A few years ago, I was invited to a Jewish wedding... an Orthodox Jewish wedding, at that. I'm a lapsed Catholic, and I had no idea what to expect, but this was the wedding of one of my best friends from high school. There was no way I was going to miss it just because I thought I might be out of place. For any fellow Everythingians who might find themselves in a similar predicament, I offer this basic outline of the Jewish wedding:
Leading up to the ceremony:
The bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) traditionally do not see each other for the entire week before the wedding. They can talk on the phone, but they can't actually spend any time together. As you can imagine, this is incredibly stressful, to the point that the bride and groom will each have someone stay with them for the day before the wedding. This person is responsible for keeping the bride or groom calm and doing whatever needs to be done in preparation for the ceremony.
The day of the wedding is considered to be a Yom Kippur (day of atonement) for the bride and groom, and the couple customarily fasts from dawn until just after the wedding ceremony ends. Guests arriving for the wedding will find two separate receptions, one for the bride and one for the groom. The bride will usually have a throne at her reception, from which she receives her guests; the groom, already dressed in his white kittel (a traditional robe), has a very festive reception with singing and dancing. The general rule of the day is that the bride and groom are treated like royalty. The guests are akin to very respected court jesters, as they are supposed to provide entertainment for the bride and groom throughout the day.
Just before the ceremony, the groom will come into the bride's reception room and place a wedding veil over her face. After this, the wedding ceremony can begin.
The bride and groom are taken to the chupah (a small open canopy) by their parents. If there is a wedding party, it will be a small one (1 or 2 people - definitely not a 12 bridesmaid extravaganza). Once the bride and groom have reached the chupah, the bride walks around the groom seven times, symbolically joining the couple and creating the space they will occupy as a married couple. This is followed by a blessing over a cup of wine, and then the giving of the ring. This must be done in front of two witnesses, and is the point in the wedding at which the couple is officially married.
After the groom has given the ring to the bride, the marriage contract (the Ketubah) is read aloud in Aramaic. The contract outlines the responsibilities that the husband has to his wife; once read, the contract is signed by the two witnesses and given to the bride. At this point, the Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) are read by the rabbi, family members, friends, or anyone else designated by the families. Being asked to participate in the reading is an honor, as the blessings connect the couple to their faith in God.
After the blessings have been read, the groom smashes a glass under his foot, marking the end of the ceremony. As the guests shout "Mazel tov," the bride and groom go to a private room (Yichud). There is usually a variety of food in the Yichud, and the couple can break their fast at this time. This is also the first time they are alone as a married couple (depending on how Orthodox they are, it may be the first time they have ever been alone, or have even held hands).
After the ceremony
The reception will vary depending on the couple. As stated before, the guests are expected to entertain the bride and groom, so you can expect to see juggling, puppets, and lots of singing and dancing. It is not at all unusual for the men and women to be completely separated, and they will almost definitely have separate circles for dancing. The dancing, incidentally, will probably be to the strains of Klezmer music. If there is a meal, it will be Kosher, which is not a bad thing by any means - just don't expect pork. You may be encouraged to dance in one of the circles. As long as you can hold hands and skip/walk in a circle, you'll be ok.