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One of the first decisions a couple has to make in planning for their wedding ceremony is who will officiate.Â When planning a Jewish wedding incorporating multiple faith backgrounds, you have a number of options as to who can be your officiant. You may choose to have solely Jewish clergy (a rabbi or cantorâ€”for the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to â€śrabbisâ€ť from now on, but note that most cantors can officiate just as a rabbi can); to have Jewish clergy co-officiate with a clergy member of a different faith; or not to have clergy at all.
If you want to have Jewish clergy officiate your wedding ceremony, there are someÂ things you should know. While Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis are permitted to officiate interfaith wedding ceremonies, not all do so, and some who do have certain conditions that must be met in order for them to officiate. Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, on the other hand, are not permitted to officiate interfaith weddings. This means that you or your partner may have a rabbi you grew up with that you had always dreamed would officiate your wedding ceremony and they may not be allowed to officiate interfaith weddings, may choose not to do so or may not be comfortable officiating the type of wedding you are planning.
The best way to find out if a rabbi is able and willing to officiate your wedding ceremony is to inform them of your plans as early as possible in your planning and to ask if they can and will officiate. It’s important to run the date by them, as most rabbis will not officiate on Shabbat or the evening before a Jewish holiday. If a rabbi you know isnâ€™t able to officiate, or if you donâ€™t have a relationship with a rabbi, then InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Jewish clergy referral service is a resource that can help. Just fill out the officiation request form, and we’ll email you, free of charge, a curated list of rabbis and cantors in your area who are likely to be a good fit for the type of wedding youâ€™re planning. We also refer Jewish clergy that may be willing to travel.
Most rabbis and cantors who officiate interfaith weddings are not willing to co-officiate with clergy of another faith, though the number who will do so is growing. If you’re using InterfaithFamilyâ€™s clergy referral service and you’re looking for a rabbi to co-officiate, please check the appropriate box on the online form.
Good, clear communication is essential when working with two officiants. Many clergy (of any faith) who are willing to co-officiate may have conditions for doing so, and some will want to make case-specific decisions about what they are comfortable doing. Good communication between the officiants, and between you and both officiants, is crucial so that no one feels blindsided or misunderstood. Some rabbis who co-officiate will recommend specific local clergy of other faiths with whom they enjoy working.
You can choose to get married without having a rabbi or cantor, or any other clergy for that matter. Hiring a justice of the peace, judge or non-denominational officiant are all options. You can also arrange to have a friend deputized by the state to act as your officiant. Good communication is key when working with officiants who may be unfamiliar with the family dynamics or other issues sometimes in play in interfaith weddings.
If you decide to go this route, there are many resources you can consult to incorporate Jewish ritual and cultural elements into your ceremony. See the Sample ceremonies and definitions for wedding programsÂ section of IFFâ€™s Jewish Wedding Guide for Interfaith CouplesÂ for some good ideas.
You should feel free to ask any questions of the clergy you contact, including questions about fees. It is important to feel comfortable with someone before you make the commitment to have them join in your special day.
Your first conversation with a prospective officiant is your â€śinterview,â€ť and itâ€™s your main opportunity to discern whether this person is a good fit for you and your partner. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
After your initial conversation, the most important thing is for you and your partner to decide whether or not you feel comfortable, supported and respected.
As for fees, Jewish clergy fees vary greatly (and are often greater than the fees of clergy of other faiths) though generally they fall somewhere between $500 – $1,500, depending on many variables. Fees may include travel costs, or reflect the amount of necessary pre-marital work. They also vary by region. Many rabbis and cantors offer a sliding scale if finances are an obstacleâ€”donâ€™t be afraid to ask for a fee reduction if this is a factor.
Hereâ€™s whatâ€™s going into the fee: Rabbis bring years of seminary training into their work with couples, and often spend considerable time preparing the wedding ceremony according to the specific needs of each couple. In interfaith weddings, rabbis work with each unique couple to craft a sensitive, respectful and meaningful ceremony that strives to balance the aesthetics of Jewish ritual with the need for some cultural translation for family members and guests of other faiths.
