The Museum of

       rites of passage

From the New-York Tribune, January 9, 1898.





Uniting people in wedlock according to the old Jewish customs and with the pomp and display which indicates their Oriental origin is one of the industries which always flourishes in the New York ghetto and which is affected by none of the mercantile or political disturbances that frequently influence ordinary business. East Side weddings come under the head of business because they give employment to many people, and these and the many public halls where most of the weddings take place could not exist if the business fell off.

Such a thing as a strictly quiet wedding, with no witnesses except the immediate members of the family, is almost unknown in the Jewish quarter. When the wedding contract has been signed and the shadchen's work completed, there is usually an engagement party at which the parents of the bride-elect make public announcement of the engagement of their daughter and break a glass in the presence of their guests to indicate that the contract is not fragile, like the works of man, and cannot be broken like them.

All those who come to the engagement party are usually asked to the wedding ceremony, and receive invitations which are printed on fancy embossed cards in English and Yiddish, and sometimes in German also. These invitations are worded nearly like the ordinary wedding invitation, but in every instance a line follows the address where the ceremony will take place, which tells the "bride's residence."


The people who are the least blessed with worldly goods have the ceremony performed at the home of the bride; those who have more hire the synagogue for the occasion, and those who are of the highest circle in the ghetto have the ceremony performed in the synagogue and hire a hall for the wedding dance and dinner. But the largest number of weddings takes place in the halls which are arranged for the purpose. These halls usually contain a women's reception room, a dining room, and a ballroom, and are rented for evening weddings and balls for from $5 to $10. This does not include what is known as the "hatbox," where the wardrobe of the guests is left. The proprietor of the hall usually charges from 10 to 30 cents a couple for taking care of hats and wraps.

"When people are very swell," said the proprietor of one of these halls, "they hire the hatbox, and their guests don't have to pay for hatchecks."

The invitations usually give five or six o'clock as the hour for the ceremony, and at the time named the bride and bride­groom arrive with their respective kinspeople. The bride is attired in white satin and long veil, and has many flowers; the man is in evening clothes. They take stations in different rooms, and as the guests arrive the ceremony of Kabolath-ponim, or presenting, takes place. This lasts until the guests have all arrived - generally an hour or two later than the time named on the invitation cards - and then, if it is a large company, the young people have a dance or two. This over, the bridegroom takes his place under the chupah, or canopy, in the large hall, and there awaits the coming of his bride, who is brought to him by her father. The chupah, or canopy, has been an important feature in the Jewish wedding ceremonial ever since there has been any record. One of the East Side rabbis said that a verse of the Bible refers plainly to the "joyous voice of the bridegroom from under the chupah."


The canopy is made of velvet and may be of any color, although it is usually purple or deep red; it is trimmed with gold lace, and has the Star of David embroidered in gold on one end. Under this canopy, which symbolizes the future home of the family, the bride is taken by her parents, and the rabbi performs the marriage ceremony. When the couple have taken wine from the same glass to show that they will be partners in joy, and the ring has been placed on the bride's finger, a glass is again broken, which ceremony the rabbi explained thus:

"At no joyous occasion should the Jew forget that the glory of the Jewish nation is broken. The broken glass reminds him of that. It also reminds the young people that sooner or later all must return to dust: and, even like the beautiful glass, be shattered and destroyed."

The ceremony over, everybody congratulates his neighbor as well as the bridal couple, and then, under the leadership of the chief actors, the whole party goes to the dining room, where luncheon is served. Since early in the morning the kitchen has been in charge of a Kochfrau, under whose direction a luncheon as well as a supper, which is served later in the evening, has been prepared. The luncheon lasts only a short time, and then the dancing begins and lasts until supper is served at about 11 o'clock.
The synagogue wedding, when the chupah is reared in the sanctuary, is more expensive than the hall wedding, because, aside from the fee paid to the rabbi and the hall rent, there is an expense of $5 for the use of the synagogue. There are several Jewish houses of worship on the East Side which are particularly popular, and the one at No. 38 Henry Street rarely has less than two and frequently as many as four weddings on a Sunday.


There is a hall in East Broadway where many of these weddings and wedding balls take place which is used on two nights every week as a dancing school. The sanctuary, containing the sacred scroll behind embroidered curtains, is at one end. The little sign on the wall with the words "No refusals" seems to clash, until one is told that "No refusals" is posted for the benefit of fastidious East Side maidens, who are warned in that way not to bring about any unpleasantness in the dancing class by refusing to dance with any "gent." At two points in the hall there are automatic machines, where a cent in the slot brings forth a dash of perfume, and a dumbwaiter communicates with the bar, which is in the basement.

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