reeve r. brenner's Journal

In response to Ed Case for his excellent piece on the Marc Mezvinsky/Chelsea Clinton wedding.

September 1, 2010 by reeve r. brenner   Comments (0)

interfaith, Chelsea Clinton, marriage, wedding

Dear Editor:
There were exceptionally pleasing feelings of pride aroused in me by Ed Case for his excellent piece on the Marc Mezvinsky/Chelsea Clinton wedding and for saying mazal tov on my behalf and for others who feel the same; and by the Forward for courageously publishing his sound wisdom and above all by the groom, Marc who saw to it that all the signifiers including Kippah, Talit, Chupa, Kiddish were featured prominently at the wedding. Marc’s parents are to be commended for the successful upbringing of Marc as a committed Jewish young man. The rabbi’s officiation was very important and also most laudable.
About the wedding, we tend to complicate things more than that they need to be: for one thing, there is no such thing as co-officiation. From a Jewish perspective, whoever presides over the exchange of rings – the symbolic act of conveying a “consideration” in the presence of two witnesses the acceptance of which validates the contract/ketubah – is the officiant and need not be clergy. It is irrelevant from this perspective that a rabbi out of a sign of respect should decide to invite others, of whatever stripe they are, to participate. Any assortment of laymen, Catholic priests, Protestant ministers or imams standing alongside the officiant constitutes a loving and generous gesture on the part of the family and the Jewish officiant. When a rabbi officiates at an inter-marriage (meaning he/she presides over the exchange of rings) it would be well advised to be welcoming in this manner. Clergy mix in many venues such as at a Thanksgiving community service. No wedding guest need be confused as to what is transpiring before their eyes. “Causing confusion,” often cited, is a very lame excuse for not inviting another worthy and beloved person to participate. Two witnesses of maturity and repute must be present to affix their signatures to the ketubah agreement. Anyone who doesn’t ordinarily write on the Sabbath (who would be sleeping over at the hotel, perhaps) can affix his (and not hers if Orthodox) signature after dark.
As for scheduling a Sabbath day-time wedding, one almost never hears the favorable reasons for the support of an earlier time, only the anti. But the permissive side would recognize how the wedding enhances and does not detract the sanctity of the Sabbath day. And since the guests do not joyously celebrate Shabbat according to Halacha, there is little concern for mixing or diminishing two joyous events –the Sabbath and a chatunah. The guests, family and couple will, in the company of the minion, hear Hebrew words of prayer and consecration they would not otherwise experience on the Sabbath. The wedding and the Sabbath are both sanctified. There are practical reasons for preponing the ceremony time before sunset besides the mitzvah of accommodating the wedding couple and their loved ones many of whom are elderly. For them an earlier time constitutes a mitzvah l’chabed zkeinim.
Kedushin does not lose its kedusha when entered into its sanctity on Shabbat Kodesh. Unless of course the wedding is a business arrangement as it still is for Orthodoxy as reflected in an Orthodox ketubah referencing monetary considerations which certainly do not belong on the Sabbath. Therefore, an Orthodox Jewish wedding ought not to be conducted on the Sabbath. A non-Orthodox wedding fits the Sabbath perfectly.
The mitzvah of officiation should take into account that the marriage not the wedding ceremony is paramount. And the wedding, (signifying: “crossroads reached” and a new life begun) almost invariably serves the function of affirming the direction or projected “pathway” the couple will take concerning the religious identity of their home and children.
If a couple decides to take the non-Christian, uncommon and exceptional pathway to the mansion of Jewish identity then the exchange of rings with the formula, “according to the traditions of Moses and the heritage of Israel” – k’dat moshe v’yisrael - would be in order. And the non-Jewish partner reciting this formula affirms his or her status as a ger or giyoret toshav a Settled Sojourner. If Chelsea will be raising Jewish kids, she’s a Settled Sojourner. If so, it will make me smile. We are a welcoming folk, not a turning our back folk. Besides, in our time, identity is transmitted in ascending lineality – by child to parent – not by descent.
We are strengthened as a people by offering various portals of entry (and exit too) of the mansion of Jewish identity. We should keep that entrance unblocked for our own good and steer the right people to the right portal. I go more deeply and theologically into these critical issues in my book (without cost), Jewish, Christian, Chewish or Eschewish: Intermarriage Pathways for the New Millennium. Above all I pray Marc and Chelsea will be happy, will be good parents as are their own accomplished parents, will prove to be well-suited for each other and that they be welcomed by the Jewish community should that be their choice in establishing their home.
Rabbi Dr. Reeve Robert Brenner