A Wedding Dilemma

This past weekend I went to the wedding of a friend of mine. During the ceremony, I cried. But not tears of joy as I normally do during all ceremonies. These were tears of sorrow.

The wedding was conducted by a Chabad rabbi close the couple; they however are not ultra-Orthodox or Orthodox for that matter. The ceremony itself was rather off putting. It ran incredibly long due to the inclusion of numerous Jewish folk tales–completely unrelated to the couple–that centered around inappropriate wedding topics such as alcoholic friends. The speech about the couple focused almost entirely on the groom. Any mention of the bride was in context of the groom. As different Jewish rituals occurred the rabbi failed to mention what was happening underneath the obscured huppah or what any of the practices meant.

Perhaps worse of all for me was that I was sitting in between two close friends who are also being married by the same rabbi. Both future kallahs had a look of panic on their face.

I understood exactly why.

In the context of the Jewish lifecycle, a wedding marks the beginning of a Jewish family and household, just as a bar or bat mitzvah recognizes the beginning of Jewish adulthood. The wedding ceremony sets the tone for how the couple will live together. Those who are more committed to Judaism will inevitably have a more traditionally Jewish ceremony. Presumably the bride and groom will choose along with the officiant to include or omit certain ritual because it reflects their philosophy and belief.

This is true for the secular aspects of the wedding. The choice in decoration, attire, location, band, and menu all reflect the style of the couple.

So I struggle when a couple cannot have their ideal ceremony due to the regulations of the officiant. This is particularly true when it comes to having a double ring ceremony, the text of the ketubah, and other issues of equality. A wedding can be and arguably should be one of the most spiritual days in a person’s life. Can one have a fulfilling experience without practicing one’s preferred customs? To me, it is like trying to have a spiritual High Holidays while davening in a foreign synagogue.

The argument on the other side is that it is crucial to have an officiant who knows the couple well. A “ringer” who is of the same religious observance cannot enable a couple he or she doesn’t know to have a meaningful ceremony. In my case, all three grooms in the case are close with the Chabad rabbi (I leave the issue of the woman’s role in all of this to a separate discussion.)

I’m curious what you think? When in such a situation, is it more important that the English, non-religious part of the ceremony, the one that most people will understand, best reflect the couple? Or is it more important for the Jewish ritual to be meaningful to couple involved?

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