Ritual Wedding Objects and Garments

  

Every religion and culture has its unique ritual objects and garments that are part of wedding ceremonies. When planning for your Jewish interfaith wedding you will want to consider which to include. You may choose to include ritual objects and garments from multiple traditions or just Jewish ones. We will explain some of the Jewish ones here.

The Chuppah (Jewish Wedding Canopy)

chuppah (sometimes spelled “huppah”) is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. Jewish wedding ceremonies typically occur under a chuppah, and this tradition offers great opportunities for interfaith couples to integrate elements from multiple traditions.

A basic chuppah looks like a square piece of fabric supported by four poles. The poles stand on the ground and are often held upright by friends of the couple. The poles can also be free-standing and decorated with flowers. Couples can make their own chuppah, use a synagogue’s or rent one. There should be enough space under the chuppah for the couple, clergy and a small table for ritual items like wine glasses.

The chuppah symbolizes the couple’s home. The ancient rabbis compared it to the tent of the biblical Abraham, who was famed for his hospitality; his tent had entrances on all four sides to signal a message of welcome to travelers coming from any direction.

Making or decorating a chuppah offers opportunities to include various traditions in the wedding. Partners who are not Jewish can include materials and patterns representing their heritage in the chuppah cloth cover. Some couples use a family heirloom, such as a grandfather’s tallit (prayer shawl; more on this below) or a prized family tablecloth (from Irish culture), as the chuppah covering.

The costs of making your own chuppah can be modest, especially if you keep things simple. You can get everything you need in one trip to a building supplies store for $100 or less (www.apracticalwedding.com has a great DIY page called How to build a chuppah). Prefab kits available online run from about $130 to $250. Rental costs vary but are often under $100. The website huppahs.com rents different styles of chuppot (plural of chuppah) as well as canopies and poles if you only need one or the other.

Two Cups of Wine/Grape Juice

Cup of wine

Credit: Jennifer Childress Photography

A typical Jewish wedding ceremony includes two cups of wine (or grape juice). Wine is a Jewish symbol of joy. (Learn more about how these two cups fit into the wedding ceremony.) You can use any cups or glasses for this purpose; however, these cups offer an opportunity to include elements from both families’ histories or traditions. Also, try using white wine or juice just in case of spills during the ceremony.

Some couples use only kosher certified wine or grape juice. Most rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings don’t require kosher wine. The rationale behind what makes wine kosher goes back to very ancient times when Jews were concerned that wine they might buy in the marketplace could have been ritually dedicated to the polytheistic gods of their neighbors. Today, most liberal Jews don’t check whether wine is kosher, but some choose to buy kosher wine for weddings in order to support the industry, or in case they have guests who only drink kosher wine.

A Glass to Break

Most Jewish and interfaith weddings end with one (or sometimes both) partners smashing a glass (for an explanation of the meanings, see Elements of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony from our Guide to Weddings for Interfaith Couples). You can use any glass for this purpose. Just make sure it’s thin and will break easily. Wrap the glass in a cloth or put it in a cloth drawstring bag to avoid injury from the broken shards.

Some couples use shops like Mazel Tov Glass or Traditions Jewish Gifts that provide kits which allow you to send them the broken glass shards, which they then make into artistic keepsakes.

What to Wear at a Jewish Interfaith Wedding

There really aren’t any rules here. You can have a very casual wedding or a very formal one. There are some traditional ritual garments that one or both partners may want to wear including a kippah, tallit, kittel and veil.

A kippah (Jewish head covering, a.k.a. “yarmulke”) is traditionally worn by Jewish men, but sometimes by women too. Either or both partners can don a kippah for the wedding. You can also request that your guests wear kippot (plural of kippah)—you don’t need to be Jewish to wear one—though if you do you’ll want to provide them with some. You can order from wholesalers like www.kippot.com and spend anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars (for personalized embossed kippot). You can also support fair trade by ordering kippot through Jewish United for Justice.

Jewish partners, particularly men, sometimes like to wear a tallit (ritual fringed prayer shawl) during their wedding. In traditional Judaism, the tallit symbolizes the commandments of the Torah and the enveloping and protective presence of the Divine, though not all Jews who wear a tallit practice traditional Jewish lives. Wearing a tallit that belonged to a deceased relative, for instance, can add meaning. Some people take the opportunity of getting married to buy themselves a new tallit that they plan to use in the future, perhaps in the hope of passing it down to future generations.

