Wedding of the Week

The Beauty and Ritual of an Orthodox Ceremony, By Tara McMullen

November 21, 2017

By Jacqueline Tobin

Photo © Tara McMullen

When bride-to-be Adina Minkowitz emailed Toronto-based wedding photographer Tara McMullen about covering her and her groom Eric Silberman's wedding in Markham, Ontario, McMullen says she was both excited and terrified. "I am not Jewish, and although I have photographed many Jewish weddings, this was my first Orthodox wedding," the photographer explains. "When I met Adina and Eric in person, they emphasized that they wanted documentary-style photography, which is exactly what I love. I was thrilled that these two amazing people were trusting me to do my thing. This is the kind of assignment that fills my soul!"

All photos © Tara McMullen Photography

Because McMullen knew there would be a lot happening on Adina and Eric’s wedding day, she decided to bring three more photographers to help her out. "It still felt like we were running all over the place," McMullen says, "and everywhere we turned, there was something else happening. It was one of the biggest challenges of my career. To give not only beautiful but organic documentary images for 14 hours with 300-plus guests was beyond anything I had ever done."

McMullen continues: "I consider myself pretty well-versed in all things Jewish even though I am not Jewish. However, an Orthodox wedding included elements that I was unfamiliar with, or hadn’t experienced at that level. Adina had explained that Orthodox weddings tend to be very energetic and that everyone celebrates very hard. I had no idea how energetic things were going to get! Everyone at the wedding—particularly Adina’s sister—was so lovely and supportive of the photography team, and made sure that we had a clear understanding of what was happening at all times. It’s such a joy to work with family and guests who treat us as though we are 'insiders.' "

McMullen and her team had several rituals they needed to capture throughout the day. The groom, Eric, describes the most important ones: "Tish (the groom's reception), named for the long table at which the groom usually is traditionally seated at the head, with family and friends gathered around to sing and offer L'Chaim's. Witnesses sign several legal documents: the Tana'im, or Betrothal Agreement, in which the bride and groom are committed to each other, and the Ketubah, or Marriage Contract, which contains the terms of the Jewish marriage. There's the Kaballat Panim, the bride's reception, where she sits like a queen on a throne, surrounded by the women of her family and the groom's family, greeting wedding guests. Just before the ceremony, the groom is marched toward her by his father and future father-in-law. The groom places the veil over the bride's face, while the fathers and other family members give her one final blessing before sending her off to the wedding canopy. Benching, or  "Grace After Meals," is traditionally recited after a proper meal. The Sheva Brachot ('Seven Blessings') are added at a wedding party and for the seven days following, and give additional praise and blessing to the new couple and the community who raised them."

"This wedding is unlike anything I have ever shot, and it pushed me both mentally and physically," sums up McMullen. "I would love to shoot more Orthodox weddings in the future."

Says bride Adina: "We wanted wedding photos that we could cherish forever, ones that would really bring back the memories and feelings of the day. Tara has a unique and beautiful style that I noticed immediately when I found her photos on social media, and she offered us exactly what we wanted: candid, true and pure photos. We are so thrilled we chose to work with Tara and her team. They managed to capture every moment without interrupting the moment. They were invisible yet totally present at all times, capturing the real emotions of the day. Tara's confidence behind the camera shows in her work, and she and her team were all a pleasure to work with both before, during and after the wedding. We are so glad we trusted her in capturing these precious memories!"

Cameras: Nikon D4s and Nikon D750
Lenses: 35mm f/1.4 (Nikkor and Sigma), 50mm f/1.8 (Nikkor) and 85mm f/1.4 (Nikkor)
Lighting: "I shoot my flash on-camera with SB-910 and SB-700 speed lights," McMullen says.

Submit your wedding to Rf editor-in-chief Jacqueline Tobin for a chance to get featured here.