Mixed religious weddings provide potential opportunities and obstacles to honor both partners' traditions and to make all guests feel welcome. If you adopt the attitude that your job in planning your wedding is to identify what unites you as family and what divides you, you will better be able to choose which rituals, language and prayers you want included in your wedding ceremony.
Remember, not everyone can be made 100 percent happy by any decision you make. Also, your job is not to make everyone happy but rather to create a ceremony that reflects your relationship and your love of and respect for the traditions and beliefs you were raised with or are adopting. Your families of origin brought you to the point of this marriage, your job is to steward them into understanding that your home is not their home, and that you love and respect them for what they gave you as you begin your life apart from them. The elements you choose for your wedding and how you approach their questions and concerns are big pieces of creating a sacred and joy-filled wedding.
Your clergy can be a great help in supporting you in the conversations and the choices you will be making in planning and celebrating your wedding.
Assume nothing at weddings, and remind your clergy that the congregation will probably be more at peace and will be more accepting if they know what is expected of them and what the meaning of rituals and prayers are before they are offered. Ask lots of questions and make sure you know what will be offered by them at the ceremony. Use your clergy as resources for traditions, liturgy, music and readings that can create unity at your celebration and be true to your traditions and beliefs.
Some potential obstacles that can become opportunities are:
- Use of names of God such as "Adonai," a Judeo-specific name of God, or "Jesus," a Christo-specific name of God, can be alienating to family and friends who are excluded when prayers are offered using these names. Some guests may be offended or made uncomfortable due to their personal or family history, a sense of historical persecution, ideas about closed community, or a general sense of exclusion. Referring to God as "God" will often break through the barriers of prayer. Referencing qualities of God rather than names may also unite all people present. Names like "Creator," "Divine Unity," "Breathe of Life" or other qualities associated with God are appropriate.
- Christian ministers often tell guests "let us pray," ask them to bow their heads or ask the guests to kneel. All three traditions are foreign to Jews and may make them uncomfortable. When wedding guests don't know what is coming next, they may feel like they might be agreeing to something they wouldn't have had they known before. Or in positive light, they may not know how to properly prepare for what is being asked of them, and would rather start with an explanation of what is coming rather than to just start in to it.
- In traditional Jewish weddings, the ketubah is read aloud. The traditional ketubah includes language about what happens if the couple divorces. This may make Christian guests--especially Catholic ones--uncomfortable. Divorces are against Catholic law and while not the desired option in Judaism, are an acceptable way to end an otherwise unhappy or dangerous marriage. The traditional ketubah mentions the price of the bride, her chastity and what to do in case of divorce. In choosing the ketubah text, carefully read the language to ensure it speaks to your family's situation--and not simply let someone chose one for you that is relevant for an Orthodox Jewish couple's partnership and not yours.
- Jewish weddings often include the sharing of wine. Some Christian traditions do not allow the consumption of alcohol. Grape juice is an appropriate and traditional substitute for wine.
- The Jewish wedding ceremony often includes Hebrew, even in progressive congregations. This may be foreign to some of the guests. Providing translations for the Hebrew is often helpful. Hebrew is held as a sacred language in many traditions, and its inclusion can be important if offered in a loving and inclusive way.
The Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Couples is also available in PDF and Word formats.