A kittel is a ritual garment that is typically worn by more traditional grooms. A kittel is a belted white robe, usually made of linen, symbolizing purity. The kittel, which is worn by married men on Yom Kippur, is also used as a burial shroud.

Finally, some brides wear a bridal veil (and at same-sex weddings, sometimes both partners do). In a traditional Jewish wedding, before the ceremony, there is a ritual that takes place called Bedecken, which means “checking to be certain.” In heterosexual weddings, this involves the groom putting a wedding veil on the bride shortly before the ceremony. The groom gets to “verify” that the bride is in fact the person he means to marry. There’s a lovely version of this ritual for lesbian weddings here.

More resources:

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:

The Ketubah/Marriage Contract

  

What is a Ketubah?

A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. In ancient times, a ketubah was a legally binding document, written in Aramaic (the vernacular of the time), describing a groom’s “acquiring” of a bride, and stating the amount that the groom would have to pay the bride in case of a divorce. There’s no mention of God, love or romance in a traditional ketubah. Modern liberal ketubot (plural) are typically spiritual, not legal, covenants between both partners, and ketubot for interfaith and same-sex couples abound. For example, ketubah.com has four different interfaith text options for couples to choose from.

In past generations, the ketubah was a simple document supplied by the rabbi, signed before the ceremony and filed away with the secular marriage certificate. Today, many couples choose  ketubot that have modern texts that they find meaningful and that are also works of art and a visual testament to the love and commitment of the couple. Many interfaith couples choose to have a ketubah and even make it a focal point of their wedding, reading it as part of the ceremony and displaying it on an easel for all their guests to view.

The ketubah text may detail how both partners will share responsibilities and resolve conflicts, the ways they will support and encourage each other throughout life, and/or the values they want to guide their marriage. Some interfaith couples even choose to mention their different religious heritages in their ketubah.

As Aliyah from Ketubah.com notes in her blog post: “The beauty of the modern ketubah is that it can have a text that means something to you personally and as a couple. The original purpose of the ketubah is still there but is elevated to mean more to you as a couple through your modern text.”

Aliyah and Rabbi Robyn Frisch, Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia joined for a Facebook Live about ketubot, which you can watch here.

Where do I find a Ketubah?

Several websites, like ketubah.com, Modernketubah.com, ketubah-gallery.com and etsy offer interfaith couples a variety of artistic styles and texts. You can also purchase ketubot at many local synagogue gift shops or Judaica stores. When ordering a ketubah online or from a store, choose a ketubah with the artistic style that you want, then you can figure out which of the available text options is right for you.

Ketubot are usually written in Hebrew and English (though they could be in just one or the other). Some couples choose to customize a ketubah with other languages that are personally meaningful to them. Beautiful customized ketubot have been created with three languages, adding to the Hebrew and English a language such as Chinese, Russian or Spanish.

You may choose to create your own personal ketubah, either because you have in mind a special design for your ketubah or because you’d like to write your own ketubah text—or perhaps both. There are ketubah artists who will work with you if a customized ketubah is your choice. You will need to commit to this process months before your wedding date to give due time to this process.

If you are artistic, you may decide that you want to make your own Ketubah—or you may want to ask an artistic family member or friend to make one for you. To read about how Hannah created her own DIY Ketubah, click here.

For sample language you can use in creating your own ketubah click here.

Regardless of if you are purchasing a ketubah or making one on your own, before you commit to any version of text, you should make sure that it is acceptable to your officiant.

 

When is the Ketubah Signed?

In most modern Jewish interfaith weddings, the ketubah signing takes place about a half hour before the wedding ceremony in the presence of the two witnesses, the couples’ immediate family members and the wedding party.

Today, many couples have a “first look” before their wedding ceremony that’s photographed so that they can take pictures together before the wedding ceremony. If that’s the case, then the couple can be together for the ketubah signing. If the couple doesn’t want to see each other before the ceremony, there are different options for how they can sign their ketubah – for example, they can each sign the ketubah in a different location (there’s no requirement that they be in the same room when signing the ketubah) or they can have the ketubah signing at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. If you do not plan to see each other before your wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your officiant how and when the ketubah will be signed. There are so many ways to create a ketubah and a ketubah signing ceremony that fits you, so be creative!

