According the Jewish law, a man and a woman who are not married to each other may not be secluded alone in a room or other private space. To comply with this law, couples who are dating, spend a great deal of time in public places or in the company of other people. This law includes an engaged couple and, in fact, applies up until the moment the groom places the ring upon the bride’s finger under the chuppah.
In Hebrew, words often have a positive and a negative meaning. Yichud is the term used to describe this law prohibiting “unchaperoned time alone,” but it is also the Yichud Room to which the new bride and groom are escorted immediately after the chuppah (at Ashkenazi weddings*).
Although there have been times and communities in which the post-chuppah yichud was meant to be a time during which the couple actually consumated the marriage, that is no longer the custom today. In the Yichud Room today, it is customary that the bride and groom enjoy a light meal (in many cases they have been fasting during the day until the conclusion of the ceremony) and exchange small gifts. By the very act of being secluded in a room, the bride and groom are making a public declaration of their married status.
As a significant part of the wedding, there is ceremony and fanfare surrounding the Yichud Room ritual. The couple is escorted to the room directly from the chuppah with dancing and music, and the room is checked by the couples’ two “witnesses” to ensure that no one else is in the room. Once the door is closed, it is guarded so that no one disturbs the bride and groom. They remain sequestered for approximately 8-10 minutes (thus giving them private time together during a very public event).
*While the Yichud Room is primarily an Ashkenazi customs, some Sephardi couples also enter the Yichud Room after the wedding feast.
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