When they hire a rabbi, couples are choosing to pay for a professional to create a sacred moment that they will remember forever. Itâ€™s useful to think about the clergy fee alongside the other costs associated with weddings today. The expertise and care couples look for in a wedding cake, a DJ or a photographer all come with fees, and clergy also need to make a living.
Finally, for co-officiated weddings, remember to include clergy fees for both officiants in your budget.
Recently weâ€™ve been thinking about what it means to be planning a religious wedding as a same-sex couple. Until the Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling on same-sex marriage less than two years ago, marriage was simply not an option for many couples like us. Although weâ€™re now able to participate in the tradition of marriage, things still remain far from clear-cut when it comes to religious attitudes toward our relationship.
We feel very lucky that our family and friends have wholeheartedly supported our relationship. Our wedding will be officiated by a rabbi and a priest who have been nothing but immensely kind and supportive. But we know that for many conservative proponents of both Judaism and Christianity, our relationship is not a sanctioned one. The Church of England bishops voted to maintain their opposition to same-sex marriage a little over two weeks ago. If we were to get married in the U.K., where Vanessa is from, we would not be able to getÂ married within the religious tradition thatÂ she grew up with, and in which her mother is a priest. In the U.S., some rabbis and priests would also refuse to marry us. Googling â€śreligion and gay marriageâ€ť brings up pages of sites, many of which are not in support of same-sex marriage.
So we asked ourselves if we should stillÂ have a religious ceremony, given the discrimination that many LGBTQ people face from their religious communities.
Our answer concluded in a yes. We choose to stand alongside those in our religious communities who welcome and support people who have historically been marginalized and alienated. We, and our families, try to have conversations with people who find it more difficult to accept our relationship. Sometimes, simply showing up as gay people in a religious context is enough to start making change.
We strive toward understanding how our religions can inspire such a range of opinions, not just about LGBTQ people but also about people of other faiths, colors and economic circumstances, and we stand up against people who use their religions as an excuse to hurt and vilify other human beings. So yes, we #ChooseLove by proudly celebrating our interfaith same-sex wedding with the support of 150 family and friends, and we will base our marriage on our shared religious principles of love and acceptance.
By Sarah Martinez Roth
How We Met
Growing up Catholic, I knew I wanted to marry a man of faith; however, when I met Jonathan, I realized maybe things were not so black and white, and maybe faith in God was what I was searching for.
Jonathan and I met our freshman year at Colby College in Maine. While in college, we grew closer as friends and I got the chance to admire his commitment to his faith as a friend before we started dating. Even though Jonathan grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, he was very much aware of what being Catholic meant since his mother converted to Judaism from Catholicism before she got married. In addition to celebrating all of the Jewish holidays, Jonathanâ€™s parents would celebrate the Christian holidays with his motherâ€™s family. I think growing up in that background made Jonathan more open to dating me. Conversely, I grew up without the exposure to the same level of religious diversity, so I was not sure how my family would react.
Soon after we graduated, I remember having a conversation with my mother and asking her what she would think if I started dating Jonathan. She said: â€śSarah, he believes in the same God. As long as you communicate and are open and honest about what you want, you will be just fine.â€ť I took her advice, and we started our relationship soon after.
As we began to plan our wedding we knew we wanted to tie together our Jewish and Catholic faiths. Our situation was especially unique, since Jonathan is a Conservative Jew, I am Catholic and we were having an outdoor wedding ceremony. We needed clergy that would be accommodating to all three of those things. After many months of searching, we were honored to have my husbandâ€™s childhood rabbi and the priest that confirmed me marry us.
Our wedding weekend began with our aufruf, which technically translates to â€ścalling up,â€ť at Jonathanâ€™s childhood synagogue. An aufruf is a custom where the bride and groom are called up in front of the congregation, usually during a Shabbat service, to be welcomed by the Jewish community. We invited both sides of our immediate family to our aufruf, where Jonathan and I were both asked to join the rabbi on the bimah and participate in the service by saying the blessings over the challah and wine.