Some couples like to display their ketubot during their wedding reception. One way to do this is to have your ketubah mounted, but not framed (or framed without the glass), or placed in a temporary plastic frame to keep it from getting soiled, before your wedding. The ketubah can then be displayed on an easel during your reception.

After your wedding you can have your ketubah framed and hang it on a wall in your home. This is a great way to remember your special wedding day as well as the commitment you’ve made to one another.

Who signs a Ketubah?

Traditional ketubot are signed by two male Jewish witnesses who are not related to the couple or to each other—the couple and officiant don’t sign. Modern liberal ketubot are usually signed by two witnesses as well as the couple and the officiant. If you’re being married by a rabbi, you should ask them who can sign your ketubah. While all liberal rabbis are presumably fine with having females serve as witnesses, they may or may not allow someone who isn’t Jewish to serve as a ketubah witness and they may or may not let you have people who are relatives sign the ketubah.

Some couples want to have more than two witnesses sign their ketubah. If you want to do this, you should check with the company you are ordering from or the artist making your ketubah to see if this is possible. You should also get the OK from your officiant.

Do You Still Need a Marriage License?

A ketubah is not a substitute for a civil marriage license. In order to be married, a couple must have a civil marriage license from the state in which they’re being married. Some states require that civil marriage documents be signed by witnesses, while other states only require marriage documents to be signed by the officiant. In states that require civil marriage documents to be signed by witnesses, this can be done at the same time that the ketubah is signed, by either the same witnesses or different witnesses.

To learn about obtaining a marriage license in any of the 50 United States, including how much a marriage license costs, which states require a blood test to get married, certified documents you need to bring with you and what you need to know about the United States marriage license laws before applying for your state’s marriage license application, click here.

More resources:

Planning a Japanese, American & Jewish Wedding

  

As a fourth generation Japanese-American, I’ve often felt my heritage was slipping away from me. I grew up feeling in between the two: not quite Japanese enough or American enough, not really belonging in either category. There have been phases of my life when I’ve embraced being just American or just Japanese. It wasn’t until my conversion and our wedding that I came to realize that there is space for both.

Old family wedding photos

1,001 origami cranes, which we folded with friends and family. They are arranged in the shape of my Mom’s Japanese family crest by Linda Mihara, a San Francisco Japantown origami artist

Historic Congregation Emanu-el, our synagogue and where we held our wedding ceremony

When Bryan and I started dating, I became interested in his Jewish heritage. As things started getting serious, I felt that if we were to spend our lives together I had a responsibility to learn about his heritage too. In many ways, in Judaism I found the sense of belonging, spirituality and sense of community I had been searching for my whole life.

As we embarked on the wedding planning process together, we did what we had just learned to do in my Intro to Judaism class: Question everything! We had decided to marry in the main sanctuary in our synagogue: Did we really need florals in such a grand space? Did we really want to have the traditional bridal party? How did we want to honor the side of my family who grew up in Hawaii? If we were having a Jewish ceremony, how could we incorporate parts of my Japanese heritage in ways that actually felt relevant and authentic to who we are?

Many, many hours were spent on the internet searching for “Japanese and Jewish wedding” ideas. What I discovered was that there were very few examples out there. The other challenge was that no one in my family had ever had a traditional Japanese wedding, so all of the “traditional” elements felt totally foreign to me. When we committed to having a Japanese and Jewish wedding, I don’t think we realized what we were about to take on.

Our beautiful, minimalist watercolor ketubah, by artist Stephanie Kaplan

Bryan smashing the glass

We’ve been married for over a year now, and I cry tears of gratitude every time I look through our wedding album. Though it was at times a laborious process that required a lot more soul-searching than I had expected, it forced us to define our narrative as a Japanese and Jewish American couple. Unintentionally, it helped us create a solid foundation and made our bond even stronger than I could have ever imagined.

