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WEDDING RITUALS AND CUSTOMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

By: Dave Gordon



As this is the wedding issue, it is only appropriate to bring to Community readers fascinating information about rituals that have been adopted and cultivated at various times in history, and in various parts of the world.

Though this short survey is not an exhaustive list of Jewish rituals around the world – nor is it a complete list of regional or ethnic practices - it offers a snapshot into what our brethren in other lands hold as cherished traditions.

Iraq– The traditionof applying “henna,” the red paste used to adorn the skin before and during a wedding ceremony, is shared among many cultures. Its name symbolizes the three mitzvot specific to the Jewish woman: halla, nida, and hadlakat ha-nerot. (Camphisis the name forhenna which is used in Shir Hashirim and the Talmud.)

Iraqi Jews dubbed it leilat al-hinni, the night of the henna, for the evening before the wedding.

The groom would send the henna to the bride’s house, along with gifts for her family, which may include sweets, candles, and shoes.

Later, the bride and the groom have their hands and feet hennaed. Though in recent times, it was only on the bride’s fingertips, and one finger of the groom’s which got hennaed. At the henna ceremony, two genres of Iraqi music were played: chalghi Baghdad, an instrumental ensemble, and daqqaqat, an all-women drumming troupe.

At the wedding itself, traditional Iraqi Jewish brides wore silver bells and golden nose rings.

Morocco– A similar traditional Moroccan Jewish henna ceremony takes place during the week preceding the wedding. It has various names: La Noche de Novia, Berberisca, Soirée du Henné, Noche de Paños or Lilat el Henna. The henna is placed on the bride’s palms, and sometimes the soles of her feet.

The bride, wearing a Berberisca gown made of velvet, with ornate embroidery in gold thread, enters the room, as the families gather to sing to her. The bride’s dress is composed of various parts, including a belt, headpiece, jacket, a breastplate made of velvet, a velvet and silk sash, and laced sleeves.

The groom often wears a jilaba, a red hat, and a white caftan.

The bride also receives a hamsa(five-fingered hand) on a chain, placed around her neck, to ward off evil spirits.

Yemen– During a Yemenite wedding, the bride wears a headdress decorated with flowers and rue leaves, and gold threads are woven into the fabric of her clothing. Sometimes the veils were made with dangling gold coins.

The ceremony takes place in a colorfully decorated room in the groom’s house, rather than under the customary huppah.

Specific to the community of Aden is Talbis, male attendees revolving around the groom,as they honor him with song, while holding candles. The groom, meanwhile, is dressed in a gold suit.

Algeria– The traditional Algerian wedding dress has layers of fabric in various colors such as reds, pinks, blues and yellows, adorned with gold and silver details. The bride also wears a conical hat and a draping lace veil.

Celebrations include a bride’s sauna bath with female friends and relatives, a henna party that concludes with the tearing up of one of the bride’s dresses, and parading of some ofthe bride’s family’s belongings - which would eventually be given to the groom.

Tunisia– The pre-wedding festivities do not include the
bride-to-be, and she does not speak until she officially becomes a wife.

Many guests wear sandals, while the bridewears long earrings, weighted with pearls and diamonds.

Her trousers are made of red velvet with gold braid, and her upper garment is also embroidered and braided with gold. Her veil and slippers are also gold-embroidered.

The bride’s hair is treated with a dye that turns the hair to a bluish tint, her eyelids are blackened, and a thick line of red paint connects them. Her finger-tips and nails are painted with
orange henna.

At some Tunisian weddings, the gifts are exhibited for all to see, which often include dresses, perfumes, slippers, jewels, dyes, and scented soaps.

 Afghanistan– The bride would sit in a special room, unveiled, while dressed in her gown, holding silver amulets.

The groom – wearing a white robe, adorned with multi-colored flowers,stars and birds – is welcomed into the room with songs and sparklers. Attendees present the groom with a dish of fruits and sweets, while a young boy dances in front of him, as he balances a bowl of henna on his head. The chief rabbi administers the firsthenna on the groom.

A mashade (hairdresser) dyes the bride’s eyebrows with indigo (vasma), and adds dots and lines on her forehead (and sometimes on her cheeks and chin) with a black soot ink called khetat. Her forehead is decorated with sequins glued onin patterns.

After a festive meal, which includes a pilaf with mutton, they bring the khanche-ye hana, the henna tray, placed in a large brass bowl (tashtak) with candles and decorated iris leaves (zambak). Festivities also include sweets, and a large sugar cone decorated with colorful ribbons.

India– Indian Jews have the mehndiceremony, where the bride’s hands are adorned with henna designs. As Jewish weddings tend to be on Sundays, the henna begins on Friday mornings.

Other local rituals include the bride wearing a garland strung from jasmine flowers, and both the bride and groom are smeared with a yellow paste of turmeric on their faces, to bless the couple with fortune and prosperity.

Instead of ring exchanges, they tie the mangalsutra– a gold and black bead necklace which symbolically keeps the couple safe from harm. The groom gives his bride a mangalsutra.