Wedding Practices Dating Back to Lavan

At the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah we read about Rivka’s marriage to Yitzchak and in Parshat Vayetze we read about Yaakov’s marriage to Leah. In both of these stories we see practices that are still part of Jewish weddings today.

When Avraham’s servant went to find a wife for Yitzchak, Lavan and his mother were not in a rush to let Rivka go so soon. They wanted her to wait ten or twelve months before sending her off to get married. The servant explained that he could not wait so long and that he had to get back. At that point (Breisheet 24:57) Lavan and his mother said that they would call her and ask her.

Rashi states that from here we learn that a woman may not be given in marriage unless it is with her consent.

They called Rivka and asked her if she wanted to go and she said “I will go.”

In Breisheet 24:60 “They blessed Rivka and said to her, ‘Our sister may you become thousands of myriads and may your descendents inherit the gates of their foes.’”

Many still bestow his same blessing on the bride before she enters the chupah.

When Rivka saw Yitzchak for the first time (Breisheet 24:65) “…she took her veil and covered herself.”

This is where the tradition comes from that the bride’s face is covered with a veil.

In Vayetze, it is pretty clear that the bride’s face was covered and therefore Yaakov didn’t know that he was marrying Leah instead of Rachel.

In order to avoid this problem, before the chupah (ceremony) takes place the groom makes sure that he has the correct bride and then lowers her veil in a ceremony called the badekin.

In Breisheet 29:22, we read: “Lavan invited all of the local people and he made a wedding feast.”

From here we see that a wedding was celebrated with a feast as is done today with a seudat mitzvah. In those days the entire community was invited. The custom to invite the whole community is still practiced today on kibbutzim in Israel.

When Yaakov saw that he had in fact married Leah and requested to also be able to marry Rachel (his chosen bride), Lavan explaind that he would have to wait until after the week of celebrations (Breisheet 29:27) “Complete the marriage week for this one (Leah), we will then give you the other one (Rachel) also…”

From here we learn that the wedding celebrations lasted for an entire week- similar to the way that we celebrate Sheva Brachot with a different party in honor of the bride and groom each night.

We see from here that many of our wedding traditions date back to the time of Lavan and what was done in his community. However, some of the traditions that Lavan had we are forbidden to practice including marrying two sisters to the same man and setting up a wedding under false pretenses including where the groom doesn’t know which bride he is marrying. To avoid this, we have a Ketubah (marriage contract) where the names of the bride and groom are clearly stated and pairs of witnesses who sign the Ketubah and witness the ceremony.

May we witness many weddings in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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