Hello Dolly! Fiddler on the Roof! Yentle! The Chosen! Sentences and scenes from one or more come to life when planning for and attending a wedding in the Haredi community.
According to Wikipedia, "Haredi is the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, often referred to as ultra-Orthodox. Haredi Jews, like other Orthodox Jews, consider their belief system and religious practices to extend in an unbroken chain back to Moses and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai..."
For those of you who do not know, we are in Jerusalem for the wedding of our 19-year old grandson Zalman to Rivi, the third child of nine from a lovely family in nearby Neve Yacov. Their roots are Russian, both parents having come with their parents to Israel as children. Although Rivi was taught English in school, it did not stick and she only speaks Hebrew. Her mother, aunt and their parents speak English as they had lived in the states for the father's profession and a brother lives in Palo Alto. We spent our first Shabbat here with the entire extended family but finally were able to meet the bride on the afternoon of the wedding last Thursday as we took separate family pictures in the groom's yard. It is customary for the bride and groom not to see each other for 7-14 days before the wedding and in their case it was 10.
Right photo upper left: Zalman 19, Ashira 15, Alexander 14; front Chana Tsipora 6, Talya 10, Shalom Simcha 3
Left: Rivi in yard before wedding
This whole process in the Orthodox community is quite fascinating. I have spoken with Zalman and am trying my best to get the facts correct. He is much too involved with his new life/wife to read this before I send so I hope I will be forgiven any errors or omissions! To begin at the beginning, Zalman expressed his desire to find a wife at 18 and his parents wisely counseled him to wait at least till he was 19. Last year they began asking around if anyone knew a young woman who might be interested in meeting him for the purpose of marriage. Sarah Batya phoned a friend whom she knew had recently married off a "child" to ask for advice and what she ended up with was a friend and matchmaker all in one who was new to her craft but had the perfect young woman who lived across the street. Before Zalman and Rivi went out, Sarah Batya interviewed her, a daunting task as her own Hebrew is quite limited. Rivi's father stopped in for 5 minutes on his daughter's second date to meet Zalman.
Rivi was Zalman's first date and he was her third. They clicked from their first date and became engaged after the third. Dating consists of sitting in a hotel lobby and anyone who has traveled here has seen the young men in their black suits and hats sitting across from nicely dressed young women as they interview each other. They spend many hours at this before deciding if there is an attraction and a common thread that binds them. Zalman and Rivi spent some 15 hours before deciding they were right for each other.
The wedding dates here are set as they are elsewhere based on the woman's menstrual cycle and any other important events. The couple have individual marriage coaches who counsel them before and after each date. He or she explains how to go about finding out whatever information they wish to know about the other.
At Zalman's yeshiva, there is a groom's class taught on the computer for about seven hours and a rabbi is in the next room ready to answer questions. Additionally about three hours are spent on sex education. There is no touchy feely until after the wedding (and never in public). Zalman told me there is a 5-7% divorce rate in the Haredi community with the general rate in the US at 65%. He also said most divorces happen in the first 15 years and many are connected to medical problems.
We arrived in Jerusalem in time to attend the Aufruf on the Shabbat before the wedding. Zalman was called up to read from the Torah at their shul which gave the community an opportunity to publicly recognize, congratulate and share in the joy of the wedding. We women and girls threw candy from the upstairs womens section to send wishes for a sweet marriage.
The wedding itself defies description. To sum it up, it was probably the most joyous event we have ever seen much less participated in! The venue was a wedding hall and the men and women were separated as at all Haredi weddings. The two fathers led the groom from the men's side to the women's side to the bride who was seated on a white love seat or throne with her face exposed. He was seeing her for the first time in 10 days and he then covered her face with her veil; the fathers led him out and the mothers followed with the bride. The veil symbolizes the idea of modesty and conveys the lesson that however attractive physical appearances may be, the soul and character are paramount. It is reminiscent of Rebecca covering her face before marrying Isaac in biblical times. Because the bride is the holiest person at the wedding, the grooms mother covered Rivi's face with a heavier fabric as covers the Torah. They met outside under the chuppah or canopy, a symbol of the home the couple will build together. Several rabbis from Zalman's yeshiva read the seven blessings while the bride circled the groom seven times. Just as the world was built in seven days, the kallah or bride is figuratively building the walls of the couple's new world together. The number seven also symbolizes the wholeness and completeness that they cannot attain separately. The groom shattered a glass with his foot which serves as an expression of sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and identifies the couple with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. A Jew, even at the moment of greatest rejoicing, is mindful of the Psalmist's injunction to "set Jerusalem above my highest joy." There was a ring ceremony and then the same rabbi who read the ketubah or marriage contract at his parents wedding read it here.
Photo above right: Marc, Zalman, Rivi's father Daniel
The ceremony concluded and the couple was escorted to a private "yichud room" and left alone for what was supposed to be a few minutes that lasted what seemed like an hour! These moments of seclusion signify their new status of living together as husband and wife. Photo right: Newlyweds after the fact!
Everyone returned inside where the meal was served and the women danced with the women and the men with the men. The men did all kinds of gymnastic and dance moves to entertain the groom, his father and grandfather. There was non-stop singing and dancing on both sides and the perspiration was flying! I know because I was allowed to take pictures on the men's side due to my age and to my stature as grandma!
It was not quite as athletic on the women's side but there was some incredible dancing. Both Rivi and Zalman danced non-stop (tho separately) for some four hours and Rivi looked as beautiful at midnight as she did for pictures at 3 in the afternoon! And never in their lives will they ever dance together in public.
Photo top: unknown, Zalman, Herbie
Photo bottom: unknown, Rivi's sister, Rivi, Sarah Batya
I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful friends and family who came from afar to share in our simcha: daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Simone and sister Mona from NY; Suzy and Marv Cohen, Mort and Amy Friedkin, Jack and Betty Adler, Arnie and Joanne Jacobson and Marje Wolf from the Bay Area. The latter five were on a SFJCC trip. The Cohens, Adlers and Friedkins have been with us in Jerusalem on prior trips.
More to follow of the way things work in the first year and the Sheva Brachot or seven blessings dinners which follow in lieu of a honeymoon. Hope you are enlightened about this other world Herbie and I sometimes inhabit! Marianne