Wedding stone at the synagogue of Ehrstädt, Germany. Wikimedia cc-by-sa-3.0. Photograph by Peter Schmelzle.

In southern Germany, synagogue walls were constructed with a built-in wedding stone, according to local Jewish folk practice and beliefs. The wedding stone (traustein, hochzeitsstein, chuppastein, huppa stone, marriage stone, or in Yiddish hupeh-shtain) is a stone used for the ritual crushing of a glass at a Jewish wedding. The stone was set in the northern wall of the synagogue. The tradition of the wedding stone started in the seventeenth-century, and was a common tradition until the early nineteenth-century. The custom was probably in use long before the seventeenth-century, but synagogues have been destroyed, effectively erasing the physical traces of local Jewish culture.

Bridegrooms would break a glass against such a stone in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, or to dispel evil spirits. The ancient custom may have been intended originally to avert the forces of evil, or perhaps it is to remind the couple and their guests of the fragility of all happiness. The wedding stone has an inscription referring to the joy of wedding, and/or the Hebrew initial letters of mazel tov. The wedding lasted several days, with a procession through town, an outdoor wedding ceremony, and a dinner at a different location. Local folklore says the glass was thrown to the northern synagogue wall, since popular belief held that demons and evil spirits resided in that region. The wine in the glass was intended as a bribe for the evil forces. The broken fragments of the glass would hurt the demons, or the noise of the shattering glass would frighten them away. This ceremony was practiced throughout southern, southwestern Germany, but was unknown elsewhere. The earliest wedding stones have a depiction of a star with six or eight “rays.” It wasn’t until 1744 that the Shield of David, a star composed of two overlaid equilateral triangles, was depicted on a wedding stone in Ansbach. It seems, that the tradition stopped in the year 1836, when the wedding stone is no longer found integrated in synagogue walls.

A wedding stone above the entrance of the synagogue in Heinsheim, Germany. It shows the Shield of David along with the year of construction (1796), the two Hebrew letters that stand for “mazel tov,” and the other letters for Jeremiah 7:34. Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0. Photograph by Peter Schmelzle

In sixteenth century Germany the social situation of the Jews was insecure. Jews had been expelled from most German cities, and lived in villages. In many parts they had the right of “free worship” but not of “public worship,” and they were forced to build their synagogues behind other buildings or away from the street. Often, they worshipped in prayer rooms within private rooms or in houses converted into synagogues. In southern German villages most synagogue buildings differed little from ordinary homes. Building a synagogue facing the street could make it a target. Although some were decorated on the inside with painted walls, carved arks and reader’s platforms, they were usually extremely plain on the outside.

The Synagogue of Eppingen in Germany. Wikimedia cc-by-sa-3.0. Photograph by Peter Schmelzle.

 

The “head of a lion standing in the eastern wall” of the synagogue in Worms was reported by Juda Löw Kirchheim, who died in 1632. Kirchheim described it as a “wedding stone,” a carved plaque built into a synagogue outer wall as a target for throwing a glass during the wedding ceremony. He explained that the ceremony was arranged in the square to the southeast of the synagogue, at the entrance to the community wedding hall facing northward. The bridegroom broke the glass on the head of the lion on the wall and then immediately rushed back to the wedding hall. He would have stood at the northern side of the square, in front of the synagogue’s corner, or a couple of steps further away, at the entrance to the narrow Hintere Judengasse, by the edge of the synagogue’s eastern wall.

References: Juda Löw Kirchheim,Minhagot Vermaiza (Customs of Worms Jewry),ed Israel Mordechai Pels (Jerusalem,1987),in Hebrew. The custom of throwing a glass with wine at the wall in order to break is also described in the 11th century Mahzor Vitry,sign 470.