Wedding Ceremony Merges Tradition and Egalitarianism

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We also wanted a blessing to begin this section, to parallel the presence of the blessing before kiddushin. Borrowing from the Adler/Schulman ceremony, we chose the blessing that is recited upon seeing a rainbow: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who remembers the covenant." It refers to the pact God made with Noah and his descendants after the flood [Genesis 9:15], "a covenant of trust and a pledge not to harm." As we embarked upon our marriage, we wanted to evoke the promise of the continuity of the generations and to express gratitude that we had found each other (like the rainbow, a "quotidian miracle," in the words of our friend Peretz Rodman). And bringing Noah into the ceremony added a universalist element (as did including the verses from Ruth).

Our symbol for connection, given in place of a ring, was tefillin, which Joel had already requested as his wedding gift from me. To parallel harei at [the man's wedding declaration during kiddushin], I found poetic expression for "connectedness" in contemporary ketubot that borrowed from early marriage contracts in the Eretz Israel [Land of Israel] tradition. The formula Heyei li l'chaver u-l'ish briti k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael ("Be my companion and my covenantal partner, according to the law of Moses and Israel") is based on a verse from the book of the prophet Malachi. I prefaced the formula with an echo of Joel's words to me [during kiddushin]: birshutkha u-virtzonkha ("With your consent and by your will"). I followed it with an explanation: "Accept these tefillin as a symbol of bond and connection, as it is said, 'You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand'" [Deuteronomy 6:7].

Joel gave his explicit assent: "So will I be your companion and covenantal partner." As Joel had in kiddushin, I followed formula and gift with a personal message to elaborate upon and clarify my intentions: "I will cherish and maintain the connection between us all the days that we are wed. I have chosen you as a lifelong friend, according to the teachings of Avot d'Rabbi Natan: 'Acquire for yourself a companion.' May this marriage be a covenant of partnership and trust, and thus may we establish a household in the land of, and among the people of, Israel."

The formula Heyei li l'chaver lacks legal standing, but the words were nonetheless a pact between us and articulated a vision of marriage as partnership, a partnership whose enterprise is the establishment of a family unit. The formula does not answer my desire that monogamy cease to be the sole legal basis of a Jewish marriage, but it begins to address it.

Perhaps companionship, covenant, partnership, and trust, the components of marriage that I wanted to invoke, are truly all aspects of monogamy when it is promised in kiddushin. I applaud interpretations in this direction, but to see these positive components of marriage as an outgrowth of a vow of monogamy only taints them for me when the vow is part of an unegalitarian institution. By balancing kiddushin with kesharin, the former became more like an exclusivity clause in a larger contract--an important dimension in the marriage but not the only one.

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Cheryl Beckerman is a writer and editor living in Jerusalem with her husband, daughter, and son.