Jewish chuppahs are rare occasions in this part of the world, and for any reason, whatsoever, the few ones that happen are cherished as special events, which publicly display our Jewishness as a people. Arguably, one of these factors could be linked directly to the fact that the number of Jews who have fully returned to rabbinic Orthodox Judaism in the country are still but a few thousands. Another more recent reason is probably the coronavirus and the whole lockdown aftermath, which restricted all forms of gathering: social, religious, and otherwise. However, some months after lifting the ban on inter-state movement, public events resumed across the country on grounds of the low potential threat of the virus in the country as at that time.
This situation eventually gave rise to interesting times like never before, as we witnessed multiple Jewish weddings within a short space of time, for the first time, no doubt. Five chuppahs in about 5 weeks put it statistically at one wedding every week on the average. Most remarkably, three of these events involved congregants of a particular synagogue in Abia State, Olam Torah Synagogue. Another noteworthy observation is that all three brides are from the neighboring Imo State. Hence, making it possible to conduct both the Jewish and traditional Igbo wedding simultaneously. And the officiating minister of the wedding was the Torah instructor in their Knesset, Eben Cohen. Undoubtedly, his leadership and teaching efforts truly motivated most of these new Jewish families sprouting to life.
However, what is more unique among all these recent Jewish weddings is that the newest couple hail from the same village- just within a proximity of walking distance from each other’s parent home. According to the tradition followed by the Igbo people- the rights of the traditional marriage are carried out in the home town of the bride.
Returning to Judaism through the Marriage-canopy Corridor
Whatever worth doing is worth doing well. And when we say that we are Jews, the way we do things become a reflection of our Hebrew identity. When do Jewish couples ever get married without the canopy, huh? Or fail to stomp on the glass before the end of the ceremony? And what about the ancient ritual of the seven circles (groom circled by the bride), which is done under the chuppah? These notable features are what makes Jewish unions valid in the sight of Hashem and man, as taught by our sages and rabbis. By showing commitment to learn, observe, and keep as many mitzvot as you can- one’s Jewishness ought not to be questionable, I assume.
The Igbo people of the Eastern part of the country have long been seen as descendants of some of the lost tribes of ancient Israel. In the course of many years and phases of migratory routes, some of our Hebrew ancestors settled in present-day West Africa many centuries ago. But over time, cultural changes and Christianization through forceful colonization were two dominant factors that changed the religious scope of our early fathers. Yet, some continued to keep Shabbat as a day of rest; forming the first set of Messianic Jews who have their spirits toned towards no other place other than the Holy Land of Israel.
With further contacts with Israeli workers, expatriates, Jewish businessmen, and rabbis, some decades after the state of Israel was established, and Nigeria becoming an independent nation, our return to mainstream Orthodox Judaism gradually began. Ultimately, many realized who they are, and began the journey of returning to Judaism, the true religion of our Hebrew ancestors.
The chuppah is the Jewish tradition, through which a man and woman are joined together as husband and wife. There are key features that make the union valid following the general rulings regarding this kind of Jewish ceremonies. Among them is the canopy structure under which the couple’s union will be consummated by an officiating minister of the event. Hence, as Hebrew/Igbos returning to Judaism, the canopy proceedings can still perfectly have their place simultaneously on the usual conventional traditional marriage day.
All Roads Lead To Izombe community in Imo State
Congregants of Olam Torah Synagogue again have cause to bask in the excitement of the third wedding in a roll. They ended the year 2020 with a wedding, and another Jewish wedding early in the new year- setting an unprecedented record. The synagogue, located in Aba, is home to over 200 Jews aside for children. Both David (groom) and Uzoamaka (bride) are committed members of the synagogue. That was why everyone was greatly overjoyed when the news broke out about the couple’s Jewish traditional marriage slated for January.
Ugbele Izombe village is located in Umunwama autonomous community in Oguta L.G.A of Imo State. Interestingly, the parent of both families, late Rev. Chukwujieze Igbo and Mr. & Mrs. Dimma Nleanya, are separated by just a walking distance. And following the customs of the Igbo people, the traditional marriage usually takes place in the hometown of the bride.
