Parashat Va-Et’hanan 5765/ August 20, 2005
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Another Look at the Custom of Breaking a Glass under the Huppah
Prof. Miriam Faust
Department of Psychology
One of the better-known customs at Jewish wedding
ceremonies is for the groom to break a glass (Rema, Orah Hayyim, par.
560). There are several reasons for this
practice, the most widely known being remembrance of the destruction of
It is interesting to note the reaction of the guests at a wedding, whatever its nature, to breaking the glass. Today this is usually done at the end of the ceremony, and therefore in a sense is the climax, received by the audience with enthusiasm and excitement. This response makes one ponder the additional significance, perhaps unconscious, that accompanies the public breaking of a glass in the context of embarking on married life. These concomitant significations perhaps can enrich the traditional reasons for breaking a glass under the wedding canopy.
The well-known Brazilian author, Paolo Coelho (author of the best-sellers The Alchemist, The Wizard’s Test, Veronica Decides to Die, and others) last gave us By the River Piedra I sat down and wept, which describes the life of a couple prior to their marriage. 
Between the two parts of the story, the part dealing with their vacillations regarding their relationship and the part telling of their decision to get married, is a surprising scene – breaking a glass (Heb., pp. 136-137): “His eyes began to glisten. I knew that he was overcoming all obstacles. And then … I took the glass and placed it on the edge of the table” (p. 137). Following this surprising action of deliberately placing a glass where it is likely to fall and break, in the middle of a restaurant, before the eyes of many people, begins a dialogue between the two (pp. 137-138): “It will fall,” he says. And she responds, “Precisely. I want you to make it fall.” He says, “Break a glass?” and she thinks: “Yes. Break a glass. A seemingly simple act, even though fears we shall never understand are bound up it in.” Then again he responds with surprise, “Break a glass? Why?” She answers, “I can give you several explanations, but actually, just in order to break a glass.” He looks at the glass wine cup on the edge of the table, worried that it might fall. At that point she wants to say, but does not say, the following: “It is an initiation ceremony … the forbidden thing. One does not break glasses on purpose. When we enter a restaurant or home, we take care that the glasses not stand on the edge of the table. Our universe demands that we take care glasses not fall on the floor.” Further on she thinks: “Meanwhile … when we break them unintentionally, we see that it is not so terrible …. Breaking glasses is part of life and we do not cause any harm to ourselves, the restaurant, or the other person” (p. 138). She gives the table a shove, the glasses teeters, but does not fall. He says instinctively, “Be careful!” and she insists: “Break the glass,” thinking to herself: “Break the glass … because it is a symbolic act, try to understand that I have broken far more important things than a glass within myself, and I am happy for it. Look at the inner struggle within yourself and break the glass,” and in response: “His hand slid slowly over the tablecloth until it touched the glass. With a swift motion he shoved it to the floor” (p. 139).
The entire second part of the story deals with developments stemming from the glass-breaking scene, with all its hidden significance regarding love and marriage.
The author Paolo Coelho, through the voice of the heroine, views the public breaking of the glass as the ultimate action associated with the deepest essence of consummating the bond between a couple. Breaking a glass symbolizes the central things signified by entering a relationship of love and marriage; the ability to overcome fears and emotional barriers that accompany communion with one’s partner in an intimate relationship of love and marriage; the willingness to make the changes and “breaks” entailed by the transition from “I” to “we”; the decision to take the great and most crucial gamble in the life of any person when he/she determines with whom they will share their life forever. According to Coelho, breaking the glass also symbolizes being prepared to “embark on a journey into the unknown,” establishing a new family unit, putting the interest of the couple above other considerations, both personal and social.
When the groom breaks a glass in the wedding ceremony, in front of all the guests present, he essentially proclaims the couple’s decision to move on to a new and different stage in their lives; he thereby expresses their recognition that this transition entails changes, adaptation, and “shattering” of various sorts, all essential to building a new joint existence; he publicly announces that both partners have overcome the fears and difficulties involved in the decision to marry one another. This action of shattering conveys the messages that “we have already broken something, we have passed the barrier of fearing the first time, and therefore in the future we shall also be able to break that which needs be changed and put together anew.”
This scene from Coelho’s book suggests that the relationship between the physical act of breaking a glass and the abstract spiritual significance of entering a marital relationship contributes to the sense of elation and excitement experienced by those present at the marriage ceremony and imparts an additional dimension to the act of breaking the glass, a dimension that enriches all the traditional things this act signifies.
 Published in Hebrew by Keter, 1997; the quotes from the book that appear in this piece were rendered from the Hebrew by the translator of the Daf Shavua, and not taken from the English translation published by Harper Collins, Sydney 1996.