A guide to orthodox weddings.

February 22, 2010

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.


My Wedding Nightmare

January 5, 2009

I went to a non-Jewish wedding.  It was a nightmare.  If you’ve ever seen the Martin Scorsese movie “After Hours” you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

This wedding was in a place called The Countryside.  I don’t know exactly where that is.  It doesn’t matter really.  All I know is that there are no Jews there. It was midwinter, and we had been invited to the reception only, the church being too small to accommodate everyone.  That suited us just fine.  It’s cold enough in the winter, but even colder inside a church, strangely.

The venue for the reception was an old Tudor manor house and we were invited for 7pm.  Perfect.  We spent a relaxing day exploring The Countryside and then changed into our formal get-up before making our way to the dinner and dance.  As we entered the place we were aware that there weren’t many people around, but were assured that this was the right location.  Ushered into a large and dimly lit room that doubled as a cold storage warehouse, we found two other couples and a small bar.  It turned out that we weren’t early, but that the main party hadn’t yet finished eating and were somewhere else in the building.

I asked if there would be any more to eat, since, with the time gone 7pm I was likely to faint if I was to be denied my evening meal.  “Oh yes,”  I was told, “there’ll be sausage rolls and chipolatas later”.  “What!” I demanded,  “When was the evening meal being served?”  It transpired that the wedding party was, in fact, coming to the end of the evening meal and we had been invited to drive all the way to The Countryside for a disco.  Who on earth sits down for their evening meal at four in the afternoon?  More to the point, who invites someone to a party for 7pm without feeding them?

So there we were, in the middle of nowhere and I was in the early stages of starvation.  Well, I thought, since we’re here let’s have a drink and consider our options.  I approached the bar, and as I did so noticed a chalkboard announcing the prices for the drinks.   I hadn’t brought my wallet.  Why would I?  Who needs money at a wedding?  I had never felt so humiliated.  First no food, and now I had to pay for my drinks.  What was this?  A business initiative?

There was only one thing we could do.  We drove back to our B&B to pick up my debit card and a couple of warm jumpers.   We then drove through about 20 villages before we found a hole-in-the-wall and then searched for something to eat, eventually queuing for fish and chips (in black-tie).  We ate in the car, being careful not to drip grease into our laps.

After a round trip of about 50 miles we arrived back at the party, which was, by now, in full swing.  Some people were dancing so enthusiastically that the icicles were falling from the ends of their noses and they were slipping in the puddles that were forming at their feet.

The bar tender was unimpressed by my request for two Cokes.  It appears I should have been ordering large measures of vodka with them.  To be fair I could see his point;  this could easily have been Siberia, after all. I only ordered Coke because they weren’t doing hot chocolate.  Fortunately, by now it was so late that we didn’t need to stay long and furthermore, the bride and groom were so schicker that they would have neither noticed nor remembered our presence.  We quickly said our good-byes and retreated to the B&B.

It was a truly sobering lesson.  While we Jews kvetch about the cost of putting on a wedding that has to be even more spectacular than the Goldberg do last year, the gentiles have got it all worked out.  When it comes to my turn to host a wedding party, God willing, I’ll be attaching invoices to the invitations.