A joyous event packed with symbolism, traditional colorful attire, and delicious food, the Jewish henna is a pre-marriage ceremony that symbolizes the transition that a couple makes from singlehood to a life of partnership.
Henna around the world
The Henna, also known as Mehndi in Indian tradition, is type of body art that uses a paste made from dry leaves of the henna plant to create various decorations on the skin, typically on women’s hands.
The ritual of applying henna accompanies ceremonial wedding events celebrated in Middle Eastern and North African cultures.
The Jewish henna ceremony
Within the multicultural Jewish world, the henna party is one of several ceremonies that distinguish between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.
Absorbing the customs of their hosting Middle Eastern and North African regions, Sephardic communities, such as Moroccan and Yemenite Jews, conduct henna parties prior to the wedding night.
Although different Sephardic communities celebrate with slightly different rituals, across henna parties one can expect lively singing and dancing, vibrant traditional garb, and a similar procedure of applying the henna.
The red paste is applied to the bride and groom’s hand palms in a round, coin-like shape, to symbolize good luck and abundance.
Ashkenazi Jews do not traditionally celebrate henna events.
Despite this divide, the logic of the henna is similar to the Ashkenazi custom of bedeken, which is the ritual of veiling the bride to symbolize the story of Jacob and his confusion between Leah and Rachel.
Just as the bedekn is intended to reassure the groom that he is marrying the right bride, the henna, which remains on the palms of the hands for several days after the event, assures a correct identification of the bride and groom.
With the rise of cross-cultural marriages between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, especially in modern Israel, it is not rare to find Ashkenazi families celebrating henna parties.
Food for henna parties
Another feature of the henna party, like any good Jewish life cycle event is delicious food!
Traditionally, henna refreshments revolved mainly around sweets of all sorts, such as marzipans and grain-based delights decorated with honey and colorful candy, symbolizing years of sweetness and abundance to come for the young couple. However, with their rising popular appeal and scale, many henna events today are conducted in reception halls, in which three course meals are served.
To ease the task of hosting such large events (and to focus on what really matters, namely, the family and guests!) many turn to catering companies that provide full henna party menus, including food, drinks, and traditional deserts.