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"Rabbi, how can we create a wedding ceremony that includes aspects of both of our traditions without offending anyone?" The answer: "It is not only possible, but it is easier to achieve than you might think."
During the last twenty years, I have officiated at hundreds of interfaith ceremonies that were very well received by both sides of the family. The key to creating a sensitive and beautiful interfaith ceremony involves 1) knowing a little about the basics of wedding ceremonies; 2) identifying which customs and traditions are important to you and your families; and 3) having some freedom to participate in creating your ceremony.
About the basics: Both Christian and Jewish wedding ceremonies have certain elements in common. They include a welcoming of your guests, a blessing of you as a couple, your exchange of vows and rings, the pronouncement of your marriage, and a closing prayer or benediction. Of course, each tradition handles these elements differently.
Christian and Jewish wedding ceremonies also include their own distinctive features. Some of the unique elements of a Jewish ceremony include Hebrew prayers, the blessing over the wine as a symbol of joy, a special set of seven wedding blessings, the breaking of the glass and the presence of a chuppah, or wedding canopy. Some of the unique features of a Christian ceremony include Hebrew scripture and New Testament readings, the lighting of a unity candle, the reading of the Lord's Prayer, and the declaration of intent or consent. How you combine the different elements and customs depends on your own beliefs and connection to your respective traditions.
Some couples prefer a Jewish style ceremony, which I define as a ceremony that is primarily Jewish, with very few if any Christian elements. Couples who choose this style are usually those in which the Jewish partner is very strongly connected to Judaism, and the Christian partner has little, if any, involvement with the church. Others, who have strong connections to both of their traditions, often want to include an equal balance of Jewish and Christian elements in their ceremony.
Almost any mix of Jewish and Christian elements can create a sensitive and beautiful interfaith ceremony, if you follow a few basic principles:
When you choose words that are meaningful to you, it shows, and your joy is felt by everyone. By choosing a neutral setting, you avoid any appearance that one family's heritage is more important than the others. When you include explanations of the different traditions in your service, you help everyone understand and feel included in your ceremony; and when you avoid saying prayers in Jesus' name, you are addressing a issue that can be sensitive for both Christians and Jews.
For many Christians, a service without Jesus is hard to imagine. Since Jesus is the foundation of Christianity, this is very understandable. For many in the Jewish community, however, the figure of Jesus evokes painful memories. Throughout history tens of thousands of Jews have been killed in Jesus' name. While today's Christians are not responsible for these atrocities, the historical link between Jesus and this suffering is still very present in the minds of many Jews. Years of Christian-Jewish dialogue continue to help heal the wounds of the past; but because of this history, most priests and ministers understand and accept the practice of saying prayers in God's name, not in Jesus' name, in interfaith settings.
If you follow the basic guidelines I have outlined above, you can create a lovely ceremony that is appreciated by both sides of your family.
Of course, not every rabbi, priest and minister who officiates at interfaith ceremonies will be open to working with you on the ceremony; but there are many clergy who will welcome your involvement.