Scotch & Jewish Wedding

Scotch & Jewish Wedding

When it comes to planning an interfaith wedding many interfaith couples want to integrate elements of both partners’ traditions into their wedding ceremony.

Personally, I like to get the whole picture before I plan an event. So I’m going to give you a link to a traditional Orthodox explanation of the elements of a Jewish wedding. You may not choose to do any of them but at least you’ll know what people are talking about when they inquire about your ceremony.

Here are some Jewish customs to consider. Do any of these speak to you?

Use a chuppah – the chuppah is a canopy under which the couple is married. In Jewish tradition the chuppah symbolized the home they will create together. The practice of having a canopy has entered into non-Jewish weddings and is quite lovely. Learn more about the chuppah here.

Break the glass – many Jews feel that breaking a glass is central to a Jewish wedding. That moment when the glass is crushed and everyone shouts, Mazel Tov, can easily be added to your wedding. Breaking the glass has a number of interpretations. Perhaps the most common is that the shattered glass represents the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem – which in turn is said to remind us that even in the most joyous of times there is sorrow. Some couples save the glass shards and make a framed art piece from them. There are special glasses you can buy, some people use a light bulb, but just be sure you haven’t chosen a glass so sturdy that your ankle will break before the glass does. The glass object you choose should be wrapped in a large white napkin.
You can read other interpretations here.

Have a ketubah (wedding contract). This contract was quite innovative when it was created because it set forth what a husband owed his wife, even, or maybe especially, if he divorced her. In a time when women were basically property the wedding contract prevented a woman from being discarded and destitute. You can get a very basic ketubah or you can buy a beautiful piece of art that can later be displayed in your home. (My ketubah hangs in my living room. It was written and painted by a woman artist who was a member of my shul.) There are interfaith ketubahs, English, same sex, Reform, Orthodox, etc. Look at the website and you’ll see a wealth of options.
More about ketubahs here

Have both sets of parents walk their child down the aisle. This is one of my favorite Jewish traditions. Why should the groom’s parents be left out? Why should the bride’s mother be left behind? What if you have two dads? A wedding is the joining of the two families, not the giving away of a bride (or a groom). It is so beautiful to have each set of parents escort their child to the wedding officiant.

Recite the Seven Blessings or sheva brachos. These seven sentences are intensely focused on Jewish peoplehood. Some interfaith couples don’t feel that the blessings, in their original form, suit their ceremony. A number of couples take the central focus of each of the blessings and ask seven friends to write a blessing for the couple using that theme.

Circling. There is an old custom of the bride circling the groom seven times. I’ve seen it done that way, or with the two circling together or with each doing 3 circles and the seventh one together. I get a very primal sense from this ritual. It looks like sympathetic magic, the bride is binding the groom to her. It is described as representing the seven days of creation, the seven wedding blessings, and more. One of the things I love about ancient customs is that we reinvent them with modern meaning and still hold the old meanings.

Have a moment of privacy immediately after the ceremony. This tradition is called Yichud. The word means seclusion. In times gone by this was the first time the bride and groom had been left alone together. It symbolized sexual intimacy, whether it is done or not. Modern couples use this time to be together and out of the spotlight on their special day.

Your officiant can invite others to come under the chuppah to receive a blessing for love and companionship. This is not really a tradition but I’ve seen a rabbi do this while the couple was having their Yichud/private moment. The rabbi invited any guest who wanted to strengthen their own relationship or to find a relationship or to just feel the love of the couple, to walk under the chuppah. Then she offered a blessing to the assembled guests. It was quite lovely.

Dance the hora! There’s nothing like music and dancing to lighten hearts and heels. The hora is an easy dance that can quickly be taught so that everyone can join in.

Be lifted on chairs. You’ve seen this either in person or on the big screen, joyous guests raising the couple on chairs and dancing around with them. As when it happens at a bar or bat mitzvah, it shows who is the focus of the event. I’ve also read that it symbolizes that we all depend on others. In any case, if you do this it is a good idea to have several strong friends who you rely on to keep you safe. I’ve never seen anyone fall, but please don’t be the first!

