April 19, 2007
Yichud—a romantic oasis
Jennifer Tralins' wedding on a private beach near Miami was picture perfect, from the warm sand under her bare feet to the sweet sounds of the flute as she walked down the aisle in an elegant beaded gown. But for the bride, the most memorable aspect of the ceremony was her yichud, the private moment a couple shares together after the conclusion of the wedding ceremony.
"Having that time to just walk and be by ourselves was really nice," said Tralins, a Sherman Oaks resident. "It was a peaceful time for us to reflect a bit before going into the chaos of our reception."
The practice of yichud, a Hebrew word for "togetherness" or "seclusion," started in the biblical era as a time when the newly married couple would retreat to a private room after the ceremony to consummate the marriage. While the tradition of privacy remains intact, couples today use the time to talk, reflect and eat. For some couples, it is an oasis of calm in the excitement of a busy day.
During outdoor weddings, the yichud can take place anywhere away from the ceremony site. Tralins and her husband, Keith, opted for a private walk along the beach. With indoor weddings, the couple often enters a room and locks the door to ensure privacy. The seclusion usually lasts from 10 to 20 minutes.
The yichud can take place anywhere, from a rabbi's study to a synagogue classroom. Michele Fox, owner of Center of Attention in Burbank, said she had a client whose yichud took place in a hotel computer room amid copiers and fax machines.
Food frequently plays a part in the time alone. Couples who observe a wedding-day fast break it with the first sip of wine under the chuppah, but they often take their first meal together as husband and wife secluded in the yichud, according to Anita Diamant in "The New Jewish Wedding." Some couples enjoy a favorite dish together, choosing to feed each other as a sign of their mutual bond.
In addition to food, some couples choose to decorate the yichud room, adding flourishes such as rose petals and candles, or request that no silverware be used so that the bride and groom can feed each other. Other yichud traditions vary among communities.
Within the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the groom, followed by the bride, will step over a silver spoon with the right foot upon entering the yichud, which represents a wish for wealth. In addition to eating together, a bride might use the time to bless the groom and put on the jewelry she removed before walking underneath the chuppah.
For modesty, some Sephardic communities save the yichud until after the meal, said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. "There are some who do it after the meal or, like in the Ashkenazi tradition, some who do it immediately after the chuppah. But in the classic Sephardic tradition the idea is that [the couple] would spend time with family before the yichud," he said.
Until recently, liberal Jewish movements generally didn't observe the yichud ritual. Its inclusion in the wedding ceremony has come to represent a time to reflect on the union and accompanying emotions. "In our community, people are probably less aware of the spiritual or historical or liturgical end of [yichud]," said Bill Zoldan of Parties Plus, caterer for Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, a Reconstructionist synagogue.
Even if they are unfamiliar with its Judaic significance, most couples married in a synagogue like the idea of having private time together. After a wedding ceremony, Zoldan and his team will usher the bride and groom into the shul's bridal room, where the couple can indulge in champagne and hors d'oeuvres before joining the reception.
Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, a wedding and event production company in the Pico-Robertson area, said that many of her clients embrace yichud once she explains the concept to them. Dakar feels that educating her clients on the tradition often brings a sense of peace and clarity to the planning process.
"I have found that one of the best ways to help the bride de-stress ... is to focus on the spirituality of the wedding day and the spiritual meaning of what is really happening behind Jewish traditions," Dakar said. Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard of Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village, said he recommends yichud to the couples whose ceremonies he officiates.
"The couple has shared this intense and intimate moment where they're binding themselves to one another and they do so in front of a lot of people," Bernhard said. "It's really important to have a moment of privacy after for just the two of them."