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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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