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13 Weddings

A Note on Jewish Weddings

The Traditional Baghdadi Wedding Ceremonies

Jewish weddings were very Middle Eastern in orientation though over time both the dress and some of the customs became more Anglicized. The traditional Baghdadi Jewish wedding went on for days. “Weddings started with the engagement ceremony or “baat pakka” which in Hindustani means “finalizing the matter,” and the “mileek” which is an Arabic term for the engagement ceremony. The mileek is held in the home of the girl’s parents. The family arrives with an array of trays containing flowers and candy. A woman – the dhakaka – is the mistress of ceremonies. She is adept at percussion and plays the tambourine while balancing a glass of liquid or the candy tray on her head as she dances to her music. The ring is placed on the bride’s finger by her future mother or father-in-law. Another elaborate ritual was the khatba (Arabic for the pre-wedding ceremony). This function takes place from a week or three days before the wedding. The climax of the occasion is the applying of henna to the couple’s outstretched fingers. The toowafah takes place on the Saturday night before the wedding. On this auspicious night the groom once again sends trays of candy, flowers and molasses to the bride, followed by a get-together of both families. The couple steps over a goat or sheep in atonement. After all these ceremonies which build and strengthen family ties, there is the wedding itself and the sheva brachot (literally seven blessings in Hebrew) these are dinners served in the post-nuptial week, when the wedding ceremony’s seven benedictions and sacred songs are chanted.” From Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women’s Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope, Seagull Press, Calcutta. p 39.

From the early twentieth century onwards the weddings were less Arabic in orientation. There was an engagement which often involved a family get together and a party. Then there was a wedding service in the synagogue that was typically followed by tea and cakes and/or a wedding reception. The bride wore Western style wedding gown and the groom was also dressed in wedding Western attire of the period.