could choose another bet din. I have heard conflicting opinions as to the legal validity and enforceability of this prenup, so you might want to consult a legal professional.
PROGRAM – This is completely optional, but it is common and generally a good idea to have a program explaining everything that goes on at the wedding and why especially for your non-religious or non-Jewish guests. Also a prime opportunity for shtick.
RING – The basic rules are that it should not have a stone and the hatan has to have complete ownership of the ring. Meaning, the ring cannot be on loan, or if it is an heirloom from the bride’s family it must be given over unconditionally to the hatan such that there is no expectation that he would have to return it. Rings purchased with credit cards should be fine. Most rings do not have writing on them, but it is generally not as much of a problem as having a stone in the ring.
WHITE WINE AND CUPS – The reason for the wine being white should be obvious, but surprisingly people forget the need to have a cup under the huppa.
KITTEL – Worn by the hatan.
BREAKING GLASS – Wrapped up in a towel of some sort. Usually this is provided, but if it isn’t use one of the glasses from the huppa.5 Note to hatan: use your heel.
T’NAIM PLATE – There is a custom for bride’s and hatan’s mothers to break a plate jointly after the t’naim are signed. There is an added custom to give out the broken pieces to single women as a “segulah” to get married. This is also expendable, especially if you’re not having the t’naim.
This is a list of important people you’ll be needing for the wedding. To be more precise, these are tasks people will have and in some cases one person can take on multiple responsibilities. They are generally considered to be honors given to family members, close friends, or otherwise prestigious guests. I suggest a backup/reserve list in case people are late or cancel last minute.
The witnesses must be kosher. We generally do not have a formal inquisition into their religious lifestyle, but in general we expect them to be minimally shomer shabbat and kashrut and not know explicitly anything which would disqualify them. Also, one set of witnesses cannot have men who are immediately related. If you have any questions on specifics, consult your mesader kiddushin.
The requirements for kosher witnesses are essential for the ketuvah and kiddushin. For other roles like the blessings, we do not have the same standard, but I suggest you have people who are comfortable speaking Hebrew (or give novices the shorter blessings). If need be, you could also prepare transliterations.
3 SETS OF WITNESSES – KOSHER MEN, NON-RELATIVES
KETUVAH – Sign the document
KIDDUSHIN – Stand under the huppa and observe the hatan giving over the ring
YIHUD – Observe the couple entering the yihud room
14 FOR BLESSINGS
7 – Under huppa. Just have to be Jewish and should be able to read Hebrew or at least get the words out of a transliteration.
7 – After benching (preferably a kohen for the first one), same rules as above.
MC – Guy stands by huppa and announces who is coming up for what. Also helps track down people and tells them what they’re doing both at the huppa and other honors for the 7 berachot. He should have your list of honorees beforehand.
KETUVAH READER – preferably someone who has done it before and is comfortable reading straight Aramaic (and not me).
SHOMER / SHOMERET – Friend who acts as a shadow on the day of (or week before) the wedding. Helps keep the bride and groom sane, useful for the details which can get overlooked, and can run interference if need be.
DECENT SINGER – Not an obligation, but most people have someone singing under the huppa. Find someone with decent voice to basically sing as an accompaniment to the hatan and bride.
MESADER KIDDUSHIN – Your friendly neighborhood Rabbi-man.
And that’s basically it. I have a summary of the wedding procedure as well, but I editorialized way too much in there such that it would take a while to sanitize appropriately. In the meantime, this should be a useful enough guideline for prospective couples already stressed out with everything involved in wedding planning. Also note that this follows the traditional Ashkenazi customs and that Sephardim have their own traditions for which to account.6
Oh, and Mazal Tov!
1. Somehow the convention became that the bride’s side pays for everything except Flowers, Liquor, Orchestra, Photographer.
2. F.L.O.P plus Sheitels. Don’t even ask.
3. While both sides should have their respective obligations fulfilled beforehand, the t’naim are usually signed at the wedding itself and by that time, such a contract is generally moot. Hazal never required such a document and its absence certainly does not invalidate the wedding.
4. Helpful suggestion: use a black pen.
5. Funny story: A cousin of mine asked my dad if it had to be a glass or if it could also be a light bulb. My father said a light bulb would be fine. My cousin then asked, “what wattage?” Seriously though, years ago they would use discarded flashbulbs from the photographer’s camera so there is some historical merit to the question.
6. Thanks to Joe for the reminder.