Planning the Jewish part of your interfaith wedding

(Image: A Jewish Scottish 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?

Posted in Weddings
Published on August 3rd, 2016