Most Jewish weddings conclude with the groom stamping on a glass wrapped in a cloth. This unusual ritual has its roots deep in Jewish history and identity.
The breaking of the glass is a delightful characteristic of Jewish weddings, but the joyous congratulations which accompany the event belie the sombre meaning of the ritual.
The Meaning of Breaking the Glass
The most widespread meaning attached to the glass-smashing ritual is that it symbolises the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. As the Temple functioned as the centre of worship in Judaism, its destruction has been devastating to the Jewish people. By remembering this national sadness during the joyous festivities of a wedding, Jews “set Jerusalem above [their] highest joy” (Psalm 137). This celebration of Jewish identity is seen as auspicious for the new couple, placing the beginning of their married life within the framework of the joys and sorrows of Jews throughout history.
Variations on Smashing the Glass Within Judaism
The glass-smashing ceremony often concludes the wedding service, and the successful smashing is heralded by shouts of “Mazel tov!” and general rejoicing. Within the Ashkenazi Jewish community, the ritual occurs earlier in the ceremony, just before the reading of the ketubah (marriage contract).
In Maurice Lamm’s article ‘The Breaking of the Glass’ on the site Chabad.org, Lamm notes that Jewish opinion is divided on whether the glass to be smashed ought to be the nuptial cup, the betrothal cup or simply a ‘prop’ glass. Nowadays an old light bulb is sometimes used instead inside the cloth, as it is easier to smash. Traditionally the groom (chatan) is the one who breaks the glass; in more modern circles, the bride (kallah) may participate.
Some Jews accompany the smashing of the glass by reciting from Psalm 137: “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail at the height of my joy.”
Alternative Meanings for the Glass-Smashing Ceremony
Several different meanings have been devised for the ceremony. One interpretation is that the fragility of the glass symbolises the fragility of trust, commitment and love that make up a marriage; the implication being that couples must be careful not to ‘smash’ those qualities. Another view is that the breaking of the glass is a break with the past: the marriage is to last as long as the glass remains broken, ie. forever. Breaking the glass may also be a reminder to the wedding guests not to get drunk and forget themselves at the wedding reception. Jewish men may also joke at the wedding that this is the last time the groom gets to ‘put his foot down’!
Breaking the Glass in Mixed-Faith Unions
Generally speaking, a Jew who marries a non-Jew must forsake some of the traditions of a Jewish wedding. Among these is the ceremony of smashing the glass. Some mixed-faith weddings adopt a different ritual such as a unity candle or sand-pouring ritual to end the service on a similarly high note, although the meaning of these rituals is not identical to the glass-smashing ritual.
There are various interpretations of why we do this and where the breaking glass Jewish wedding tradition came from.Here are a few of the most popular explanations:
Choose the interpretation of the breaking glass Jewish wedding tradition that resonates with you and it will make that part of your ceremony more meaningful. Many couples like to include a brief explanation in their Jewish wedding program that describes what this act means to them.
Do It Yourself Jewish Wedding Glass Ideas
Any glass may be used for the Jewish wedding glass, although most couples choose a special glass to be broken and kept. It is commonly wrapped in a cloth napkin (to avoid dangerous glass shards) or enclosed in a pre-made cloth pouch. A “do it yourself” option is to purchase a single colored glass goblet to be used in the breaking glass Jewish wedding tradition. Look for a unique glass at a vintage or used thrift store. If you are planning on keeping the glass shards from the breaking glass consider colored glass instead of clear, especially if you plan to do a craft project with them later. Make certain the glass you choose is not too thick. It needs to be easily broken when stepped on! For this reason, stay away from heavy lead crystal goblets.
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