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
Dear Happily: Mazel tov on your coming simcha! I am delighted that you have begun planning so early. That will give you the most options. Since you are agreed on a Jewish wedding, with some aspects that recognize your fiancé’s family, let’s consider the Jewish elements first.
Have you spoken to your rabbi? Will he or she officiate at an interfaith wedding? If so, set up a meeting with your fiancé and your rabbi and go in with some things already sorted out.
The first question is when? Are you planning to marry on Shabbat? While Saturday weddings are very common in America, the vast majority of rabbis will not perform a wedding on Shabbat. You’ll need to explain this custom to your fiancé. I always advise Jewish partners that they are responsible for teaching Jewish customs in a nonjudgmental way to a non-Jewish loved one.
The next question is, will you be married in a synagogue or a non-religious location? Any rabbi or officiant will want to know that.
As for Jewish wedding customs, you’ll need to consider which of these common Jewish traditions speak to you and your fiancé so you can tell your rabbi what you want to include.
Chuppah: Holding the chuppah poles is a nice way to include non-Jewish family or friends.
Seven Blessings: There are many ways to utilize and incorporate these blessings.
Breaking the glass: Use a light bulb, not a glass. You don’t want your fiancé’s foot to break.
Ketubah: There are Jewish wedding contracts specially designed for interfaith couples.
Dancing the hora and lifting the bride and groom on chairs: Both of these occur at the reception.
It is sweet that you want to bring in aspects of your in-laws’ traditions. I have a few ideas.
Since Catholicism is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, your future in-laws could read a phrase from Proverbs or Psalms at your reception.
The traditional Irish Blessing is rooted in the Hebrew Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27). The “Old Irish Blessing,” by the late Jewish songwriter Denis Agay, could be sung at your ceremony.
You could incorporate shamrocks into your bouquet and the boutonnieres, and place pots of them on the tables and bimah.
You could have your guests greeted by Irish music and include some Irish dancing at your reception.
This is also a good time to discuss what you both want in your future together. Just as you are using Irish and Jewish elements in your wedding, be as specific as possible in sharing your ideas of how you each see your future home. Explain to one another how your religion intersects with your identity and your culture.
Clarifying your positions now will help each of you to better understand yourselves and one another. Also, you will be more prepared to answer your own parents’ questions about what to expect when grandchildren arrive.
Life will supply you with plenty of surprises, and you will have to adjust on the fly. But coming to a mutual agreement on your goals will bring much peace to you and your loved ones.
And once you know what the two of you are aiming for, it will be much easier to make wedding choices and to explain those choices to your rabbi and your families.