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At Jewish weddings, guests stand for the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle.
Why does it matter?
Rabbi Aharon ben Yaakov HaKohen (Orhot Hayyim, Hilkhot Kiddushin) notes a custom in 14th century Provence to stand for a groom as he walked in the street, during the wedding blessings, and when he was called to the Torah. In justifying this practice, he quotes Pirkei de-Rebbi Eliezer (16:16):
The bridegroom is like a king. Just as a king is praised by everybody, so is the bridegroom praised by everybody (during) the seven days of the feast. Just as a king is dressed in garments of glory, so the bridegroom is dressed in garments of glory. Just as a king is rejoicing, with feasts in his presence, all his days, so the bridegroom is rejoicing and has feasts before him all the seven days of the banquet…
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Elef Lekha Shelomo, E.H. 115) quotes a Kabbalistic source for standing during the ceremony itself:
I have found in the Tikkunei Zohar that the entire world is required to stand with the groom and bride when they recite the seven blessings under the bridal canopy and it is forbidden for them to sit. Certainly, it is fitting to be concerned for his words, the words of the living God.
Rabbi Haim Palachi quotes Rabbi Ovadia MiBartenura’s comments regarding standing for those who perform mitzvot, like circumcision and burial (Bikkurim 3:3). He extends this to those who stand during the wedding ceremony itself.
While the custom of friends accompanying the groom and bride to the huppa is recorded by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (Kitzur Shulhan Arukh 147:5), the practice of standing for a bride and groom is not recorded in any classic codes of Jewish law. Such ritualistic arising becomes even more surprising when we note that the wedding procession, as we know it today, originated with Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise’s marriage to Frederick William IV of Prussia on January 25, 1858, in the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace.
That a royal wedding would produce the Jewish procession reflects the association between king and groom established in Pirkei de-Rebbi Eliezar. The modern Jewish wedding, like the modern secular wedding, took its form after World War II. A growing middle class utilized the wedding celebration as a screen upon which to project both economic and social success. Yet, the modeling after the king takes on new forms in a society where celebrity culture predominates. Standing is just the beginning. The modern wedding catapults the bride and groom into celebrity status for a day. This comes with luxury; it comes with designer clothes; it comes with a glam squad (a team of hair and beauty experts); it comes with a camera following the entire day. It comes with a question: “Is this healthy?”
Celebrity “culture” results from the willingness to alter one’s life to take part in celebrities’ lives. The mitzva to rejoice with bride and groom appropriately embodies this willingness (Shulhan Arukh, E.H. 65:1). The bride and groom really should be the center of attention. Guests are religiously mandated to bring them joy through that attention. If standing during the procession brings the bride and groom joy, guests certainly should grant it to them. Yet, a religious society that espouses modesty and rejects idolatry might fall prey to celebrity-culture’s excesses. How can we avoid such abuses?
What questions remain?
From 2020-2022 weddings were celebrated on a smaller scale due to COVID restrictions. What lessons about effectively honoring the bride and groom were preserved from those experiences?
The modern wedding links a religious ceremony to a material celebration. Party culture has become part of Jewish culture. What are the implicit values contained within a party, and what effects do they have on a religious community?
How many weddings is the average person invited to over the course of a lifetime? How would that sitting (and standing) time be utilized if they were not wedding spectators?
Is it good to be king? Is it good to be a celebrity? Is it good to be a celebrity for a day?
Chaim Strauchler, an associate editor of TRADITION, is rabbi of Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck.