As a whole, the Jewish wedding is divided into three prominent sections: pre-wedding, the wedding ceremony itself, and the after festivities. In my last post, I discussed the groom’s place prior to the ceremony with the writing of the ketubah. That part of the wedding ritual is generally known as Kabbalas Panim. But while the groom is hanging out with his friends, the bride has her own ritual, Hachnassas Kallah or “attending the bride.”
The ritual predominantly stages the bride (aka kallah) sitting on a throne-like chair, surrounded by her bridal party (friends, family, etc.) and a line of guests forms in front of her, eager to receive blessings uniquely available to a kallah on this special day. Hachnassas Kallah is not observed by everyone as it seems to be a predominantly Ashkenazi custom. Some kallahs may not actually want to be displayed so prominently and it goes somewhat against non-Jewish/secular practices where the bride is kept away until she walks down the aisle. But for those who do decide to engage in this custom, it can be extraordinary and transformative.
Hachnassas Kallah harkens back to a tradition where the community escorted the kallah to the chuppah. Though that specific custom is no longer practiced, Hachnassas Kallah now functions to give opportunities to do the most essential mitzvah of the whole wedding, making the bride happy. The Talmud speaks candidly about how profound it is to make a kallah happy on her wedding day. Sacrificing time devoted to Torah study, selling a Torah scroll to assist a poor bride needing money for a dowry, and even stopping a funeral procession to give precedence to a wedding procession (should they intersect) are all examples of how highly Judaism regards the honoring, praising, and doing whatever is necessary to make the bridge happy on this holy day.
Now I could go into all the halacha (laws), trying to elaborate on the symbolism, and diving into the depth of it all like I usually do. But that seems a bit dry for what is such a beautiful tradition. So in the place of my usual fare, I’ve reached out to some women who have gone through it and asked them to share their experience. Luckily (for both your sake and mine) they agreed.
Delta, a social media/marketing manager got married to Joshua in 2015.
We have family at every part of the Jewish spectrum and a good chunk who aren't Jewish at all. One of our big worries was, would they enjoy a wedding that is so different from what they know? Would they be confused why the bride and groom are initially separated and doing their own thing. Turns out we had nothing to worry about.
I loved sitting on my bridal throne. It seems like an awkward concept to be displayed like a shiny new car for all to ogle and compliment. But instead of receiving compliments and having to force out small talk, what's so beautiful about this tradition is how it turns typical wedding tropes upside down. Because the bride is holy on her wedding day, people line up to speak to her so she can give them a blessing, not the other way around. I remember sitting there and getting to see all of these faces smiling at me, and I would ask them what they wanted in their lives. Security, money, health, happiness. And then I got to give them a blessing for it.
Hashem's Shechina (God's presence) funneling through me like a fairy godmother who could suddenly grant wishes. The false compliments and small talk had no place in that moment of real honest communication. So I felt compelled to bless as many as I could before my time on the throne was up. But then when the time did come for Joshua to dance over to me, I felt the power of all those blessings I'd given out coming back to me.
Becky, actor/producer/director got married to Nathan in 2020 mere weeks before the pandemic struck.
I have always loved the idea of having a space to be. Such a powerful thing, to do your best to channel being a queen as a woman, cus what does that mean in today's world? The queen sits at a designated place and people come to her. I think you have to designate a space, you have to create a throne. Just like marriage is creating a throne.
To me at a very basic pshat (surface understanding) level is like... it was great to have somewhere to be. And know that I wasn't expected to be walking around and doing the thing that I do at events... which is like, you know, say hi and make everyone feel comfortable. It was very much about me and I could sit and be calm and be grounded and not need to be running around. I could be focused on the one thing, which is to sit in my power, in my space, with the people I love around me. My mom and my sister on either side, so again, very grounding, and have people come to me. I think that is... that's really unique, have the woman feel really special and central and holy.
I feel like at parties I'm just trying to please everyone and this was very much about people coming to me.
Batsheva, an educational consultant with New Lens Ed, was married in 2004.
I really davevend (prayed) to Hashem that I could channel the right blessings to the right people. So one of the things that happened that I won't forget.... My parents have this friend who they've been friends with forever. She was dating... they're a bit older, maybe around early 70's at the time... and the man she had been dating, had not been well. I don't know how I knew that, I don't remember how much I knew, but I also think I knew that he had been depressed, because he wasn't well.
I started giving him this bracha (blessing) and it started pouring out of me. I was just telling him about how much he's needed and how much he's loved... and he should be blessed to understand why... and that he should have good health... and I just went on and on and on. And I guess I went on about... I don't really remember what I said actually... but it was all about understanding why he was going through it all.
I found out later that he had really teared up, he had really cried over it, and he was like shaking, after my blessing. It really hit him to the core. He decided, he even said that it was a turning point for him to decide not to take his own life, to stick around. So, 17 years later he's still alive. So he didn't kill himself, so that's really good. When I heard what happened from his side of the story, I was really blown away. I just really thanked Hashem for giving me that opportunity to help in whatever way I could.
You know, I don't know, that... I don't know how I might have affected other people. That's just one of the stories I heard. But it was a lovely opportunity. In the secular world, brides obsess over every detail. Though the [Jewish] idea is to focus on greeting the bride, but it really is an amazing time for her to not focus on herself but to focus on other people and to spend those thirty seconds or two minutes to connect. It's a beautiful custom. It makes you feel like a queen... but a benevolent queen.
I want to thank Delta, Becky, and Batsheva so profoundly for sharing those personal experiences. Whether a kallah decides to take part in this tradition or not, there is no doubting the exceptional power of her presence. But the takeaway is that Judaism recognizes the wedding process is stressful with a myriad of details to worry about. This practice creates a place for the kallah to collect and focus herself. The more that space is honored, the more the blessing is drawn down. So if you find yourself at a Jewish wedding, make sure you make the bride smile, tell her how beautiful she looks, and whatever you do, don’t leave without a bracha.