Gathering of our closest friends and immediate families to sign our ketubah

One thing I greatly admire about Bryan is his courage to be vulnerable and share his experience with others, especially if it means it will help them. It’s something that inspires me every day, since I usually prefer to keep things (especially private and sacred moments like our wedding) within my community. I have spent the last year working up the courage to add our wedding to those search results on the internet. My hope is that other mixed race couples might be inspired to incorporate elements of their heritages into their wedding day in ways that may not necessarily be “traditional”, yet feel authentic and true to who they are as a couple.

We asked everyone to join us on the dance floor for our first dance, which led right into the hora

Click here to read more about Kristin and Bryan’s Japanese-Jewish wedding on smashingtheglass.com.

Are You Keeping Your Guests in the Dark?

  

Recently, an amazing Jewish wedding program infographic was posted in our Facebook group for Jewish interfaith weddings (planning a wedding? Join us!), and we all flipped over how pretty and easy to follow it was. What a perfect way to help guests who aren’t familiar with Jewish weddings to understand what’s going on. Jewish weddings have many beautiful rituals, and I wanted to connect with the artist behind the program (Ling’s Design Studio) to see where she got the idea and how she helps couples create inclusive wedding ceremonies. Spoiler: She’s never been to a Jewish wedding! Who’s going to invite her so she can see it firsthand?

And for those of you who have a wedding coming up and want to purchase these beautiful programs from Ling? Check out this interfaith-friendly, egalitarian, customizable design we love. Happy planning!

Why is it important for couples to have a wedding program—in particular couples who come from two different faith backgrounds?

Ling: Having a wedding program for a couple is more than just about what you’d like to inform your guests with in regards to the order of your wedding ceremony; it’s all about getting the “personal touch” to make it more fun nowadays. I have not been to a Jewish wedding before, but I’ve learned so much from creating the program from my clients. With two people coming from different faith backgrounds, it’s definitely helpful to have it to show your guests who are not Jewish what Jewish wedding customs are all about.

In this particular program, your guests will be learning Jewish wedding customs through the fun infographic. It’s a fun way to break away from the traditional wedding programs we used to have!

How did you start creating programs for weddings?

As I began to accept custom orders, I was asked to design a Jewish infographic design for a buyer. This particular Jewish program was how it all started. Since then, the item became very popular in the Jewish community.

Are there any other customs or traditions that couples can include in their program aside from what’s listed in the sample Jewish program?

Absolutely! Every wedding is different. Couple “A” may not have the same customs from their wedding as Couple “B”. I often have buyers ask to add or omit some items from the program. If the couple provides me the info, I’d be happy to modify the program. (Please note that there will be additional charges depending on the complexity of the requests.)

Do you ever have couples ask for a program that describes multiple religions or cultures?

I haven’t had that request yet but I do take any custom orders.

What are some other customizations people have asked for?

Some couples would ask to include “Hakafot,” “Kiddush Cup” and “Yichud.” One buyer also asked me to list out each blessing of “Sheva Brachot.” I also made a timeline, and added a thank you note.

What has been most interesting or surprising to you to learn about Jewish weddings while creating these programs?

I learned that Jewish weddings are very cultural with many beautiful meanings for a couple. Most of the customs are about the couple and their family. It really emphasizes the connection and union between the bride and groom. One of the interesting things is that I never knew that the right index finger has the closest bloodline to the heart before I created this program. I thought this was very special.

Making Time to Reflect Before the Big Day

  

We’re counting down the days—less than one month until the wedding! Plenty of friends and family have been asking us if we’re excited (of course) and if we’re ready (which is a tougher question). In the practical sense, yes, we are ready. The caterer has our menu, the DJ has our song list and we’re finished with all of our DIY projects. In a broader sense, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: How do you know you’re ready to make such a monumental commitment to another person?

Since we’ve completed most of the wedding planning, we’ve been able to spend the past few weeks making sure we stay connected and grounded. Last Saturday, we biked to Yards Park in the Navy Yard area of DC, which is where Zach proposed over a year ago! We rode past one of our favorite breweries and sat in the park with our feet in the wading pool for a while, watching the kids run around and play. I thought about this lazy summer day that we were taking advantage of—that we were making the time to have fun and do something that wasn’t wedding-related, grocery shopping or watching TV together. I promised myself when we got engaged that we would make time for these things, and I haven’t been as good about that as I would have liked, but that day, we were.