Bride gives special blessings. There is a belief, should I say superstition, that a bride is in a special olam – time and place – for the year after her wedding. She has special access to the Devine. As such, she can give blessings to people that have greater power. I don’t remember which rabbi told me this but I think it’s lovely. To ask a woman to give you a blessing honors her and your relationship to her. I love asking brides for a blessing.

If you are the Christian or Hindu or Sufi or atheist partner, you probably have your own ideas of what you’d like to include. Please tell me what traditions you have or will include in your wedding ceremony?

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A Jewish woman wrote to me asking about how to include something Irish in her wedding to reflect her fiancé’s Irish heritage. Here’s what she asked.

My fiancé and I are starting to plan our wedding for next spring. Neither of us is particularly religious. I’m proudly Jewish and he is Irish and was raised Catholic but doesn’t consider himself Catholic anymore. He is fine with a Jewish wedding and understands that I want to be married by my childhood rabbi. I think we should include something from his side for his parents’ sake. We don’t know what we should be considering. What do you suggest? — Happily Engaged

My reply is here.

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Nick and Nicole

Having a chuppah is a beautiful Jewish custom. Chuppah, חוּפָּה in Hebrew means “covering”.

On, Rabbi Victor Appell describes the chuppah this way.

The canopy under which Jewish couples stand when they are married is called a chuppah. The chuppah represents the new home a couple establishes through their marriage. It also represents the sheltering presence of God and the wish for God’s blessing over the couple. A chuppah can be as simple as a tallit (prayer shawl) attached to four poles supported by members of the wedding party or a large piece of decorative fabric attached to four stationary poles. Some wedding venues have more permanent structures that serve as a chuppah and can be decorated by a florist. The openness and temporal nature of the chuppah remind us of that couples need to feel free to openly express their feelings to each other, and that new marriages require the support of friends and family.

G-d cast has a short, useful video about the chuppah that you can view here.

Wedding canopies are beautiful and sometimes couples who are not Jewish choose to use them to create sacred space.

For a Jew, having a chuppah is often seen as critical to their wedding. It is not required by Jewish law but has significant cultural importance for many.


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Jewish Wedding with Conservative Rabbi

Jewish Wedding with Conservative Rabbi

What great timing! Last night I received the last email from my list of San Francisco bay area non-Orthodox rabbis replying to my question, “Do you officiate at same sex weddings for two Jews?” It was my belief that they all did. But I was challenged by a colleague who said that just wasn’t true. Well, guess what? I was right. Everyone of them (I only asked congregational rabbis) said, yes.

Religious marriages have been available to same sex couples for some years — if you could find a clergy person willing to perform the ceremony. Bay area rabbis will.

Civil marriage means that all those religious weddings are now recognized in every state in the United States.


If you are looking for a rabbi to perform your Jewish wedding in the San Francisco bay area, give me a call. 510-845-6420 x11.

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So one of you proposed and the other accepted. Mazel tov! The most common place to go from here is excitement and questions – what day will we get married and where – are usually at the top of the list. But where and when should be put on a low simmer while you work out the questions that will significantly impact those choices.



A better starting question is, what kind of wedding are YOU vs. I envisioning? Many people grew up assuming they’d have a church wedding. While others anticipated a synagogue as the site. Some grew up with a clergy person from an early age and they always assumed would that person would marry them. Some have family members who adhere to the traditions of their faith and are therefore unable to attend a wedding in a house of worship other than their own.

Now ask each other, what kind of home do we plan to build? If there will be children, what kind of home do we want for them? Did one or both of you grow up participating in a spiritual community? Is it important to you that your child also be a part of your religious community? Or does one of you feel that another/different religious community is fine. Some say, it can be your religion but there DOES need to be religion. Others want to avoid anything that hints of religion or God.

How important is it that you please your parents and grandparents? What traditions would make them happy and are those traditions authentic to you, or just to them? Are you ready to break away and take responsibility for having a family of your own that may not look like the one your parents created? Or will your wedding be a compromise for everyone?

