Two important customs take place before a traditional Jewish ceremony. First, the couple, rabbi, parents, and designated witnesses gather in a chamber to sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract - a wonderfully intimate, sacred pause before the large ceremony gets under way. Then comes the bedeken, in which the groom veils the bride in order to symbolically ensure her identity.
The bride and groom are each escorted down the aisle by both of their parents. At the front of the aisle stands the chuppah, a canopy attached to four poles under which the bride and groom are married. The chuppah has a dual purpose, representing both the presence of God and the couple’s first home.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the bride may circle the groom seven times; this tradition, which once symbolized the centrality of the groom in the family, fell out of favor for a while. Popular once again, it now signals completion and carves out a magical circle around the couple. At the very end comes the famed moment when the groom (or the couple) stomps on a glass and all the guests shout “Mazel Tov!” This riotous gesture heralds the end of the serious stuff and the start of the festivities.
In conservative or orthodox Judaism, the couple goes into seclusion, or yichud, for about 15 minutes immediately following the ceremony. If they’ve fasted prior to the wedding, this is when they break their fast.