Review of Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding by Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, D.Min., (New York: CCAR Press, 2001), $9.95.
Beyond Breaking the Glass is not your average how-to-plan-your-wedding book. Rabbi Nancy Wiener speaks from the perspective of Reform Judaism. The book is published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinic organization, and begins with a chapter on "Liberal Jewish Decision Making." Only after she has laid out the historical and contemporary bases for Reform's emphasis on educated individual choice does Wiener turn to the specifics of preparing for a wedding and a marriage. What follows from this approach is a book that does an admirable job of laying out the options--including a fair number of relatively obscure customs that would probably never have occurred to the reader had Wiener not suggested them--but makes very few judgments as to what is appropriate and what is not. Comprehensive explanations of the history and development of Jewish wedding customs provide the reader with helpful background information. Then, Wiener makes clear, it is the reader's choice, having been informed of the options, that should shape the actual ceremony that will take place.
Rabbi Wiener breaks new ground in the wedding preparation genre by including same-sex relationships and ceremonies on an equal footing with heterosexual marriages. This is reflected not only in the text, but also in the choice of pictures for illustrations. As Wiener points out, there are some ways in which any committed relationship raises similar issues, and some in which, because of prevailing social attitudes and legal restrictions, same-sex couples face unique challenges of their own.
In keeping with the book's self-identification as a "Spiritual Guide," significant thought is devoted to developing and sustaining the couple's relationship, in addition to information about ritual details. Communication skills, particularly in the complex area of planning the ceremony and the celebration, are stressed.
Interfaith marriages are dealt with in a single chapter at the end of the book. Wiener highlights well some of the specific issues inherent in interfaith relationships--holiday celebrations as powerful expressions of family relationships, and long-standing family expectations of what a wedding should look like, to name two--and suggests useful ways of trying to think and talk through the rough spots. On the ceremony itself, however, Wiener is uncharacteristically vague, reflecting, I think, the conflict between the CCAR's long-standing position that rabbis should not officiate at mixed marriages and the fact that a substantial percentage of Reform rabbis differ from this position and choose to officiate. Wiener raises the warning that rabbis who officiate may have restrictions about the use of particular wordings and rituals, as if this were not the case with rabbis who officiate at the marriage of two Jews. Her last word on the subject--and the end of the book, except for appendices of reference material--is the suggestion that a civil ceremony may be the better solution. This is, I believe, a misreading of the kind of interfaith couple who would bother to pick up a book that calls itself "a Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding."
Beyond Breaking the Glass, then, is a useful source of information and materials, but, as with so many wedding resources, the interfaith couple will need to read it through the filter of their own specific needs in order to get past the book's unnecessarily discouraging depiction of their situation.
Rabbi Neil Kominsky serves Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, Mass., and is Jewish Chaplain at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He has chosen to officiate at mixed marriages under specific circumstances throughout his thirty-one years in the rabbinate.