The cantor sang â€śAll of Meâ€ť by John Legend in Hebrew, which we thought was very meaningful because my family, who doesnâ€™t understand Hebrew, was able to recognize the song. At the end of our aufruf, the congregation threw little candies at us, which represented sweet blessings for our marriage.
Signing Our Ketubah
Traditionally, it is two male non-family members who are Jewish that sign the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract. Adhering to that rule would mean that no one on my side would be able to sign such an important document in my life.
I mustered up the courage to ask our rabbi if I could have someone from my side sign it, and he said of course; there is no rule that three people could not sign it. So in the end, our ketubah was signed by my husbandâ€™s best man, a close family friend of my husbandâ€™s family and my godmother.
One of the most memorable parts of our wedding to me was the circling tradition. In Judaism, when the bride circles the groom seven times it represents the creation of our new family circle and the intertwining of our lives together. This was a beautiful moment for me because as I circled Jonathan I felt our lives truly becoming one. Our rabbi suggested that my mother and mother-in-law help me with my veil and dress while I circled Jonathan. Even though that moment was supposed to be about the new home Jonathan and I were creating, it was reassuring to know that our families would always be right behind us to support us.
We wanted our wedding to be as traditional to both faiths as possible. Our rabbi kept the structure of the traditional Jewish wedding in its entirety until before the breaking of the glass, when our priest shared a reading from the New Testament, followed by a homily and blessing over our marriage. Then they both pronounced us husband and wife. Given that my family is bilingual, it was important to me to have the Spanish language included on our wedding day, and our priest was more than willing to conduct the reading and homily in both English and Spanish.
Our chuppah, or wedding canopy, was made from white birch wood, which reflected our roots from college in Maine, and the tallis (prayer shawl), which covered our chuppah, was my father-in-lawâ€™s and was handmade in Israel.
Our vows were a unique part of our weddingâ€”we completed the traditional Jewish ring exchange in Hebrew and in English: â€śBehold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and the People of Israel.â€ť After that, we exchanged our own personal words.
At the end of our ceremony, the last prayer, called the Priestly Blessing, was sung by our rabbi in Hebrew and our priest in English. We were wrapped by both of them in my husband’s tallis from his bar mitzvah. At that moment it really felt like we became husband and wife.
My Advice to Couples
My biggest piece of advice for couples planning their interfaith wedding is to not give up. Whatever your vision is, there will be someone who will help make it come true. Just have faith and donâ€™t get discouraged. Planning a wedding can be very stressful, and at times overwhelming. When also trying to balance and manage the interfaith component to your wedding, it can get increasingly complex.
Create your vision for what you and your future spouse want, and I promise this will be the happiest day of your life. When you are standing next to your partner as you are committing yourselves to each other in holy matrimony during your unique and special ceremony, your different backgrounds and faiths will fuse together in the most beautiful moment of your life.
Are you planning a wedding? Find clergy from InterfaithFamily here.
By Emily Baseman
Our interfaith ceremony was the best and most meaningful part of our wedding day. It was really important to my husband, Brandon, and me that the ceremony be both very personal to us as a couple and truly interfaith. This meant we looked at wedding traditions from both Christianity and Judaism, and discussed which would fit into our ceremony. It also meant working closely with both a rabbi and a pastor to select readings and determine what would be said by each of them. I took a very hands-on role in planning our ceremonyâ€”maybe more than most brides doâ€”because we had very specific ideas of what we wanted to be included. Hereâ€™s a look at what we chose to do, and where we made it work for ourselves and our families. (We also had a Ketubah ceremony, which Iâ€™ll write about in an upcoming post.)
