Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Breaking the Glass: New Tendencies in the Ritual Practice of Modern Jewish Orthodox and Alternative Weddings

Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Breaking the Glass: New Tendencies in the Ritual Practice of Modern Jewish Orthodox and Alternative Weddings

Article excerpt


Breaking the glass became one of the pivotal features of a Jewish wedding (Goldberg, 2003). The traditional explanation of this custom is reminding the couple and guests of the Templ's destruction, accompanied with the verse from the Psalms (137:5-6) recited by the groom: "If I forget You, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [its dexterity]. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I will not remember you; if I will not bring Jerusalem to mind during my greatest joy." Then he steps on the glass to break it.

Like many other ritual symbols, glass-breaking has more than one fixed and unequivocal meaning. Its meaning has evolved over centuries, in different social contexts and among different social groups. Actually, ritual symbols can clearly be seen as condensed and multi-vocal (Turner, 1974; Douglas, 1970). As Goldberg (1998) mentioned in his article on glass-breaking, the huge popularity of this ritual reflects its ability to entail a variety of interpretations in terms of social processes, popular and rabbinical beliefs, and sexual allusions.

In modern Israeli society, Jewish life-cycle rituals are now characterized by a rich variety of styles and modes. Some of them challenge the Orthodox Jewish ritual and give rise to a whole array of new, alternative forms of ritual. Contemporary Jewish weddings display a variety of ritual actions connected to glass-breaking, such as blowing up a balloon or breaking a clock; re-assembling the glass; breaking the glass by bride instead of groom; breaking together a fluorescent; playing the sound of breaking the glass; declamation using different phrases instead of the traditional verse from Psalms; breaking a second glass in memory of deportation from Gush Katif in Gaza accompanied by spreading some sand from Gush Katif or ash from the Tomb of Joseph on groom's head.

All these examples indicate changes and innovations of the traditional custom. Thus the goal of this article is to examine the current dynamics of glass-breaking ritual at different types of orthodox and alternative wedding ceremonies in Israel and to identify central tendencies in this field. The article offers an anthropological "situational analysis" (Deshen, 1997a) of religious symbols reflecting changing situations among the people who carry them. The article will outline six general tendencies in renewal of the glass-breaking symbol: return to the roots, eradication, aesthetization, a challenge to the patriarchal nature of the act, politicization, and translation into individual or universal meanings, while emphasizing broader social tendencies of Israeli society.

Orthodox and alternative rituals in contemporary Israel

The pivotal lifecycle events such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death are accompanied by Jewish rites of passage: circumcision/zeved habat, bar/bat-mitzvah, wedding, and mourning ritual. Jewish life cycle rituals have been changing substantially over the centuries; current wedding rituals too comprise an array of various styles and modes. Some of these new, alternative forms of ritual challenge the monopoly of legal validity that the Orthodox Jewish wedding ritual has acquired since the establishment of the State. Because the State officially recognizes only the Jewish Orthodox ritual, every Jewish ritual deviating from the Orthodox form is denied recognition from the Rabbinate and Interior Ministry of Israel. These types of non-Orthodox rituals are presented in this study as "alternative" weddings that challenge and criticize the Orthodox pattern or alter some of its main components. Alternative wedding rituals in Israel is a complicated phenomena, which has at least six social sources: progressive Judaism as reformist movement; "return to the Jewish bookshelf" among secular Israelis also known as Jewish renewal movement; a civic tendency as it comes to expression in performance of civil marriages by "New Family" organization; New Age movements involved in performance of spiritual and mystical weddings; the kibbutz movement; and homo-lesbian movement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.