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Beyond the December Dilemma: Writing Wedding Vows

Howard, who is Jewish, and Heidi, an agnostic, are living together and became engaged in April. Since many couples communicate a great deal via e-mail, this column series will be just that: A situation or conflict which is discussed primarily through e-mail between the two. In their first column, Howard wrote, "I would be going through this search no matter what, but being with you pushes it even further because it forces me to strip away all the baggage from childhood and ask what, fundamentally, is Judaism to me?" In their second column, they began a discussion of what kind of wedding ceremony they will have. In this, their third column they talk about their wedding vows.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: To have and to ... Tickle???

Wow--isn't it amazing how agreeable we've been with all the wedding planning these days? We're so romantic it's almost pathetic!

The fact that we've decided to have the formerly Humanist, now free agent rabbi, perform the ceremony makes me feel very comfortable. But she's right, it's time to write our vows.

Being writers, this seems like an easy task, no? But I have a feeling this is one writing assignment we both might perspire profusely over.

My initial thought is to keep the vows short, maybe focusing on some poetry that's meaningful to both of us. And you know, my sweet, we're going to have to leave that awful "obey" word right the heck outta there. What I'm wondering is, how can we keep uppercase God out of the vows, but at the same time ensure that we don't leave out your Jewishness?

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Re: Song of Shlomo?

Well, first of all, you can rest easy. "To obey" is not part of any traditional Jewish vow I've ever heard. A statement like that would only draw chuckles.

I can understand why you wouldn't want to become my wife "according to the laws of Moses and of Israel," which is what a Jewish bride traditionally says, but also often quoted is a piece of the Song of Songs, also sometimes called the Song of Solomon. It's an entire book of the Bible that doesn't even mention God, god or G-d, but, gosh, it's so beautiful.

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." What more is there to say?

Many rabbis have interpreted this beautiful love poem as describing man's love for God, rather than a man's love for a woman, but just as we're de-emphasizing many traditional interpretations these days, that is one that I'm willing to bury if the metaphor is too disturbing.

In our attempt to water down the Jewish content of our wedding, there are a few Jewish gems that are getting drowned. Yes, we're both pretty good writers, but sometimes you have to bow to those far greater. I think our wise ol' Solomon said it better than I could:

"Oh give me the kisses of your mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine."

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Re: Jack and Jill went up the hill to get hitched

If I wanted a religious wedding ceremony, I'd be marrying a religious man. Unless there is some sort of metamorphosis going on with you that I'm unaware of, you're a pretty nonreligious person, like me.

As far as invoking some Jewish tradition into our vows, I agree, but we have to be careful. I can't fathom the thought of some Old Testament speak being spit out at me and actually agreeing to it. The thought of this is almost comical to me. Why don't we have them read in Hebrew, too, so it'll be certain I don't understand them? Actually, you wouldn't even understand them, would you? I'd relate more if the vows were rapped by Snoop Dog than if they were read from the Good Book.

I will not be betrothed, consecrated, sanctified, purchased or sustained under god's ordinance. I will never feel as if I am in the presence of a god. If I am answering to anyone or anything, it will have to be myself, to you, and to the tremendous power of Lake Michigan, I suppose. Since we will be standing in front of this large body of water when we take our vows, we ought to show a little respect for it, don't you think?

In fact, it's this connection with nature that draws me to the Apache Wedding Prayer. I know, I know, we're not Native Americans. But I'm not Jewish, either, and I have no problem incorporating some of those traditions into our ceremony. The Apache vows are beautiful and make no reference to any one culture or religion, or any kind of god. They're appropriate for any two people who are committed to each other.

"Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other ... May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years."

How can you not agree that this is perfect? Leave all the "thees" and "thous" for Bible-friendly folk, Howard.

And as far as the "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine," it's cliche, played out and overdone. Even as poetry, it's bad. Literally, we will not own each other. We may as well look for a cute little nursery rhyme, if that's the route you want to take.

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: ... and Jack game grumbling after

From what I've read, one of the pseudo-religious justifications for the Native American genocide was that they were the Lost Tribe of Israel, therefore Jews, and worthy of extermination. So, I'm OK with identifying with another of history's perpetual victims. Or, as Gene Wilder so eloquently put it in "The Frisco Kid," "I tink ve got us a Jeweesh Indian here!"

Let's save the Apache Wedding Prayer for a reading before or after, though. The vows, themselves, should be written by us, and, like our InterfaithFamily.com columns, should reflect how our Jewish and secular contrasts--like our other differences--metamorphose into something completely new. Like my grandmother's chuppah (wedding canopy) and the ceremony that mixes Jewish and secular components, together we are a blend of contrasts--of disparate cultures and temperaments--yet we somehow come together to make a beautiful structure.

Perhaps the rabbi can reflect this in her comments. She can also tell our friends and family how we have learned to use our differences as a source of strength. But while I don't even have to say it, Heidi, I will be feeling it--you are my beloved, and I am yours.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: My angel, my all, my very self

Terrific--we seem to agree on the same essential elements: The vows need to be straightforward and from the heart. How can we go wrong with that?

You're absolutely right about us writing our own vows. We know what's important to us and will be able to communicate it better than something we download from the Web or lift from a book.

No need to get your loincloth in a bind just yet--or even your yarmulka (head covering), for that matter. With all our combining of cultures this just may be an educational wedding ceremony for some of our guests. Others may roll their eyes. But the important thing is that this is meaningful to us ... And it looks like we're well on our way!

Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. God. In traditional Jewish circles, it is forbidden to write or say God's full Hebrew name. This custom has carried over into English by some, who write "God" without the vowel (o) and replace it with a hyphen. Some use variations of this, such as G!d or G@d.
Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Heidi Rehak is a communications professional and a Detroit-based freelance writer.

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