Who will officiate? Couples often leave this question till the end and that can severely limit your options. When you approach a clergy person, a minister, priest or rabbi, they are going to want to know what kind of marriage and family they are creating. If it is important to you that you have a rabbi officiate then you should not make that impossible. Don’t schedule your wedding for the Jewish Sabbath (sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). While there are a few rabbis who will perform a Shabbat wedding, you are greatly reducing your options. Additionally, if you have observant Jewish relatives, you may be assuring that they won’t be able to attend. If you want a priest or minister, check with them to see what their limits are. I remember asking a priest to participate in a day long program on a Sunday some years back. He had to lead multiple masses that day. Luckily his church was only 5 blocks away and we figured out a time between services when he could pop over for an hour.

Catholic Priest from Wikipedia

Often as a couple begins to experience conflict with extended family members they ruffle and tell me, “That person needs to respect my feelings! This is my beloved and my wedding!” A good way to receive respectful treatment is to give it. Just as you have a right to your feelings and desires, so too do your family members have a right to theirs. Before feelings are hurt and relationships damaged, give me a call. Chances are quite good that negotiations can be made. If you have to come down with an absolute, we can at least find the words to explain your decision in a way that does not lay blame or dispersions on those you love.

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2 rings small size

I received this inquiry recently:
Some gay friends wanted a “fully multifaith ceremony.” They felt rejected when no rabbi would agree to co-officiate, but Christian clergy would. I’m not sure how to help them address their feelings in the aftermath. — Sympathetic Friend

I answered the question in my monthly Mixed and Matched column for the J-weekly.

Here’s my reply:
Your friends’ desire was to find a rabbi to co-officiate. Any rabbi they spoke with should have first explained that they don’t need a rabbi to have a Jewish wedding.

A Jewish wedding requires four things, according to halachah (Jewish law), and none of them are a rabbi. Many modern couples focus not on the four legal requirements but on the minhag (custom). Most want the chuppah, breaking the glass, dancing the hora — all of which can be incorporated into any wedding. My guess is that your friends wanted a rabbi to represent the Jewish spouse’s heritage simply by his or her presence, and to make the couple feel that Judaism validated their marriage.

Since your friends are gay, the emotional stakes became much higher. From the start it was the rabbi’s responsibility to have a kind conversation that drew out the couple’s longings and needs, before addressing the rabbi’s boundaries. Beginning like this would have allowed the couple to identify aspects of the wedding — special food, music, symbols — that they controlled and could integrate into their ceremony. That would have met their first need for the wedding: representing the Jewish spouse’s heritage.

Second was the need for Judaism to validate their wedding. American rabbis from liberal branches of Judaism are rapidly moving toward embracing same-sex marriage, and your friends told you that they were not rejected as a gay couple. Perhaps the rabbis they spoke with did not clearly affirm the authenticity of their relationship as a beshert (destined) match, something they could have done even if they did not plan to co-officiate at the wedding.

The rabbi could have opened the conversation about boundaries with an I-statement: “Since you have come to me, I must tell you my personal stand on co-officiation and multifaith ceremonies.”

All Jews, rabbis included, have the right and responsibility to study Jewish tradition and their personal values to develop a meaningful relationship with their faith. Just as your friends chose to create a relationship they hope will never be dissolved, the rabbi is in a permanent relationship with tradition/God/ethics that he or she does not desire to dissolve.

If one rabbi could not perform the wedding, so be it. But your friends apparently were turned away by many rabbis. Now they must go beyond the hurt and try to understand: What happened here, and why does Judaism generally seem so unresponsive to a “fully multifaith ceremony”?

First, our understanding of the world is often from an American, not Jewish, viewpoint. As America’s dominant faith and culture, Christianity doesn’t fear the loss of its existence. Not so for Judaism, Zoroastrianism or Native American traditions. Many Jews readily understand the Zoroastrian’s rejection of the dominant religion because we support the underdog. We forget that Judaism is right there with these minority faiths.

Most rabbis are not willing to participate in a ceremony that does not feel Jewish and in fact feels threatening. One rabbi said to me, “I don’t want to be the only Jewish thing at the wedding.”

