The joy of a wedding is not usually associated with the discomfort and serious reflection of a fast.
But in some pockets of the Jewish community, that may be just the reason brides and grooms don’t eat or drink on the day of their wedding. Fasting, say some rabbis, allows the couple one last opportunity for personal reflection before committing to a lifelong relationship.
“On the wedding day, our tradition teaches that all the bride’s and groom’s sins are wiped clean,” said Rabbi Mark Novak, of Minyan Oneg Shabbat, who officiates at weddings in the Washington area. “A wedding has a strong connection to Yom Kippur. The not eating reminds us of that soul connection that we call Adonai.”
Novak said he meets with couples before their wedding in for what he calls cheshbon hanefesh, or spiritual accounting, the same process observant Jews do during the High Holidays.
“What we talk about is the strengths of the individual and the relationship,” he said. “You want to arrive with as much intent and mindfulness as possible before you enter the chuppah,” the marriage canopy.
The purpose of fasting, he said, is to use the empty stomach to prompt introspection and an appreciation of the seriousness of marriage.
After the wedding ceremony, couples who have fasted will typically break the fast during yichud, a period when the bride and groom are alone together for the first time.
Rabbi David Kuperman of Silver Spring said he and his wife, Linda Siegel, fasted when they got married. Fasting, combined with a visit to the mikvah, or ritual bath, before the wedding, offered him and Siegel an opportunity to metaphorically cleanse themselves of any lingering doubts that they had.
“We wanted to be in the right mood and be clean and ready for a new experience,” he said.
Kuperman said fasting before a wedding is in some ways similar to ridding the house of chametz, or leaven, before Passover.
Both acts are a spiritual commitment and a dedication that the bride and groom have for each other.
There is also another, more practical reason that some couples fast before a wedding according to Chabad.org — to avoid the consumption of alcoholic beverages in order to prevent drunken parties or other indulgences from occurring the night before.
The practice is not explicitly written in the Talmud, it states, but is an ancient tradition observed by Jewish scholars.
Novak said the key to a successful fast is for couples to monitor how they feel throughout the day. He recalled the wedding of his brother and sister-in-law, who was wearing a heavy veil after an all-day fast.
“She could hardly breathe,” Novak said. “She nearly fainted as she was walking down the aisle, because she was so weak from having fasted.”
Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue in Washington, had similar advice for couples who were thinking of fasting.
“I’ve heard horror stories of brides and grooms vomiting because they go from fasting to inhaling food to dancing,” she said.
“So that is why I advise being very careful and only doing what one wants to do and feels that they can do.”