I’ve attended a Hindu Annaprashan, a Catholic wake and even a Zoroastrian Navjote ceremony. However, none of these events left me feeling quite as much an outsider as the ultra-orthodox Jewish wedding I attended recently.
At a non-Jewish function I can get away with making mistakes. If I do I’ll be politely guided in the right direction, usually the bar, but with Jews I feel I should know better, and I don’t.
Here follows what advice I can offer based on my limited experience.
The fundamental differences between frum and mainstream Jewish weddings are worth noting. Firstly, there is no free kippah at a frum wedding. It is assumed you will bring your own. Make sure you do so. You do get benchers but they’re of no use because there’s no English to tell you which bits to skip. Bensching is virtually impossible to follow because everyone goes solo after the first few words. The way to handle this is to “humble” (that’s mumbling and humming at the same time), tap the table after about 4 minutes then humble again for a minute. You’ll know when the bensching is over because riotous singing begins.
Also, the food at the simcha I attended was so unbelievably glatt kosher that those of us who are less observant were provided with an individually wrapped and sealed non-kosher meal.
Should you ever find yourself at a frum function you’ll notice that most people spend the entire time on their mobile phones. The reason is that a person never sees his or her spouse. The phone is the way by which a wife finds out what is happening on her husband’s side of the mechitsa, and how a husband finds out when he’s supposed to leave.
Non-orthodox women who wish to fit in should tug at their hair every now and again. This will make it look as if they are wearing a sheitl. Pretending to be wearing a sheitl does not, however, remove the requirement for a woman to cover her hair. Double cover is the height of fashion in chassidishe circles.
Finally, instead of an embarrassing best man’s speech (so you see, charedi weddings do have something to commend them), you are treated to a series of interminable droshas delivered by various rabbis and heads of yeshivas, largely in a language I call “100mph Yiddish”. Each will pound on about the groom: he’s a talmud chocham, such chesed, a good son, he’s sure to make a fine husband, etc.
Similarly, the bride will be lauded: her father is a talmud chocham, such chesed, a fine father, etc.
But let’s not dwell too long on the girl. Let’s talk about the marvellous groom. A talmud chocham, such chesed…
It’s not polite to leave during the speeches so order your taxi for no earlier than 2am. Sorry.