The Torah provides very little guidance with regard to the procedures of a marriage. The method of finding a spouse, the form of the wedding ceremony, and the nature of the marital relationship are all explained in the Talmud.
According to the Talmud, 40 days before a male child is conceived, a voice from heaven announces whose daughter he is going to marry, literally a match made in heaven!
The Talmud specifies that a woman is acquired (i.e., to be a wife) in three ways: through money, a contract, and sexual intercourse. Ordinarily, all three of these conditions are satisfied, although only one is necessary to effect a binding marriage.
Acquisition by money is normally satisfied by the wedding ring. The wife's acceptance of the money is a symbolic way of demonstrating her acceptance of the husband. In all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired only with her consent, and not without it.
As part of the wedding ceremony, the husband gives the wife a ketubah, the marriage contract. The ketubah spells out the husband's obligations to the wife during marriage, conditions of inheritance upon his death, and obligations regarding the support of children of the marriage. It also provides for the wife's support in the event of divorce. The ketubah is often a beautiful work of calligraphy, framed and displayed in the home.
The process of marriage occurs in two distinct stages: kiddushin (commonly translated as betrothal) and nisuin (full-fledged marriage). The relationship created by kiddushin can only be dissolved by death or divorce. However, the spouses do not live together at the time of the kiddushin, and the mutual obligations created by the marital relationship do not take effect until the nisuin is complete.
In the past, the kiddushin and nisuin would routinely occur as much as a year apart. During that time, the husband would prepare a home for the new family. Today, the two ceremonies are normally performed together.
Because marriage under Jewish law is essentially a private contractual agreement between a man and a woman, it does not require the presence of a rabbi or any other religious official. It is common, however, for rabbis to officiate.