The Jewish wedding ceremony comprises two major sections: erusin (betrothal) and nissuin (marriage). When the bride and groom have reached the chuppah (marriage canopy), the erusin ceremony begins. It is a simple ceremony, marked by two blessings recited by the presiding Rabbi, who holds a cup of wine. The first blessing, over wine, is one said at almost all joyous occasions. The second blessing is unique to this occasion and reads as follows:
“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us regarding forbidden unions, and Who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by chuppah and kiddushin. Praised are You, Adonai, Who sanctifies the people Israel with chuppah and kiddushin.”
After the completion of the second blessing, the Rabbi gives the cup of wine to the groom, who drinks of it; the cup is then presented to the bride, who drinks from the same cup, symbolizing their commitment to sharing their lives from that moment on.
Several crucial themes of the Jewish wedding are expressed in the seemingly simple language of these few lines of this second blessing. First, the liturgical language points to older customs, for in earlier times the Jewish wedding took place in stages over the course of an entire year. At the first ceremony, erusin, the couple was reserved for each other and was forbidden to have relationships with anyone else. But it was not until approximately a year later, at the nissuin ceremony, that they were permitted to consummate their relationship sexually and that the bride moved into the groom’s home.
The language of the second blessing, “who forbad betrothed women to us, and permitted to us those married to us by chuppah and kiddushin,” reflects this earlier practice, and apparently served in ancient times as a warning to the couple not to cohabit until the completion of the second ceremony. Many Rabbis now offer a different interpretation of this blessing during the wedding ceremony to focus more on the idea of consecration and commitment.