Finding a Rabbi

Earlier this week I blogged about non-Orthodox couples choosing to have an Orthodox rabbi officiate at their weddings. This post has evoked quite a few comments.

One of our readers asked:

A real community, that is a community in which a person can be a part and not just a client, is one that shares a common outlook and concern and lifestyle. Did this couple make the effort to find such a community? Did they seek out a Rabbi whose views and Jewish outlook were similar to their own?

This got me thinking. In fact all three couples that I know who are being married by this Chabad rabbi are very active in their respective communities: Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform. How is it that they don’t have an “in house” rabbi, one of their same affiliation, to perform the ceremony?

The answer is quite simple. In today’s Jewish community, one can be incredibly active and not have a close relationship with any rabbis. With lay-led minyanim, robust cultural activities, and social action groups, one can be quite engaged with Judaism without stepping foot into a sanctuary.

At the same time, synagogue membership across the Jewish community is down. The National Jewish Population Survey of 2001, less than half of Jews are members of synagogues. This number decreases for people without children (and therefore not needing a religious school). The rabbis with whom young couples interact are generally those specifically doing outreach work with young adults. Chabad falls into the category and arguably dominates it.

While couples can turn to a childhood rabbi, the person frequently only knows half of the couple; fewer couples are from the same hometown thanks to the internet and a more globalized society. Also that rabbi may remember you simply as the trouble-maker in the back of the religious school classroom. If the goal if to have a meaningful ceremony, that might be the worst of all the options.

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