Today we're excited to start a new series about Jewish wedding traditions and alternatives with an exploration of Kabbalat Panim. Curious to learn more? Sign up below to download our free 36-page guide about planning a Jewish wedding!
The Kabbalat Panim is the first part of the wedding, a ritualized “cocktail hour” traditionally made up of three components: the Bride’s Throne, the Groom’s Tisch, and the Bedekken (though it can also be performed without gendered roles, and we’ll tell you how). This segment of the wedding begins with both partners welcoming guests separately from each other, and then coming together to begin the wedding ceremony. As you plan your own wedding, you can make choices about which parts (if any) you would like to do separately, and also about how to incorporate the ketubah signing, which is traditionally signed by only men during the groom’s tisch, but is now commonly signed in the presence of both partners in a separate ceremony.
The Bride’s Throne and the Groom’s Tisch
In this tradition, the bride sits in a throne and welcomes her guests, while a groom sits at a table in another room and welcomes his. Because both partners are thought to be particularly holy on their wedding day, they can also bestow blessings on their wedding guests individually, an especially intimate gesture. Though traditionally the bride welcomes women and the groom welcomes men, many couples choose to welcome guests of any gender. This couple did just that, in an egalitarian version of this tradition where each set up their own tisch table, separately welcoming all of their guests.
By beginning the wedding each on their own, this traditions serves to sanctify the separation between the couple and further build up to the moment when they see each other for the first time on their wedding day.
Photo by Stacy Newgent
Following the Kabbalat Panim, the groom is danced towards his bride by his guests and the Bedekken begins. The Bedekken, or traditional veiling ceremony, is really all about the couple truly noticing each other for the first time on their wedding day. The groom first looks at his bride, covers her face with a veil and says a blessing. This video captures this uniquely joyful tradition.
It is said that when Moses gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai, his face was so bright with holiness that people couldn’t look at him, and he had to wear a veil to filter the divine glare. It is thought to be similar for a bride on her wedding day: that she is so holy she is almost too dazzling to behold. She is veiled because the holiness is a private thing, meant to be conserved for the couple. It also shifts the focus beyond physical beauty, conveying that the groom’s love is based instead on the bride’s inner beauty.
If you feel uncomfortable with the veil and its associations, check out this compilation of alternative Bedekken ceremonies. Some couples may choose to put a kippah (a prayer cap) on each other, or to pin one another with flowers, instead of using a veil. Yet another ritual, appropriate for same-sex and egalitarian weddings, has each partner entering the room at the same time, standing back to back, and envisioning significant moments in the relationship before turning around to face each other.