Second, it is important to understand that religious adherents of a particular faith are making heartfelt decisions based on their own spirituality, not on our personal desires. Mixing in another religious tradition may feel expansive to us, but it may feel disrespectful to those for whom the religion is a way of life. Just as we want rabbis to respect our choices, we need to respect theirs.

This moment of rejection hurt. But now it is time for your friends to move on and grow from the experience.

Spouses will not agree with each other at every turn; they can still love each other. They can love and respect a rabbi while not agreeing. For their own sake, the couple might determine that this experience will open their eyes to how others differ from them, what their boundaries are, where those boundaries can stretch and where they cannot.

You can listen to my podcast on how to find a rabbi here.

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Trang & Ron from behind (2)

Falling in love and finding “the one” is a wonderful experience. If you are Jewish and that “one and only” isn’t, you have some sorting out to do. How will your home reflect your dual identities, how will you raise the kids, what holidays will you celebrate. There are lots of choices — and honestly, aren’t you glad there are?

Interlove Story: When Jews Love Non-Jews… and Judaism
You are Jewish and you fell in love with a person who isn’t Jewish; now you want to make a Jewish home and raise Jewish children. How have other families managed Jewish commitment and interfaith love? We’ll begin with a tender film by the daughter of an interfaith couple (Interlove Story was her Stanford University Masters Film Thesis) and discuss the choices her parents made and what options we all have.
Join Rabbi Sarah Weissman, Dawn Kepler, and interfaith couples for a warm and open discussion.

Date: Sunday, April 26
Time: 9:15 – 11:00 am
Place: Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills
Cost: $5 for the public; Free for members of Beth Am
Register here

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One of the hardest things about getting assistance with your interfaith relationship is making the move to ask for that assistance. What the devil will it be LIKE to talk to someone? I thought it would be helpful for you to hear what other folks have said about the experience of working with me. One note, if you are not in the San Francisco Bay Area that’s OK, we can “meet” by Skype or phone. If you do live in the area, we can meet in person OR Skype or phone.

I find it helps to know what someone looks like, so I’m including a photo of myself.

Me with the President  (I thought you should know that I have a sense of humor.)

Me with the President (I thought you should know that I have a sense of humor.)

It is also nice to know what their voice sounds like. If you’d like to hear my voice you can listen to my podcast on finding a rabbi for your wedding. It’s short. Here’s the link.

And now people’s comments on working with me.


I sought out Dawn’s services after I got engaged because my fiancé, who was Catholic, and I were having trouble navigating what it meant to have a Jewish household and a Jewish wedding. While he had agreed to have a Jewish family, while planning the wedding it became clear that there was not a clear understanding of what that meant and we were having trouble communicating about it. Dawn created a safe space for us to be able to talk about our expectations for raising a family and what it meant to incorporate beliefs and customs that were important to each of us. She provided us with great resources, including books, events, and people to talk to. The experience was invaluable, and I can’t thank her enough for the clarity she brought to the relationship. I would recommend her services (which I have) in a heartbeat!
H, San Francisco

Thanks Dawn. You were such a big part of us growing in our relationship. I can’t say that the time before being engaged was easy. Ah, waiting and not knowing where we were headed and trying to figure out some major stuff. Phew, it was intense at times. But I know I speak for both me and Mike, you really helped us navigate some hard questions and know how to talk about them with each other. There were so many times we just didn’t even know what questions to be asking but wanted to be proactive in exploring deeper in our relationship. You really challenged us and allowed for more open honest discussion.
H & B, San Francisco

We wish we were closer to your classes and could have meet in person, but the phone calls did work great. We are so glad we found you via the web.
Now we are so excited to get married and glad we talked through so much early on. It really helped all the holiday drama and concerns we had. Not that this past year was all smooth sailing, but we were more equipped to talk it through and find a solution we both felt comfortable with!

