How to Connect Your Wedding to Your Congregational Community

Rabbi Peter W. Stein

You’ve gotten engaged and you’re planning your wedding day. Mazel tov!

As you start making plans, you consider all the details for the day: getting ready for the ceremony, the celebration that will follow, and even the brunch the next day for your out-of-town guests.

But wait! There’s another special detail you should consider, although it won’t happen on your wedding day: the aufruf.

An aufruf is a blessing offered for an engaged couple during a synagogue service shortly before the wedding. The word aufruf is Yiddish and means “calling up” because the couple is called up to the bimah and celebrated by the congregation.

The tradition of the aufruf  is a beautiful way to link a couple’s personal milestone to the life of the congregation, allowing the entire community to join in the celebration. Your simcha (joy) becomes everyone’s simcha! Although weddings are, by definition, intimate and intensely personal, the Talmud (Peah:1:1) teaches that “providing for the wedding couple” is a mitzvah (commandment) that fulfills the central values of Torah.

Originally, an aufruf was held during the Torah service closest to the wedding ceremony; today, there is flexibility in scheduling an aufruf. Generally, though, the aufruf is held during a worship service at which one or both partners are honored by being called to the bimah to recite the Torah blessings and/or read from the Torah portion. The rabbi will then offer a personal blessing to the couple. 

When I lead an aufruf, I generally do three things as part of the ceremony:

  • “Introduce” the couple to the congregation, sharing a bit of what I have learned about them as a couple. I will often ask congregants who were married in our sanctuary to identify themselves.
  • Recite traditional words of blessing, including Shehecheyanu, our blessing for first-time occasions and joyous milestones.
  • Invite the couple to the bimah, where I offer original words of blessing that celebrate them and include a prayer that they will return many times, through all the chapters of their life together.

If the aufruf takes place during a service without a Torah reading, for example, on a Friday night, the couple may be asked to light the candles and recite the blessing or recite the Kiddush. Alternatively, the couple may be invited to the bimah for a blessing at another point in the worship service. In any case, the aufruf can offer a wonderful opportunity to embrace and include one’s hometown congregational community, especially if the wedding will be held elsewhere. As the wedding approaches and stress levels rise, the aufruf also can be a centering and sacred experience for the couple as they stand together on the bimah before their wedding day.

There is one last aspect that is often included at an aufruf. In some communities, as the couple leaves the bimah after the blessing, the congregation showers them with candy, dried fruits, or nuts, symbolizing the wish for a life of sweetness. What’s more: the Hebrew word for nut (egoz) has the same numerical value – 17 – as the Hebrew word tov (goodness).  So, as the congregation shouts “mazel tov,” the couple takes with them the community’s wishes for a lifetime of love and goodness together. What could be better?!

If you’re planning a wedding, don’t forget to add an aufruf  to the list of items that will need your attention. Your officiant will be glad to work together with you to find ways to make this facet of your wedding personally meaningful and inspiring.