Planning a wedding takes thoughtfulness, patience and support (not to mention a massive savings account). And when it comes to the time, date and pace of a Jewish wedding, precision and a schedule can be a couple’s best friend.
To help couples determine how best to plot their big day, we consulted with two wedding planners: Sarah Dakar, owner of Under the Chuppah, and Tobey Dodge, owner of the Wedding Connection by Tobey Dodge.
First things first: setting the date. Two times of year are off-limits for traditional Jewish weddings — sefirat ha-Omer (counting the Omer), or the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, and bein ha-Metzarim (the three weeks), the time between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. Both time periods commemorate tragic events in Jewish history.
Most rabbis will not marry a couple on Shabbat. That leaves the rest of the week, Friday before sundown, Saturday night after sundown or Sunday.
Since weddings last, on average, about six hours, the majority of Jewish weddings happen on Sundays to avoid the reception lasting until the following morning.
If a couple has their heart set on a Saturday night wedding, though, Dodge recommends setting the invitation time for at least 40 minutes after sundown. “The rabbi would have to travel,” she said.
Once the date is selected, couples need to decide which traditions they will keep and which they will leave behind, if any. “Couples pick and choose what traditions they want,” Dakar said.
If they choose to keep all the Jewish wedding traditions, the event will start with kabbalat panim, or the greeting of the bride and groom, which adds an additional hour or hour-and-a-half to the event. As such, the ceremony often begins around 4 p.m. to ensure that guests can leave by 11 p.m.
During the kabbalat panim, the bride and groom are separated. Guests arrive and greet the bride, mingle, eat and drink in the room where the bride is seated. The groom and his male family, friends and wedding party are drinking and eating at the tish in a separate room, where he will also sign the wedding documents and the ketubbah, the marriage contract.
The kabbalat panim ends with the bedeken, or veiling of the bride by the groom. The bedeken is short and sweet, lasting only about five to seven minutes.
Guests then move toward the chuppah. Jewish weddings often take place outside of a shul. “The most traditional place to get married in Jewish law is outside, underneath the stars,” Dakar said.
So moving from the kabbalat panim to the ceremony is generally a matter of simply ushering guests from one room to the next, which, Dodge said, takes about 15 minutes. If the ceremony and reception are in different locations, said Dodge, allow an hour for guests to move from one place to the other.
The ceremony lasts about 30 to 45 minutes, and guests are then directed to the cocktail area, where they will stay for another hour.
Some couples choose to go into a private room, known as yichud, after the ceremony, to spend 10 to 15 minutes together for the first time as husband and wife. Following the cocktail hour and yichud, the reception begins.
If our example wedding began at 4 p.m., by the time the reception begins it’s about 7:45 p.m. The bride and groom enter the ballroom and are introduced as husband and wife before guests, and then the party dances the horah for about 15 minutes.
From there, the reception is a perfectly timed regimen consisting of dinner courses, speeches and dancing. “Every course is about 20 minutes, except for the main course which is about half an hour,” Dodge said.
“People spread out and dance between courses.”
Between appetizers and the main course, the parents of the bride or the maid of honor and best man make speeches. Following the main course, another break for speeches and dancing often includes the father/daughter and mother/son dances, and finally the cake cutting.
“From the time [guests] come into the ballroom till they leave the reception is about four hours,” Dodge said.
So while it may seem that the reception has a life of its own, in reality it’s a highly structured event, and no doubt there is a wedding coordinator somewhere on the sidelines sweating.
“It’s planned down to the minute,” Dakar said.
In other words, don’t try to fake it — bring in a wedding coordinator if you can. If not, make sure that the day is scheduled to within inches of your bridal life.