25,000 attend huge wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families

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Jerusalem

There was standing room only in Jerusalem on Monday night as the heir to one of the most important Jewish ultra-orthodox families married his bride, in front as many as 25,000 guests.

Shalom Rokeach, who is 18, and his 19 year-old bride Hannah Batya Penet, wed in front of the guests, some of whom were so far away they needed binoculars to see the ceremony.

Mr Rokeach is the grandson of the leader of the Hasidic Belz Rebbe dynasty - an ancient aristocratic family that has its roots in the 14th Century Poland. He is also the only male heir to the dynasty, and as such he is one day expected to head the community – one of the largest in Judaism.

The huge ceremony lasted until dawn, with police in Jerusalem forced to closed roads in the area. The wedding was also a massive social gathering for the Belz Rebbe, with members of the sect from all over the world arriving in Israel for the event.

The bride, wearing a diamond encrusted traditional white dress, was kept veiled throughout the ceremony, after being escorted to meet her husband by female relatives. As in many areas of orthodox Jewish society, the male and female guests were kept separate.

Traditional Jewish weddings consist of two separate parts, the betrothal ceremony, known as kiddushin, and the wedding itself, known as nisuin. In between the two parts, the groom and his bride spend an hour in each other’s company.

The males wear formal clothing, including the Shtreimel hat and black overcoats called bekishes, which are worn on a daily basis by the fiercely traditional Belz Rebbe. Woman often cover their heads and wear high necklines and long skirts to conform to tznius – a code of ultra-orthodox modesty.

The community derives its name from the town on Belz in Poland. It was home to 3,600 Jewish people before the outbreak of the Second World War, before being occupied by Nazi Germany. There are thought to be more than 7,000 Belz Rebbe families today.

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