Toward a More Balanced Wedding Ceremony
Envisioning ceremonies that respect modern gender roles and adhere strictly to tradition.
In the traditional wedding ceremony, men play a more prominent role than women. This can be troubling for couples who, while wishing to be respectful of tradition and community, are also looking for ways to have a ceremony that reflects their vision of marriage as an equal partnership. In this article, I will discuss some opportunities that exist within halakhah [Jewish law] for creating a more balanced wedding ceremony.
As with any area of halakhah, there is a range of opinions, and these issues need to be discussed with the couple's officiating rabbi. Beyond halakhah, tradition plays an important role in linking an individual to his or her community and to previous generations. Couples should work to achieve not only an appropriate balance between the sexes, but also the appropriate balance between tradition and innovation as well.
The wedding ceremony usually begins with a chatan's tisch, the groom's reception, at which certain documents are signed and the groom generally offers a d'var Torah. To create greater balance, the kallah [bride] can hold a tisch of her own. The kallah's tisch can be as simple as the kallah and her friends and family singing and sharing good wishes. It can also be an opportunity for the kallah or a friend to deliver a d'var Torah. In addition, some of the wedding documents can be signed at the kallah's tisch. The marriage license can be filled out there, although it usually cannot be signed until after the ceremony.
More significantly, the kallah can sign her part of the prenuptial agreement and have it witnessed and notarized by female friends or relatives. To avoid last-minute complications, when I officiate at a wedding, I always require that the couple draft a prenuptial agreement and have it signed and notarized at least a week prior to the wedding. In such a case, there can be a reading of the prenuptial agreement at the kallah's tisch.
The tisch is followed by the chatan walking amidst dancing and singing to the kallah, where he performs the act of bedeken, or lowering the veil over the kallah's face. Couples who would like to make this ceremony more reciprocal may choose to incorporate a parallel act in which the kallah places a new tallit [prayer shawl] on the chatan.
After the badeken, the chatan and kallah walk with their parents to the huppah [canopy]. The couple may wish to adopt the practice where the chatan leaves the huppah, greets the kallah midway down the aisle, and the two of them then walk together to the huppah.
In many Ashkenazic communities the common practice today is for the kallah to make seven circuits around the chatan. This is not practiced at all in Sephardic communities. A couple can choose to forgo these circuits or add circuits of the chatan around the kallah. Other variations are possible. Recently, I attended a wedding where the chatan and kallah separately circled the empty space under the huppah, as a way of consecrating it as their space, and then entered the huppah together.