K & M, Colorado

Dawn, I love how you challenge people to be their best selves. I am attending services more regularly – thanks for all you did to help me reach this point.
L, El Cerrito

We miss you so much, Dawn! We wish there were two of you so Denver could be blessed with your presence as well. If you do know of a counterpart to Building Jewish Bridges in Colorado, please send us the info. I have found a few things online but nothing as good as what we had with you.
Love, S & P – from Berkeley, now in CO.

I want to personally thank you for all that you do to make people like me feel welcome at the “Jewish table.” Words cannot describe what a difference it has made. In fact, part of why we wanted to have a child was to bring another Jew into the world. We’re excited to learn about Judaism ourselves, so that we may teach our kiddo.
I & S in San Francisco

Thank you for the meeting yesterday. You really provided us with incredibly helpful context and perspective. We have much to sort through but feel that we now have many more guideposts. We also appreciate your open style, from welcoming us into your home, to being direct and sharing personal stories.
B & N Oakland

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Amy Jo 2

Having a chuppah or wedding canopy is not a Jewish requirement; in other words it is not stipulated in Jewish law. It is, however, a Jewish custom and very lovely. The traditional chuppah has four portable poles and a piece of cloth hanging attached at the four corners to the poles.

You can use a tallit or a lace tablecloth; some people have a friend who makes them a quilt top that is later made into a complete quilt. Most people don’t want to build or buy a chuppah because they don’t have any use for it after their wedding. It’s a good idea to borrow or rent one. In the East Bay you can rent the chuppah poles and choose what cloth you want for the canopy at Afikomen Judaica on Claremont Ave. in Berkeley.

Here’s one example from Afikomen’s stock.

Afikomen chuppah-gold-org-fr

Chaim at Afikomen tells me: “The canopy, poles and bases rent for $180.”

There are other chuppah rental spots but I don’t personally know them. If you can recommend one of them please email me and let me know about your experience. Email me at

OK, first reply. My friend Gabrielle recommends Miracle Chuppahs. She says: They are Russian, and do an amazing job. The owner is really nice – she does a fantastic job, very detail oriented! She connects with the bride, caterer, photographer, florist – to help things move smoothly. She also knows a wonderful calligrapher that can do place cards for the reception (I have photos that I can share – gorgeous!). Very professional!

I’ll share her photos when I get them. In the meantime I found this photo from Miracle Chuppahs. The rabbi performing the wedding is Rabbi Bridget Wynne. I’ve referred some of you to her.


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Current culture seems determined to make weddings hellish. Bridezilla anyone? Add an interfaith component and you can make things confusing and difficult. But it doesn’t need to be that way. NOT AT ALL.

If you are marrying someone from a different religion and background there are some steps you can take to get off on the right foot.

1. Discuss what you want your home to be like after you’re married. If you have agreed that you’ll have a Jewish (or Christian) home it can be easier to concede some wedding traditions from the dominant faith for the sake of family peace in your ceremony.

2. Discuss how you want any potential children raised. Remember that this conversation is intended to develop a road map. No one truly knows how they will raise their child until that child is in their arms. And sometimes not even then.

3. With a picture of the future, now you can face the present challenge: the wedding.

4. Read one or more wedding books. I suggest these

5. Ask yourselves what you each want. Divide those items into 3 lists:
a) MUST HAVE or I’ll die
b) would like to have but I can negotiate
c) it’s a thought but I’m not attached to it.
Compare lists. Are you able to find common ground?

6. What are the things that feel like wedding custom to you and you want it – jump the broom? Break the glass? Light a candle? These are customs, not laws. See how many of these feel just fine to both of you.

7. Now is a good time to call me, Dawn, to discuss your MUST HAVES and we can see if they are do-able. If one of your must-haves is a rabbi to officiate, we need to discuss things like the time and day of your wedding. (Most rabbis will not officiate on the Jewish Sabbath.)

8. What are the hardest things to accomplish in an interfaith wedding with one Jewish partner?
a. Getting a rabbi to perform your wedding on the Jewish Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday)
b. Marrying in a church.
c. Co-officiation between Jewish and Christian clergy.
Are they impossible? No. But they do require more time to plan and I’m going to want you to be sure you know what you’re getting.

Call me! 510-845-6420 x11

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