Tena'im (Engagement) Ceremony

Found In: Sanctifying Intimate Relationships, Honoring Relationship Milestones

Tags: tenaim, engagement

By Joshua Yan and Alison Engel | Complete Ceremony

"Tenaim," which translates as "conditions," is an Ashkenazic tradition of engagement (Ashkenazic means from Jewish people of Eastern European or Russian descent like the two of us!). From the 12th to the 19th century, the Tenaim ceremony announced that two families had come to an agreement on the marriage of their two children. At the ceremony, the Tenaim document, a pre-wedding contract that sets out this agreement, was read out loud, signed and witnessed, and a piece of crockery was smashed to seal the deal. Traditionally, the document set out the terms of the marriage, including the date of the wedding ceremony (chuppah).

Because the Tenaim document is not a Jewish legal requirement for a marriage, there are many different customs for creating a personal and meaningful tenaim ceremony and document.

Our Tenaim Document

We have created our own tenaim contract that sets out for us the conditions of our upcoming marriage. As you will hear when the document is read out loud, some of the traditional language of a tenaim document is used, including the announcement of the date and time of our wedding. We have also included conditions that we believe are important for us to have a successful marriage. We have particularly focused on the combination of living a religious Jewish life, while affirming our commitment to openness, inclusiveness and diversity.

The reading of our Tenaim document will be the first public declaration of our intent to be married and officially changes our status to chatan and kallah, groom and bride.

How Will the Ceremony Work?

1. Havdalah

The Ceremony will begin with Havdalah, the ritual that separates the Sabbath (which begins Friday evening and ends Saturday evening) from the rest of the week. The word "Havdalah" means distinction. A marker is set between holy time and regular time.

Havdalah is a beautiful, sensual ceremony. Blessings are made over wine, spices and fire and everyone is invited to sip the wine, smell the spices and watch the fire shed light on their fingers.

We find it particularly fitting to begin our tenaim ceremony with Havdalah, as the separation made between Shabbat and the rest of the week is also creating a distinction between our time of being single, and our time as chatan and kallah.

2. Reading and Signing of the Tenaim Document

Two guests will read the Tenaim document out loud for all to hear. The document will then be signed by the bride and groom and two Jewish witnesses.

3. The Breaking of the Crockery

No tenaim ceremony would be complete without the smashing of a piece of crockery. Ali's mother-in-law-to-be and Josh's mother-in-law-to-be will each have a hammer in hand. Together, they will smash a plate. Mazel Tov!

But why do we break a plate?

A very good question. And of course, as is typical of Jewish thinking, there is more than one answer.

Sources say that the mothers-in-law traditionally break the plate to symbolize that the childhood home as it once was, no longer exists. A new, combined family is created. The bride and groom's new home is symbolized by the chuppah at the wedding ceremony itself.

Other sources say that the breaking of the plate foreshadows the breaking of the glass that happens at the end of the wedding ceremony. Both of these symbolic acts remind us that even at our times of greatest happiness, we must still remember the suffering and destruction in the world. We remember, in particular, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The breaking of the plate reminds us that we must take responsibility to heal the world.

Finally, our own explanation is that the mothers-in-law smashing the crockery with their hammers symbolizes the strength of women in Jewish tradition and Jewish marriage.

Once the plate is broken, please join us in a hora to celebrate the new chatan and kallah!

"Od Yishama" is the musical centerpiece of the traditional Jewish wedding.

Od Yishama

Od Yishama b'harei Y'hudah
U-vechutzot Y'rushalayim
Kol sason v'kol simchah
Kol chatan v'kol kallah!

Again it will be heard in the cities of Judea,
And in the streets of Jerusalem,
The Voice of Joy and the Voice of Gladness
The Voice of the Groom and the Voice of the Bride!

Used by permission of the authors