It is a centuries-old tradition to initiate the round of wedding celebrations by having the groom called to recite the blessing over the Torah at the Sabbath service before the wedding. After the Torah reading and the groom's concluding blessing, the congregation often supplements their chorus of mazal tovs by throwing nuts and raisins at the groom. If that Sabbath proves especially inconvenient, it may be held on the previous Sabbath or on a weekday when the Torah is read.
The purpose of the synagogue appearance is to publicly announce the forth-coming nuptials. This custom probably originated from legal requirements in medieval France and Germany when community leaders were responsible for ascertaining that there were no impediments to the validity of the marriage before permission could be granted to the couple to hold the wedding in the marriage halls. The most effective way of accomplishing this was the synagogue announcement.
Another and more obvious purpose is the association of the wedding with the Torah. When the celebration is begun with a call to the Torah, the mood is set for sanctity and sobriety. At the time of the First Temple, Solomon had two special gates built: one for grooms, the other for mourners. The public sat between the two. When mourners came, they spoke words of consolation. When grooms entered, they greeted them with the blessing: Ha-shokhen babayit ha-zeh ye'samechakha be'vanim u'vanot—"May He whose Presence dwells in this house rejoice you with sons and daughters."
The aufruf also defines the religious boundaries of the marriage ceremony which, as has been noted, is essentially a civil function. It also gave the entire community, even those not invited to the wedding, the ability to participate in the festivity by attending the usual kiddush (Sabbath refreshments) immediately after the service.
The pre-wedding Sabbath has a venerable history. Mahzor Vitry records that the groom entered the synagogue with his ushers as a retinue, donned his tallit (prayer shawl) and sat down beside the Ark surrounded by his attendants. During the service, the cantor inserted special prayers into the regular service in honor of the couple, and a special reading was recited (Isaiah 61). On the Sabbath after the wedding, in a custom celebrated mostly by the ancient Sephardic community, a reading from a second Torah was specially arranged for bride and groom. This was the Genesis narrative of Eliezer and Rebecca, which, according to Rabbi Bachya, emphasizes that one should marry for right values and not for money, prestige, or beauty alone.
It appears from historical records that grooms traditionally donated the cover used to place over the Torah between readings. This reinforces the opinion that the groom's aliyah to the Torah was the special event of the Sabbath. The requirement of the community to extend this honor is in the nature of a Chiyyuv (obligation), equivalent to and, according to some, superseding that of the bar mitzvah boy. A special hymn, echad yachid, was sung for grooms if it was their first marriage, but not for the marriages of widowers or divorcees.
In eighteenth-century Frankfurt, it was customary to extending the celebration back to Friday night, reminiscent of the shalom zakhar ceremony for a newborn son.
The celebration at the synagogue on Saturday morning characteristically included the bevarfen, the throwing of nuts and raisins. This was undoubtedly a fertility blessing. The Talmud records that at a wedding, the guests passed wine by the couple and then threw wheat, grain, and nuts at both bride and groom. The Maharil, a fourteenth century architect of Ashkenazi custom, records that the groom was brought to greet the bride at the synagogue court-yard door before the wedding began. The groom took her hand, and all assembled threw wheat grains at them and said three times, pe'ru u-re'vu,—"be fruitful and multiply!"
One author cites a homiletic reason for throwing the nuts, almonds and raisins. The Hebrew word for nut is egoz. The gematria (numerical value) of those letters is seventeen, which is also the value for chet (sin) and for tov (good). A marriage can be very good or very bad, depending on how married life is conducted. So, almonds can be either sweet or very bitter, and wine can be used for purposes of intoxication or for sanctification. Marriage can be lived with drunken abandon or it can be gloriously sanctified.