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:

Finding Co-Officiants: A Multi-Step Process

  

July 2016 – Engaged! Now, who will marry us?

Our first hurdle in planning an interfaith wedding (other than the insanity of touring and booking a venue) was finding an officiant and creating a ceremony that reflected both of us. The day after we got engaged, I began fumbling around for some guidance. I knew what a Catholic wedding looked like, but I had no idea what was important in a Jewish ceremony, much less what we could do if we wanted to combine them.

As the daughter of a lifelong librarian, I put my research skills to the test. Surprisingly, my local library had exactly what I was looking for. A quick search in the card catalog for “interfaith marriage” turned up a fabulous book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. Yes! Exactly what I was looking for! It’s like someone has done this already…

I read the book cover to cover. It was super valuable during this process and covered almost every ceremony question I had: from the treatment of Jesus in a Christian-Jewish ceremony to what to expect when we met with the rabbi a few weeks later. The book included several sample ceremonies and really opened my mind to what we could create. The next step to realizing that vision was to decide on a venue.

After doing some research and talking with Zach, I decided I needed to reassess my dream of being married in the church where I grew up. That church meant a lot to me and to my family—we had received all of our sacraments there, attended the connected parish school and built our family life around that community. Discussing it with Zach, I realized that my in-laws-to-be might not feel comfortable in the church—and that maybe the church wasn’t the neutral ground zero from which the rest of our lives would start.

We needed somewhere that was meaningful to both of us, because that compromise or give-and-take is pretty emblematic of our life together. We found a beautiful venue in Historic Graeme Park that combined my Pennsylvania roots with Zach’s love of (and my appreciation for) nature. With a meaningful space secured, I set out to tackle the big question: Who would officiate our ceremony?

The view from our chuppah (minus all the people, of course!)

I first asked a clergy member from our local parish to officiate. He congratulated us and promised to look into the logistics. After some discussion and deliberation, we decided that it wasn’t the right fit. The diocese where we were getting married had policies about diocesan clergy (priests and deacons) performing wedding ceremonies in a dignified space–which typically means inside, not outdoors. (A Catholic diocese is a district that is under the supervision of a bishop and is made up of parishes run by priests.) I had done my research beforehand and, to the surprise of many (myself included), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not appear to explicitly ban outdoor weddings when it comes to a Catholic-Jewish ceremony because they recognize the need for a neutral space. But, as I understood it, this diocese had their own restrictions.

We didn’t know what to do—we had just selected a beautiful park to be married in, not thinking it would make finding an officiant more challenging. The decision on how to move forward really shook me. I felt like I had been part of a family for my whole life and now they were taking issue with something that seemed inconsequential to our marriage. We had looked at hotel ballrooms and fancy mansions in our venue search, but none of them really felt like a venue for us. We thought about having the ceremony inside the tent at the venue and we considered having a Catholic clergyman (priest or deacon) do a blessing after the ceremony. But after discussing it together and with my parents, we decided to see if we could find another Catholic officiant for the outdoor ceremony.

Tent space at Graeme Park–perfect for a reception, not ideal for the ceremony

Our success in finding such an officiant was a small miracle, likely brought about in some part by the fervent prayers of my mother. After reading the book Being Both, we looked up the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington to see if they offered any resources on interfaith marriage. We found a couples’ workshop for engaged and married interfaith couples, and I contacted the Catholic priest listed as a speaker at the workshop. Fr. Michael Kelly of St. Martin’s in DC was a godsend. He talked with me over the phone and agreed to help us fill out the paperwork, do the required marriage prep and find an officiant. On his recommendation, we contacted Rabbi Bleefeld in Dresher, PA, and met with him a few weeks later. Having read up on my stuff, I was thankfully aware when the rabbi asked us about things like a ketubah and the seven blessings. He has been a pleasure to work with and a resource in putting together our special day.

The priest was a little trickier to find. Fr. Kelly connected us with an order of priests that were not subject to the same rules and policies as diocesan priests (name of the order withheld). We met with Fr. Mike around Thanksgiving: He came across as kind, gentle and generous. He talked with us for a few hours about our relationship and what we wanted in our ceremony and he happily agreed to officiate our wedding.

Now we finally have a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, both doing equal parts of the ceremony and offering us the flexibility to incorporate parts of our traditions that have meaning to us (more on that in another post). It has been a long process to get to this point and I experienced a crisis of faith in my struggle to gain a Catholic officiant for my wedding. Throughout this journey, we have met so many incredible people who are doing God’s work. We would not have met them if we had taken the easy way—such as asking the rabbi to officiate and having a priest say a blessing.

A friend asked me the other day what I’m most excited for on our wedding day, and other than the dress (it’s gorgeous), I am most excited for our ceremony, a unique blend of the faiths and prayers and people that matter the most to us. I’m so thankful we can have it all present as we start our life together. Check back in a few weeks to see the ceremony, after we’ve put some finishing touches on it!

Looking for an officiant? InterfaithFamily can help!