Why is a glass broken at Jewish weddings?

Whether you’ve been to a Jewish wedding, or you’ve seen one in a movie, everyone knows that the ceremony ends with the man stepping on a glass and everyone shouting “mazal tov!”

The truth is, this custom has much more somber origins. It dates back to the writing of the Talmud (400 CE), “Mar bar Rabina made a marriage feast for his son. He observed that the rabbis present were very joyful. So he seized an expensive goblet worth 400 zuzim and broke it before them. Thus he made them sober.” (Berakhot 5:2 ) He smashed this valuable goblet in order to temper the joy of the day. As it says in Pslams 137: 5-6, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”

During a wedding, which is the happiest day in the couple’s lives, in the height of the happiness,  Jews around the world have a custom to break a glass to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple. As two halves of a soul join to become complete, we remind everyone present at the wedding that no joy can truly be complete until Jerusalem is rebuilt and the Jewish Homeland is once again whole. (Many members of the international community condemn settlements located in the Biblical Heartland and growth is heavily restricted.)

In addition to the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish people have suffered innumerable losses over the centuries. The world is full of suffering, and even in our happiest moments, we must remember that the world is an imperfect place. We should not get so absorbed in our happiness that we forget the plights of others.

In many communities, the significance of the breaking glass got lost, overshadowed by the happy moment of the commencement of the chuppah, the wedding ceremony. It has become customary in Israel to insert the glass breaking earlier on in the ceremony, in order to allow for the couple and the guests to take a moment to reflect on the absence of the Holy Temple from our lives and remember those around the world who are less fortunate than we are.

We have seen many miracles over the last 70 years. It is truly a blessing that Jewish weddings take place in and around Jerusalem every single day. In the Book of Jeremiah, God reassures the prophet, “Yet again there shall be heard in this place… even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem…  the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” (Jeremiah 33: 10-11). Although we are still waiting for the rebuilding of the Temple, we see the words of God and the visions of Jeremiah coming to light all around us.

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