On the 3rd of January, all roads led to Izombe community for the much talked about Jewish traditional marriage. The majority of the Jews in attendance are members of Olam Torah Synagogue who traveled over 130 kilometers to grace the occasion. My take-off point was from Owerri, the capital. And by the time I arrived at the Ogbaku junction, enjoying a long bike ride to Izombe was a fascinating option for me!
Declaring The Occasion Open
Everything was already set by the time guests started arriving at the community that afternoon for the big day. The venue sparkled in the beauty of the combination of colors especially the blue and white colors of Israel. The sitting arrangement in Nleanya compound was well-positioned to give the audience a perfect view of the center stage. At the left-hand side, the main chuppah (canopy) stood, decorated in white color, with the names of the couple written on the topmost edge.
Standing few yards away, an ancient giant tree more than 200 feet tall was providing large spans of shelter from the afternoon sun. The sound from the music man echoed loudly through the distance as we approach the area with the officiating minister of the occasion to flag off the event. Members of Olam Yisrael synagogue announced their arrival by singing in Hebrew and playing various local instruments as they marched into the area.
Eben Cohen was the first to speak. He welcomed everyone in a crowd of 90 percent non-Jews and used the opportunity to speak about Jewish weddings.
PART ONE- (ENTERING THE MARRIAGE CANOPY)
For the majority in the crowd, I’m quite sure that this could be their first-ever Jewish wedding. But the officiating minister had thrown some highlight on what to expect. Both the groom and bride would march separately into the arena, accompanied by the male and female group respectively. And as they marched, almost every one of them held burning candles that signify light, and by joining all the candles as one whole at the end, their prayer is for the union to prosper and be strongly united in true love.
#1: Jewish Weddings- The Seven circles
Among some of the noteworthy traditions of Jewish weddings, the concept of the seven circles is quite interesting. It is customary for the bride to go round the groom seven times under the chuppah. There are different reasons for this ancient practice; one of which according to the sages- the ritual of groom going around represents a protection exercise against any form of the evil spirit.
The groom, David ben Igbo, was the first to close-in on the white canopy, accompanied by all the Jewish men around. They moved gallantly behind the celebrant, filled with excitement to be performing the mitzvah of supporting and assisting a brother as he starts a Jewish home.
Moments later, the beautiful bride, accompanied by a group of younger women, walked into the venue and joined the groom. The first thing Uzoamaka did under the chuppah was circling the man seven times in a ritual of protection. I could sense the anxiety in the audience, as many have not witnessed a Jewish chuppah. After the seven circles, all the guests finally sat down and the officiating minister announced the next section of the ceremony.
#2: Sanctification of the Bride & Groom- Kiddushin
Proceedings in Jewish chuppah are followed accordingly, since all its features have significant importance associated with each exercise. The sanctification of the bride and groom is that part of the event, during which the bride is betrothed to the groom as he places a ring upon her finger. It is known as Kiddushin in Hebrew. But firstly, the officiating minister poured some wine, raised a cup, and recited the following prayers:
Blessed are you, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the wine.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has command us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed woman to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and consecration. Blessed are you, HASHEM, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and consecration.
After the blessings, the couple drank the wine.
Another notable thing about Jewish weddings is that there is only one ring. And this ring is given to the bride by the groom during the betrothal segment of the wedding. As David held the ring, the betrothal blessing was recited by the officiating minister before the ring was given to the bride.
Behold, you are consecrated to me by means of this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.
And everyone responds AMEN!
#3: Signing the Ketubah and the Sheva Brachot
Marital agreements are obligations that couples accept to be binding on them as long as the union lasts. These obligations, clearly stated in writings, defines the entire marriage contract, which is known as the ketubah. It’s important for the groom to carefully read the content of the ketuba, before agreeing by signing over it. The bride is also expected to counter-sign on the marriage contract papers, right there in front of all the witnesses called up to attest to this part of the event.
After this, it was time to pronounce the seven blessings (sheva brachot) on the newly wedded couple. These powerful pronouncements are meant to inject multiple blessings, and sustenance, peace, and progress, as well as happiness and love of Hashem into the new Jewish home.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for His glory.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of his likeness and prepared for him-from himself- a building for eternity. Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.
- Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one through the in-gathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who gladdens Zion through her children.
- Gladden the beloved companions as You gladden Your creature in the Garden of Eden from aforetime.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who gladdens the groom and bride.
Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. HASHEM, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the groom’s jubilance from their canopies and the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You, Who gladden the groom with the bride.
- Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the wine.
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#4: Stomping on Glass
The Jewish tradition of stomping on glass dates back to a couple of centuries ago and is still widely practiced today across the globe. Wedding ceremonies are never completed until this simple form of a demonstration is performed in front of the audience. Usually, an empty glass cup is carefully concealed in a white piece of cloth and placed on the ground.
There are several reasons for stomping on the glass, which include any of the following:
- Firstly, as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
- It is believed that the noise from the shattering of the glass frightens and scares the demons around
- Majorly, the smashing of the glass is like a form of incantation: that affirms “as the glass shatters, so may the marriage never break.”
- Lastly, covenants in Judaism (just like breaking the tablet at Sinai) are made by breaking or cutting something.
The audience fixed their gaze on the couple as they came out from the canopy to conclude the first part of the marriage ceremony. David stepped forward to perform the next action as the officiating minister placed the wrapped glass on the ground. Taking some moments to enlighten the crowd about this part, he ended by saying that as this glass would shatter, so will anybody or evil plans to break this new union be shattered!
Shouts of mazal tov, mazal tov, and mazal tov could be heard from some section of the audience. At this point, it was time to escort the couple out of the venue, allowing them to have some private time, in what is known as Yichud in Hebrew.
PART TWO (IGBO TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE CEREMONY)
For the second segment of the occasion, a professional master of ceremony (MC) took over the event, steering the guests into uncontrollable excitement and laughter. But while the Yichud was still on, I spent some time with members of Olam Torah Synagogue. It appeared that almost all the males are part of a musical group as each had a local musical instrument in their possession. Music has kept them going together as a group as I have seen them play several times back in their synagogue. And now in Izombe, over 130 kilometers away from home- they remained in high spirits and honored to perform in the wedding celebration of one of their own.
Just Like The Seudat Mitzvah
David and Uzoamaka were welcomed back to the stage for the concluding part of the ceremony. Adorned in traditional brown and blue attire, both of them came out separately flanked by friends and families. What was more memorable was that they were dancing to the music played by Olam Torah musical band. The surrounding was tensed, in excitement and anxiety, as it became a special day for Jews in the eyes of the public.
In a typical Jewish wedding, the seudat mitzvah is where the whole excitement gets to the peak. Dancing, eating, drinking, and lots of other things for fun happen during the second part of the occasion. It is customary for couples to engage in several types of Jewish folk dances, with a group of people.
Standing in the center of the stage, in their hometown of Izombe, the couple entertained the guests as they danced to the traditional music. Just like the seudat mitzvah, people joined the happy Jewish couple to mark their day in great style and utmost happiness. The performing musical band moved the audience cheerfully. And the funny inputs from the master of the ceremony created bursts of laughter from time to time until the conclusion of the event.
From The couple: Todah Raba for coming!
Firstly, we are grateful to Hashem, the Elokim of Israel, Who made every one of you able to witness our Jewish chuppah. Against all odds, you made out time to travel and celebrate with us as we begin our new Jewish home. We wish you every good thing that you wish for yourselves. We appreciate all of you greatly for coming around. You made our day, and we couldn’t do all this without you. Journey mercies, favor, success, increased knowledge, growth, and unity are our fervent prayer to our guests, friends, families, Jewish brothers and sisters, and well-wishers! Todah rabba for making our day wonderful!
ABOUT THE WRITER: Avraham ben Avraham is a Nigerian Writer, Business Consultant, International Tour Guide and a Jewish Travel Blogger. He is the founder of the Jewish Nigeria Blog (his 2nd blog after the Jewish Standards). Avraham is also a contributory writer in the diaspora section of The Jerusalem Post Magazine. Some of his upcoming projects include: the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum, Jewish Nigeria Directory, the “Book of the Returning Jews,” and Parnasah Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
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