Will you officiate at an interfaith or intercultural marriage?
Very few rabbis will participate in an interfaith marriage ceremony. Most rabbis view intermarriage as destructive to the survival of the Jewish people. They feel that their participation would aid in this destruction. Rabbis who officiate at intermarriage ceremonies do so out of the conviction that we will gain far more for Judaism by welcoming interfaith couples than by rejecting them. Still, for any rabbi to participate involves much soul searching and risks the misunderstanding of other rabbis as well as among the Jewish people. My conscience permits me to participate where all parties are willing to understand the need to respect strong sensitivities.
Is it possible to have a clergyperson of another faith participate in the ceremony?
In any ceremony, especially one intended to unite a couple in marriage, special care should be taken to reach out and include all those present. Jews today still remember crimes committed against them in the past by those who were labeled ‘Christian.’ People who murdered and persecuted Jews, within the lifetime of some adults still living today, often used Christian symbols. Thus, there is uneasiness associated with Christian symbols. Words like Christian, Church, Trinity, and Christ evoke, most unfortunately, associations, which are exclusionary or hostile to Jews.
What do we need to do to arrange for our ceremony?
The very first step is to find out if I am available for the date you have chosen for your wedding. If you haven’t yet set a date, that’s fine as it gives you more choices for time and date, etc. At this point, if I am available for your date, we should have a brief phone conversation. After an initial phone call, we can arrange to communicate by email as well. Contact me through the form on this site or at area code (two zero six) 484-4340. Leave a message if I don’t answer. I’ll call you back as soon as possible. I’ll want to know a bit about the two of you, what kind of ceremony you have in mind, as well as the location and approximate time (e.g., Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, morning, early afternoon, evening, etc.). If I’m not available, I have several wonderful colleagues to whom I can refer you.
If I am available on your wedding date, the next step is to schedule an initial consultation. This session will last about an hour, and it will give you a chance to ask and talk about anything you like. This meeting gives you an in-person opportunity that will help you decide if you’d like to claim me as your rabbi. It also gives me a chance to determine if my participation in your wedding would be appropriate. At that time I’ll also be able to give you the names and numbers of some references, if you’d like to talk to folks whose weddings I have performed.
Is it possible to have our wedding during the day on Saturday?
A serious confrontation with the traditional Jewish sources interpreted in the light of Reform Judaism leads me to the conclusion that marriage on the Sabbath should be encouraged rather than prohibited.” –Rabbi Eugene Mihaly (z”l), professor of Midrash and Homiletics, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Do You Require Premarital Counseling? As a trained pastoral counselor, I believe in the value of counseling for couples and individuals. Premarital counseling is an option I encourage as are the relationship enhancement programs I offer. While I don’t require couples about to be married to participate, they are extremely helpful and worthwhile. In the Spiritual Care section of this site, you will find specific descriptions and information about the programs offered, working assumptions, an d the kind of help you might expect to receive. What if we don’t live in the Seattle metropolitan area? Can a long-distance relationship with a rabbi meet the deeper need couples have? In truth, the answer only partially resides with the rabbi. The rest belongs to the couple and what they are willing and able to invest. Couples, inviting a rabbi to participate with them in the planning of their wedding, extend an invitation to participate in a potentially transformative process. Planning a wedding or another ceremony by phone or e-mail at a distance can make a rabbi’s traditional role as m’sader kiddushin (one who brings sanctity and sacred intention into the relationship) more difficult. Still, it is possible to guide a holy process that can lead to a wedding filled with emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual meaning.
A rabbi’s responsibilities as an officiant always include:
Teaching couples about wedding options and assisting them in shaping a personally and religiously meaningful ceremony. Helping coules acknowledge the nature of their new status as a unity of two discrete personalities, as a newly emergent family blending diverse families-of-origin. Hearing and respecting different life-stories and validating that individual experience. Helping to create an open, warm, and caring environment for couples to look at strengths and weaknesses as well as concerns and issues. What About Travel To Our Ceremony? There is no charge for travel within the general vicinity of Seattle. For weddings in the more distant suburbs, I ask a small amount for travel time. If getting to the location involves trains, planes, ships, or climbing mountains, we will negotiate a fair amount for my extra time. BTW, no extra time or charges apply for ceremonies on tropical islands!
Do You Require Pre-Marital Counseling?
As a trained pastoral counselor, I believe in the value of counseling for couples and individuals. Premarital counseling is an option I encourage as are the relationship enhancement programs I offer. While I don’t require couples about to be married to participate, they are extremely helpful and worthwhile. In the Spiritual Care section of this site, you will find specific descriptions and information about the programs offered, working assumptions, an d the kind of help you might expect to receive.
What about Reaffirmation of Vows?
More and more couples are choosing to renew their vows after a significant number of years, be it twenty, thirty, oy forty. Often the original ceremony is reconstructed: date, location, guests, officiant. Of course, it is always appropriate to fit the present situation with new words to suit the occasion. Contact us to make arrangements for a ceremony that many have described as a watershed event in the life of their relationship.
