Finding Your Officiant

  

One of the first decisions a couple has to make in planning for their wedding ceremony is who will officiate.  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 cantor—for the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to “rabbis” 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.

Jewish Clergy Only

If you want to have Jewish clergy officiate your wedding ceremony, there are some 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 isn’t able to officiate, or if you don’t have a relationship with a rabbi, then InterfaithFamily’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 you’re planning. We also refer Jewish clergy that may be willing to travel.

Jewish Clergy Co-officiate with Clergy of Another Faith

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 InterfaithFamily’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.

Wedding Ceremonies Without Clergy

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 programs section of IFF’s Jewish Wedding Guide for Interfaith Couples for some good ideas.

Questions to Ask Clergy and Clergy Fees

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 “interview,” and it’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:

  1. Are you willing to work with us to craft the content of the ceremony, and do you have limitations on how flexible you’re willing to be about the ceremony? (For example, if you’re a couple that prefers little to no God language, this is the time to ask.)
  2. What do you charge for a fee, and when do you need to be paid? Do you use a letter of agreement?
  3. How much time are you willing to spend with us and/or members of our family if there are important issues or family dynamics that require sensitivity?
  4. How far are you willing to travel to a wedding venue, and what travel reimbursement might you need?
  5. How would you describe your approach to working with interfaith couples?
  6. Do you have ritual limitations or restrictions that we might not be aware of?
  7. How much Hebrew and English can we expect in the service, and how do you work to help guests who aren’t Jewish feel included?
  8. Do you do dress rehearsals?
  9. Do you have references we can contact (i.e. other couples)?

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 obstacle—don’t be afraid to ask for a fee reduction if this is a factor.

Here’s what’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. It’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.

More Resources:

Advice from the Other Side: How We Planned Our Jewish, Catholic, Spanish Wedding

  

By Sarah Martinez Roth
Photos by Celia D. Luna Weddings

Sarah's wedding ceremony

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, Jonathan’s parents would celebrate the Christian holidays with his mother’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: “Sarah, 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.” I took her advice, and we started our relationship soon after.

Finding Clergy

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 husband’s childhood rabbi and the priest that confirmed me marry us.

Our Aufruf

Our wedding weekend began with our aufruf, which technically translates to “calling up,” at Jonathan’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.

Signing the ketubahThe cantor sang “All of Me” by John Legend in Hebrew, which we thought was very meaningful because my family, who doesn’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 husband’s best man, a close family friend of my husband’s family and my godmother.

The Ceremony

Jewish wedding - circling

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.

Sarah's husband breaks the glass

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-law’s and was handmade in Israel.

Under the chuppah

Our vows were a unique part of our wedding—we completed the traditional Jewish ring exchange in Hebrew and in English: “Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and the People of Israel.” 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

The kiss

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 don’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.

Finding a Rabbi for Two

  

Lisa and I attending the New Members Dinner at Temple Sholom

A question that all soon-to-be married couples must ask, who is going to officiate our wedding?

The most popular answer among weddings I have attended all seem to be: close friends who are ordained by the state. When dealing with an interfaith couple, the answers get a little more complicated. Do we ask our rabbi? Do we ask a priest?

As I spoke about in my last post, it was very important for Lisa to be married in the chapel. It was important to me to have a rabbi marry us. Without much thought it was a compromise that made this one step closer to a truly interfaith wedding ceremony.

We had decided to ask a rabbi to marry us, but it was not that simple. Still in today’s age it is rather unpopular to marry interfaith couples, or at least that is my perception. It was not an option to use the rabbis who shaped me until this point. The rabbi I had as a child has passed on. My most recent rabbi is 600 miles away. We are on a budget and just could not afford to bring him to Cincinnati. Since moving in February of 2013, I was still in search of a temple where I felt comfortable, and where Lisa would be welcome.

Back on the east coast, I had a small, 150 family congregation. Three out of four weeks, the services were done in a Conservative style I really gravitated toward. It was small and welcoming and socially liberal. It was filled with several interfaith families, LGBT couples, and a lot of other groups that made it a welcome place. It truly was unique. It was much different than the Reform services I attended in my youth.

I came to Cincinnati to find that, but Cincinnati is a small city and I was left with two very different choices. On the one hand, I attended regular services at a Conservative temple, but there was no formal rabbi. The community was great, but the lack of a rabbi did bother me. However, I liked the services which felt a lot like I those back on the east coast. At the Reform congregations, I felt as though I had outgrown the style of services, but there were plenty of rabbis to go around. I found myself uncomfortable with musical accompaniments for a lot of the services. I found myself connecting less during those services. However, I knew Lisa may be more welcome there.

It was tough. I had to talk to my spiritual advisors. I emailed with my old rabbi. I sat in prayer. I spoke with Lisa almost after every Friday night.

We kept coming back to Temple Sholom. It was a smaller community than some other locations, so that fit with both of our sensibilities. Lisa had never been to any sort of Jewish religious service, so it was great to be able to sit down on a Friday night at home and stream in services as an introduction. It meant Lisa wouldn’t be overwhelmed and it alleviated my irrational fear that Lisa would hate attending services.

Temple Sholom also has a wonderful spiritual leader, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp. We knew she was one of the few area rabbis who performed interfaith marriages. She had moved from Conservative to Reform and I felt I would be making that same transition. She had also spent time working with inmates and if you remember from my introduction post, I spend my free time every Monday offering guidance at a local correctional facility. It was also easier for Lisa to connect with a female Rabbi.

After one last sign, we made the appointment with Rabbi Terlinchamp. After one session, we filled out the membership paperwork and scheduled our marriage class appointments. I may not have the same rabbi for guidance as the rabbi I have grown used to, but WE have a rabbi that will officiate our marriage and help us both grow spiritually.