Processional & Affirmation of Families
It is traditional in Judaism for both parents of the bride and both parents of the groom to walk their respective child down the aisle. In Christianity, it is much more typical for only a brideâ€™s father to walk her down the aisle. For this tradition, Brandon and I went with what we were comfortable with and had imagined growing upâ€”both his parents with Brandon, and just my dad with me. My feminist heart hated the notion of my father â€śgiving me away,â€ť and so I chose to look at the experience as an incredibly special moment between my father and me, and Iâ€™m glad I did not miss out on that. Early in the ceremony, our pastor led an Affirmation of Families that included blessings from both sets of parents.
We loved the symbolism of our new home under the chuppah and were excited to include this in our ceremony. We decided that only Brandon and I, and our officiants, would stand under the chuppah, with our parents in the front row and our attendants off to the side. We made this choice because we wanted our parents to experience the ceremony without feeling like they were on display, and we also wanted it to be a more intimate moment between ourselves and our officiants.
My mother and I designed our chuppah with our amazing florist. Our wedding was outside in Washington Square Park in Chicago and we wanted to ensure that our chuppah felt natural. The flowers and birch poles the florist used were beautiful and the best part of the chuppah was a white lace tablecloth that belonged to my late maternal grandmother. During the ceremony, I glanced up at the chuppah and loved feeling my grandmotherâ€™s presence in that moment. We now have the tablecloth at home and I hope to have it made into baby blankets for future children.
Acknowledgement of Different Faiths
Our pastor began the ceremony with an acknowledgement of our two faiths and talked about how the ceremony was uniquely created for Brandon and me, with traditions and beliefs adopted from both Christianity and Judaism. He closed with a Bible passage, God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (1 John 4:16)
Our rabbi led three blessings: Shehecheyanu, blessing over the wine and blessing over the chuppah. We saw these blessings as essential to our ceremony and wanted to include both Hebrew and English. Our rabbi also provided background for each so that everyone understood their meaning. For the blessing over the wine, we asked our rabbi to recite it in Hebrew and our pastor to recite it in English. We also used the Kiddush cup from Brandonâ€™s bar mitzvah, which added special meaning.
In our initial conversation with our pastor, we agreed that we wanted to include Jesus throughout the ceremony. It is possible to have a Christian-Jewish ceremony that only references God, but it was more comfortable for us to also include Jesus in name. During our ceremony, our pastor explained with grace how we would be including aspects from both faiths, which could be perceived differently from person to person. We selected both Tanakh and New Testament readings for the ceremony, both of which offered blessings and a charge for our marriage. For the Tanakh, we heard Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, and for the New Testament, Colossians 3:12-17.
We were also blessed with homilies from both officiants, a statement on the gift of marriage, â€śI Carry Your Heartâ€ť by E.E. Cummings and the singing of â€śWhat a Wonderful Worldâ€ť by Louis Armstrong, arranged by my brother-in-law, our pianist for the day, and performed by him and my sister.
Vows & Exchange of Rings
Inspired by my sister and brother-in-law, Brandon and I wrote our vows together and each said the same words to one another, which was our personal way of making promises to each other about our commitment.
Brandon and I were also eager to find a way to incorporate each of us speaking in Hebrew in the ceremony. We found this opportunity in our ring exchange. Our pastor led Brandon and the rabbi led me in reciting our own words and words borrowed from Songs of Solomon, â€śWith this ring, I thee wed. Wear me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is infinitely strong. Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away.â€ť We closed with these words in English, â€śI am my belovedâ€™s and my beloved is mineâ€ť and in Hebrew, â€śAni le’dodi ve’dodi li.
Sheva Brachot and Benediction
Before we were pronounced married, our rabbi recited the Sheva Brachot, or â€śSeven Blessings,â€ť which are traditional in a Jewish wedding. Our pastor also read a benediction, Numbers 6:24-26, â€śThe Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord be kind and gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor And give you peace.â€ť Later at our reception, our first dance was Bob Dylanâ€™s â€śForever Young,â€ť which we loved dancing to because the lyrics also echoed these words.
Breaking of the Glass
There was no questionâ€”how could we not include this fun tradition?
To learn more about interfaith weddings and for a full list of resources, click HERE.
To read more about Emily and Brandonâ€™s interfaith wedding planning, read her first post HERE.