We ran into our maid of honor and her family visiting from out of town, got ice cream with them and biked home in time to host some friends for a low-key game night. That’s one of the many things I love about Zach—that he gets me out of my head, and he challenges me to enjoy things like warm summer days and riverside parks without thinking about what I should be doing instead. Yards Park was a perfect reminder of that strength of his, at an exciting and busy time in our lives.

I’ve also been catching up with old friends, like my former roommate. We lived together for two years right after college and have kept in touch since both of us moved on. Last week, we met up for dinner at our favorite place in the old neighborhood. As we laughed and commiserated over wedding planning (and assured each other that the headaches would be worth it), I couldn’t help but think: Am I ready to get married? To leave my single life behind?

Zach and my dad came up with this genius display for our table assignments.

Those years of supporting each other through good and tough times over wine, lazy weekends and taco nights seem so rosy, and I’m a little sad to leave them behind. But then, I go home to my amazing fiancé, who has already unloaded the dishwasher, or left me Reese’s in the fridge, or asks me how my day was, and I know I’m ready to marry Zach. I’m ready to promise to be there for him in all of those ways and more. It’s still important, for me, to reflect on where this journey has taken me, and the other relationships I formed on the way. I’m a firm believer in the value of friendships outside of a relationship, even outside of your marriage, and the end of my “single life” in no way means the end of those friendships. But it does mark the beginning of a binding partnership—a promise to work through tough times and celebrate the good ones in new ways.

This past weekend, we went home to Pennsylvania to work on our seating chart. Putting it together was beautiful because, at each table, we see different groups of people from different times in our life, who have made us into the people we are today. We have friends from childhood, friends from high school and college, family friends who we’ve known since birth, current friends, work friends—they’ll all be there, with our loving families, to watch us commit to the rest of our lives together. We can’t wait for everyone to meet and mingle, and to represent for us on this momentous day who we have been and our hopes for who we are to become.

When I read about the Jewish tradition of the ketubah, I realized it was the perfect way to create a visual representation of this commitment we’re making to each other. Rather than a contract or agreement, it’s a perfect reminder of the promise we’re making—to constantly strive to live up to the ideal of love for each other. You can read the text we selected here. Different articles (like this one from InterfaithFamily and this one from America Magazine) and conversations with family and friends have forced me to acknowledge the uncertainty associated with marriage—the idea that people’s values, personalities and desires can shift over time, and marriage is a promise to work through those. Like many people, I personally struggle with uncertainty, but in thinking about these issues, I know that Zach is the person I want to take that leap of faith with. I can’t wait to see where we end up on this journey.

Q&A with Anita Diamant on The Jewish Wedding Now

  

Anita Diamant and The Jewish Wedding Now

By InterfaithFamily

How is this version of your wedding book more inclusive of all who identify as Jewish or are marrying into a Jewish family?

AD: This edition of the book reflects the fact that the chuppah, the wedding canopy, has never been bigger or more inclusive. The Jewish Wedding Now addresses the advent of marriage equality, and the language throughout embraces people of all gender identities. I also discuss the diversity of people who are not Jewish but choose marry under a chuppah. Just as there is no generic Jewish wedding, there is no such thing as THE “interfaith wedding.” It’s all about making choices that are meaningful and authentic for the couple under the canopy.

How can the book be helpful for someone who is not Jewish or is not sure they want Jewish rituals at their wedding?

The book is intended to help people of any background decide which, if any, Jewish rituals, can help them create the wedding they want. I hope the tone and language of the book is clear, jargon-free and inclusive, so that the Jewish rituals described are doorways, never barriers. I hope that couples are surprised and delighted to learn about the varieties of joy that are woven through the customs and rituals of Jewish weddings.

What is your greatest hope for what a couple from different religious backgrounds would take away from this book?

I hope couples feel empowered by learning about Judaism’s wealth of customs, rituals, wisdom and insights, and I hope they feel encouraged to make use of what speaks to them. There are countless ways that Jewish tradition can enrich a wedding ceremony and I hope couples see Judaism as a source of joy and spiritual expression.

