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A Smashing Engagement

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Topic: Breaking a Plate at Engagement

[Name Withheld] from New York wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

My son is marrying, G-d willing, in June and we have heard of a pre-marriage ceremony called "The Breaking of the Plate." Would you be so kind as to share the significance of this ceremony as well as the actual performance (ritual). Thank you.

Dear [Name Withheld],

Firstly, Mazal Tov!

When a couple decides to marry, they announce the occasion with an engagement party. In Yiddish this event is called a vort, which means a "word." At the vort the man and woman traditionally give their "word" and formally commit to marry.

There is a custom to break a ceramic plate at the vort. This symbolizes the seriousness of their commitment to each other: Just as breaking the plate is final, so too the engagement is final and not easily terminated.

Breaking the plate also tempers the intense joy of the occasion, similar to the glass which is broken under the chupah. It reminds us that the Temple is not yet rebuilt.

Customarily, the couple's mothers are the ones who break the plate. They hold the plate together and drop it onto a hard surface. It's important to wrap the plate well to ensure that no one gets hurt from the broken pieces. I once attended a vort where a flying splinter from a not well-wrapped plate went into the leg of one of the mothers.

Some have the custom to make a necklace for the bride from the broken pieces. Others give the broken pieces to eligible "singles" as if to say "may a plate soon be broken for you." Some break the plate at the wedding just before the chuppa.

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