Rabbis, Weddings and Churches

This summer, we began asking wedding couples, through a follow up questionaire, if our rabbinic and cantorial referrals were helpful for their weddings.  One of our goals in providing this referral service, and the follow up questionnaire, is to help foster connection between interfaith couples and the Jewish clergy who officiate at their weddings.  We hope that the rabbis and cantors we refer are welcoming and help foster a greater connection between the couple, their wedding ceremony, and other Jewish choices they may make in their journey as a family.  And with every response to our six-month follow-up with the couples, we learn a little more about who is using this service and what their real needs are.

With a sample of responses in, here are some of my unscientific findings thus far.  It appears that more and more couples are requesting holding wedding ceremonies before the end of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday night.  Almost half of our requests for referrals ask for Saturday weddings.  Many more than before are planning a wedding with a co-officiant of another faith, and several have asked for rabbis or cantors who will officiate in a church.  It seems that the spectrum of what interfaith couples are seeking for wedding ceremonies is expanding.  The ceremonies now range from traditional Jewish ceremonies, with all the ritual, traditions and Hebrew to ceremonies where the Jewish officiant is offering a prayer or blessing, maybe a glass is smashed, and the wedding is in a church.

We are at an interesting time in religious history in the U.S.  The freedom to choose one’s religious identity has expanded to include all sorts of combinations and permutations.  People are free to make choices of partial spiritual or religious identities and mixed identities.  You could identify as a Jewish-Buddhist, a Jew-Bu, or simply as a spiritual being with diverse religious practice.  The range is limitless, or so it appears.  It seems that the limits have to do with finding clergy to support your choices and then maybe to find a community that is willing to integrate your identity with the many other variations that exist there.

Given the apparent change in demographics, what should we expect of our Jewish clergy today?  Should rabbis and cantors be willing to meet couples where they are in their religious choices? Or should couples, and individuals, be required to come to institutional and historical standards?  Maybe there is a new category of individual religious identity, one that does not adhere to existing institutional standards, and we may need to develop clergy support for them and help them create a new kind of religious community?

It seems to me that whatever we decide, the world of interfaith living will continue to change faster than we can keep up with it.  Our role then may be nothing more than to keep listening for these changes and support families in making choices that are viable, in the current circumstances of religious alternatives, and continue to support their connection with other families and individuals of similar choices.  “This isn’t your grandparents Judaism” is the mantra of this generation. 

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2 thoughts on “Rabbis, Weddings and Churches

  1. Rabbi Lev,
    Your thoughts are well written, and very much in line with what I am experiencing, as an unaffiliated clergy member in South Florida.

    I am frequently confronted by other affiliated clergy with negative comments about what I do. The simple assumption on their part is that unlike ANYTHING else in our world, Judaism, and all of its laws and traditions are inflexible and unaccommodating. They believe absolutely that Jews must come to the institutional standards and laws in order to be a good Jew, and that there is only one way to be Jewish.

    But, in reality, nothing in our world is the same today as it was even 30 years ago, let alone 3000! If what we truly want is to perpetuate Judaism, to encourage Jews in an Interfaith family to raise Jewish children, we have to be as flexible as our times. We must find the way to enable them to BE Jewish, and to ENJOY Judaism, not feel limited or restricted by uncomfortable boundaries, because, at that point, the families turn away from Judaism completely.

    For clergy that offer no options, the only option is to go somewhere else. This is unthinkable, when the objective is for our people to grow and flourish. We must find a way for that to happen, in an ever changing society.

    Looking forward to more information from your readers,
    Cantor Debbi Ballard

  2. Cantor Debbie, I agree that our narrowness often causes people to look elsewhere or simply to stay disconnected from any form of spiritual or religious community. Along with narrowing the numbers of people entering and reentering the Jewish congregational world, we also keep people from the gifts that Judaism and Jewish community have to offer. And as important, we lose their strength and new vision from our narrowing population.
    Without exposure to sacred communities, people can fall prey to the ordinariness of life. We become cynics and lose hope of every finding meaningful in our lives. We give in to societal behaviors that we would otherwise fight against given others to fight along side of.
    Many of us remember our congregations standing together to oppose the oppression of women and African Americans. Today our Jewish Community protest the holocaust in Darfour and force our government to act quickly to make change there. We rally together for equal rights for same gendered couples. Jewish community, keeps our attentions on the Middle East and challenge us to justify our fears of terrorism against human rights violations. It is in the synagogue that heated debate, tempered by study and prayer, can lead to clearer thinking and the ability to act in the face of our fears and our discontent. Where else can a group of strangers come together to learn and pray and act with a stronger, communal voice than in the synagogue?
    I am not always in love with organized religious community, at least not with the way it has been organized lately. I think it sometimes breeds pettiness and can behave like an organism that can’t move in any one direction for fear of not moving in the RIGHT direction. On the other hand, I also know that religious community can move mountains and can reshape neighborhoods with powerful leadership and open mindedness.
    My fear is that our communal fear of change and diversity (on the inside of our communities) will distract us from the opportunity to gain new and energized leaders when we close our doors to those who don’t fit our mold.
    Judaism was founded on the belief that we were strangers and our goal is not to behave like the one who oppresses or opposes the stranger, but the one who welcomes them. At Sinai, the story says, stood us and those who stood with us. together we heard the law of being human and living in community. And we travelled together into the promised land.
    Judaism and Jewish community are gifts. The tighter we hold them the less value they have in the world and the fewer people who will know them. What ever happened to “a light to the nations” and “multiply like the grains of sand on the beach or the stars in the sky”? When did we lose sight of the gift and the opportunity to offer it to the world?

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