When a Major Jewish Holiday Clashes With a Major Family Wedding

  

By Debra Lynn Shelton

When a major family wedding clashes with a major holiday

My cousin is getting married on Yom Kippur. And her dress rehearsal is on Kol Nidre. Yes, you read that right. So, what’s a good relative to do?

Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancé scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They weren’t able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.

On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.

The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my mom’s younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but don’t attend.

I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.

For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.

Rather than asking the audience, she decided to “phone a friend.” That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.

After explaining the situation, my mom asked: “What advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my father’s voice saying, ‘family is family.’  How do I choose between my family and my faith?” 

His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised: “Don’t go, but do send a gift. Do not tell her why you are not going.”

This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?

She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.

The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.

Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (I’m sure many of you will disagree with this.)

Personally, I’ve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldn’t go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So I’ll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.

This isn’t an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instance—leaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.

After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, I’m of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, “Family is family.”

The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousin’s wedding will not. So, I’ll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) I’m looking forward to spending time with relatives I don’t get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.

But it isn’t an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.

Being Interfaith in the Face of Hatred

  

DIY welcome display

This post was written by my fiancé Zach Drescher, who is Jewish and whose work often intersects with issues important to the American Jewish community.

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When you live in Washington, vacations can be a good opportunity to get away from the news cycle and conversations dominated by politics. While our trips home to plan the wedding could only be loosely termed as “vacations,” it has been nice to focus on something happier than what’s going on in our adopted home city.

That was impossible this weekend. Try as we might to avoid the paper and cable news, it was impossible to ignore what was happening in Charlottesville. The imagery and vitriol stemming from the white nationalist march saturated social media, and it was hard to think about anything else in between our appointments and errands. Reading the word “nazi” showing up so many times on what was supposed to be a quiet and enjoyable weekend was startling enough, especially for me (Zach), whose family history is in many ways shaped by the Holocaust.

The contrast between the wedding planning and the horror story playing out in our Facebook feeds was especially jarring to witness as an interfaith couple. While not as outwardly obvious as the color of one’s skin, there are certainly stigmas attached to marrying outside of your religion. As friends and newsmakers quickly spread the faces of angry, tiki-torch-wielding crowds, it was easy to picture them yelling directly at us, vowing to take back their religion from those who are in interfaith marriages. Those who oppose interfaith marriage often espouse a similar combination of fear and traditionalism to what came across in the message of white nationalist marchers. With everything we’ve seen happen in the last year, and given the fact that we’ve even discussed moving to Charlottesville in the future, it was easy to imagine a torchlit mob showing up at our doorstep one day.

A thick gold men's ring in a ring box next to a thinner silver women's band in a ring box

Our wedding bands, displayed side-by-side, which symbolize the unbreakable bond between us. Both have a similar cross-hatching pattern engraved in the metal, which speaks to the intersection of our faiths and cultures.

It’s worth reiterating that we have felt extremely accepted as an interfaith couple. We’re blessed to have friends and family that are nothing but happy for us, and are excited for us to embark on a journey of religious discovery together. And living in a liberal bubble helps—it’s hard to imagine our neighbors in Washington getting too worked up over our dual-faith identity. But the events of this weekend were an unsettling reminder of the ignorance and anger that is out there.

The more conversations we have as the big day approaches, and the more we delve into the communities other interfaith families have already built, the more encouraged we are that tired stereotypes are being washed away by tolerance. We hope that the events of this weekend are but a speed bump on our society’s path toward acceptance and open-mindedness.

And we pray for those hurt or killed in Charlottesville, and for those all over the world who are afraid to be themselves in their daily lives. Let us strive for a day when we do not fear our differences, but celebrate them instead.

Two Faiths Becoming One Family

  
Zach cooking latkes

Zach making curried latkes for Hanukkah

I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and we’ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because I’ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.

I’ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isn’t about weddings; rather, it’s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?

Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that “being both” was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Miller’s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.

couple standing in front of a lit-up Christmas tree

Laura and Zach by her parents’ Christmas tree, 2015

I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.

But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I’ve already written about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I can’t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my family’s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. That’s been the biggest realization for me in this process–we’re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.

I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that “Free” gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for all couples, but I feel it’s the right decision for us–it’s the first step toward the new family that we’re starting. I’m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.