Greeks aren't the only ones who break plates at weddings. A look at a Jewish Wedding tradition: The Plate Breaking Ceremony.

Greeks aren't the only ones who break plates at weddings, but the Jewish tradition of plate breaking has a deeper significance.

I believe that one of the more intimate and, in a certain sense, subtle traditions that surround the Jewish wedding ceremony, the Chuppah, is the breaking of a plate.  Like many Jewish traditions and customs (or minhagim), reasons for this minhag are varied. 
Let me start by answering the age-old questions: who, what, where, how and why. 

Who breaks the plate?  For the most part, this minhag is followed by Jews of European ancestry, although these days, some Sephardic Jews are following this minhag as well. 
The mothers of the kallah and chatan break the plate together.  Traditionally the mothers hold opposite ends of the plate and break it over a table corner or back of a chair.  The best and safest way to do this is to first place the plate in a cloth bag or pillow case and then smash it.  The pillow case protects the hands and eyes the mothers and onlookers from the shards of broken glass.

What is broken? Typically this is a white, dinner-size plate.  The plate can be plain or be highly decorated in a variety of colored paints with gold and silver trim and adorned with pisukim (quotes from the Torah – especially Tehilim) and/or illustrations, such as scenes of Jerusalem, the Tree of Life and more. I believe that no two plates should have the same decorations, just as no two couples are the alike!

The names of the kallah and chatan ARE NOT WRITTEN on the plates.  The reason behind this is that the act of breaking the plate would cause the breaking apart the letters of couples' names and that would be the antithesis of the act of bringing the couple together under the chuppah.

Examples of plates
Pasuk with Walls of Jerusalem and Hamsah in center

Pasuk with Tree of Life in center
Pasuk with Walls of Jerusalem and Sun in center

What is said while breaking the plate?  No bracha is said – just a resounding "Mazal Tov!" after breaking the plate.

Why is a plate broken?  The answer to this one is as varied as any minhag (tradition).  Some say that the breaking symbolizes the "…seriousness of the commitment", as stated in Aish's Guide to the Jewish Wedding in the section "Kabbalat Panim". 
There is another explanation that compares the breaking of the plate with the breaking of the relationship between the children and the parents and how the kallah and chatan must now create a life together.

My favorite explanation is that for the kallah and chatan, the breaking of the plate symbolizes the break with their 'old' lives and the beginning of their new lives.  And just as you cannot reassemble a broken plate, the kallah and chatan cannot go back to their old lives.
When is the plate broken?  Traditionally the breaking of the plate takes place either during the Engagement (or Eirusin) Party or on the day of the wedding, after the chatan signs the ketubah (at the chasan's tish) and before the bedeken and chuppah. 
When the plate is broken during the Eirusin, all the guests of the Party witness this ceremony and become a part of its celebration.  When the ceremony takes place between the signing of the ketubah and the bedeken/chuppah, it is many times witnessed only by the immediate families, the witnesses to the signing of the ketubah and the group of men who participate in the chasan's tish and usually not the kallah. 

The breaking of the plate can be carried out whenever you chose and according to your own personal minhagim and timetable. 
What is done with the broken plate?  This is another lovely minhag that takes the kallah and chatan's love for each other and hopes of building a life together and passes it on to their unmarried friends and relatives. 

The shards of the plate are collected and then a shard or two is inserted into small organza draw-string bags and distributed to unmarried friends and relatives.  The bags can be distributed immediately after this ceremony or as these friends and relatives are encountered. 
The shards of the plates are considered a 'segula'; a remedy (that can be in the form of a trinket, such as a red string or any article) that is considered to have special "powers" to help a person acquire her/his heart's desire.  The list of segulas is never ending.  Another example of a segula is a slice of challah, cut from the big challah eaten during a celebration of a bris, given to a woman who wishes to get pregnant.  This segula is believed to help a woman give birth to boys.

An alternative to distributing the shards or in addition to the segula, the shards of the plate and of the broken cup from the chuppah can be saved and then used to create a picture (usually scenes of Jerusalem), or artistically arranged and glued to the frame of a photograph of the kallah and chatan or made into any other memento of the chuppah.
What do you need to do if you want to have the Plate Breaking ceremony? 

  1. First of all decide when you would like to hold this ceremony. 
  2. Then, either purchase a specially designed plate  or buy a plain white dinner plate.  If you have many unmarried friends/relatives or wish to create a momento of your own, I recommend breaking more than one plate. 
  3. Buy organza draw-string bags; these bags usually come in sets of ten.  Always buy more than you think you need.
  4. Bring to the ceremony: the plate(s), a large pillow case and the organza bags.
  5. Make sure your photographer takes pictures of the ceremony!

Mazal Tov!
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