Toward a More Balanced Wedding Ceremony

Envisioning ceremonies that respect modern gender roles and adhere strictly to tradition.

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The Giving of the Ring

The act of kiddushin [bethrothal] consists of the groom giving a ring to the bride in front of witnesses and saying: "Harei at mekudeshet li..." ("Behold, you are betrothed to me..."). Traditionally, the bride's role is limited to silently accepting the ring. The bride who wishes to play more of an active role may do so in a number of ways:

• The chatan may address the kallah using her name: "Rivka, harei at mekudeshet li..."--"Rivka, behold, you are betrothed to me..." This can have a profound personalizing effect.

• The groom may ask for the bride's permission to perform the kiddushin, indicating her participatory role in the kiddushin: "Rivka, bershutekh u'virtzonekh, harei at mekudeshet..."--"Rivka, with your permission and desire, behold you are betrothed to me..."

• Provided the groom first makes his requisite statement, the bride can respond by verbally accepting the ring, with language such as, "Herieni mekabelet taba'at zu u'mekudeshet lekha k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael ..."--"Behold I accept this ring and am betrothed unto you, according to the law of Moses and Israel." (See Kiddushin 12b, Shulhan Arukh, Even Ha'Ezer, 27:8 and Otzar Haposkim, ad. loc. See also Hanesuim K'Hilkhatam, 7:39, pp. 223-4, where the author indicates that verbal acceptance is preferable to implicit silent  acceptance.)

Beyond these relatively minor adjustments to the kiddushin, a growing number of couples would like to have an actual exchange of rings. While a one-for-one exchange raises halakhic problems, there are ways to do a double ring ceremony within the bounds of tradition. (I explain this in more detail here.)

The Ketubah

The ketubah is traditionally read between the giving of the ring and the sheva berakhot (seven wedding blessings). A woman can be honored with the reading of the ketubah, and this has already been done at a number of Orthodox weddings.

In regard to the ketubah text there are more issues. In Ashkenazic communities, the ketubah is more of a ritual object than an actual contract, and its text is considered relatively fixed. In Sephardic communities, the ketubah is a living document whose text has continued to evolve over the years and is more fluid. While it is important not to overly alter the ketubah text, some minor adjustments can be made without difficulty.

• Use of mother's names following father's name (e.g., Ya'akov ben Yitzhak v'Rivka). This is a more precise identification, and is no different than the use of family names.

• The words D'hanalt leh mibei avuha--"property that she brings in from her father's house"--can be replaced with: D'hanalt leh mibei avuha v'imah (that she brings in from her father's and mother's house), D'hanalt leh midenafshah (that she brings in of her own), or D'hanalt leh (that she brings in), as appropriate. This is already the practice in Sephardic ketubot.

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Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Head of Academics of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York. Rabbi Linzer lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to halakhah, Orthodoxy, and modernity.