For the week ending 1 January 2005 / 20 Tevet 5765

Marriage Customs

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Name Withheld in New York

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 that is broken under the chupah. It reminds us that the Temple is not yet rebuilt [readers, see below].

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

From: David F. Scott

I have a question for your "Ask the Rabbi" series. At a Jewish wedding the groom places the glass under his foot and smashes it into several pieces. What is the significance of this act? I have a friend who is soon to be married and he asked me this question.

Dear David,

It says in the verse, If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy (Psalms 137). Therefore, even at times of "foremost joy" such as a wedding, we smash a glass in order to recall the Temple and the glory of Jerusalem during The Temple era and regret its destruction.

On the other hand, the fact that we break the glass at this time of union between husband and wife as they unite to build a new home, symbolizes and expresses our hope that G-d and the Jewish people will also soon unite to rebuild the Temple and restore their former intimacy and glory.

Another reason is based on the Talmud in Berachot: "[The Torah] says 'Serve G-d with fear and rejoice with trembling'... Rav Ashi made a wedding for his son. When he saw that the Rabbis were getting 'carried away' in their rejoicing, he brought out a crystal glass and broke it before them and they became more solemn."

The authors of the Tosefot state that this is the source for the breaking of the glass at weddings. We learn from this that even at an occasion of great rejoicing, one must take measures to ensure that the celebration remains within bounds of propriety and holiness.

  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 560:2
  • Berachot, pages 30b-31a
  • Tosefot - Berachot, 31a, "Aissi...."

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