Do We Need a Chuppah?
In ancient times, couples demonstrated their new status in different ways. One early rabbi held that the change in status from single to couple happened when the couple began living together by establishing a home. The Chupah is symbolic of this early view. It also reminds us of Abraham’s and Sara’s tent which, according to tradition, was open on all four sides so as to welcome visitors from all directions. Thus, the Chupah symbolizes the warmth, openness, and hospitality of the home the couple will create together. Since any cloth that covers the bride and groom constitute a Chupah, a custom developed of draping a Talit (prayer shawl) over the couple to suggest their becoming elements of a single household. Talmudic authorities likened a wedding to the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Just as God symbolically married the Jewish people at Sinai, the wedding day is seen as a microcosmic parallel event for the bride and groom. Jewish mystics teach that the Chupah at Mount Sinai was the Tabernacle (also known as the Ark of the Covenant) in which the contents of the revelation would be kept. Likewise, for the bride and groom, their life together would begin under a similar “tabernacle” made of tapestries on top of beams and poles. It is rumored that while standing under the Chupah, some couples, with their eyes closed and spirits open and properly focused, have been able to see where they stood when Moses came down from the mountain top with the Torah. Clearly today’s marriage canopy derives from ancient practice. It’s quite likely that che Chupah originates with the carriage, carried by four poles, in which a bride arrived at the wedding. Such covered litters date to the time of King Solomon. Another theory holds that the Chupah is only a medieval innovation to keep the bride and groom dry in case of rain during the ceremony which, by custom, was held out-of-doors. Another Talmudic source sees the marriage canopy as an element almost as old as the world itself. The Divine Presence, in the Garden of Eden, it is said, personally blessed Adam and Eve under a Chupah and challenged them to “Be fruitful and multiply.”
What about a Ketubah? Do we need one?
A traditional ketubah (ketubot, plural) is a document drawn up by the groom and presented to the bride before the wedding. It states that the groom has acquired a specific woman as a wife in the proper manner and has agreed to support her. Furthermore, It provides the wife with certain financial rights to her husband’s estate if he should pre-decease her or if he should divorce her. According to Jewish law, the ketubah must be signed by two male Jewish witnesses of legal age. The ketubah is the wife’s property. If it is lost or destroyed, the husband may not even spend one hour under the same roof as his wife until he gets her another ketubah. A ketubah is traditionally signed by two male Jewish witnesses. Tradition, however, also allowed additional witnesses (these were allowed to be women). Liberal Judaism does not make such distinctions. Other signatories include the bride and groom and the officiants of the wedding.
In all but the most traditional circles, the language and practices surrounding the ketubah today have changed to reflect social mores. While ketubot may still be written in Aramaic, those written in the United States can also be found in Hebrew and in English. A number of different texts are in use today, including some in which the bride and groom make the same vows to one another. It has also become popular for the couple to include favorite psalms, prayers, and even original poems in a ketubah. Today, in the United States. where civil law supercedes religious law, the ketubah is more a link with Jewish tradition than it is a formal legal document. However, this doesn’t make it any less important. If anything, it makes it possible for young couples to make the ketubah a more meaningful document by adding their own vows, wishes for the future, and ethical and spiritual statements. The process of creating one’s own ketubah, guided by traditional practice, can serve to bring the couple closer together at a time (right before the wedding) when the pressure of planning for the “big day” is often a time of anxiety and stress. Most couples frame their ketubah and hang it in the living room or bedroom. Properly mounted and framed, this document will last for genera-tions. You may also want to display your ketubah at your wedding. Ask your artist to suggest the best way to do this. When you frame your ketubah, be sure to go to a quality framer. Ketubot should not be dry mounted, a technique often incorrectly used with posters and art prints. The ketubah should be placed on acid-free museum quality rag paper or board and should not be pressed up against the glass in the frame. When you choose a place to hang your ketubah, it is generally best to avoid hanging It In direct sun-light. Such exposure can have a negative effect on the colors or materials used. It Is always a good idea to check with your artist about any special hanging requirements. The text can be written in any shape as long as it is not possible to alter or add to the document after the last word is written. It may be illustrated in any appropriate manner, and may incorporate gold and silver leaf. In fact, it is considered a mitzvah to make a ketubah as beautiful as possible. It is considered a mitzvah to produce a ketubah, because doing so increases the pleasure of the bride and groom. It is, however, a very time intensive process. The choice between a professionally produced ketubah and one done by an amateur is a very personal decision. Some couples commission a ketubah from a professional as a work of art to which they add their suggestions.
How Long Does It Take To Become Bar or Bat Mitzvah?
It is usually a good idea to begin talking with a rabbi or a synagogue representative several years in advance. Many congregations require members belong for a certain number of years. Others require the student to attend classes for a certain number of years. I like to begin working with a family about 12 months prior to the time of the anticipated ceremony. This provides plenty of time to get to know one another, mutually determine how the process will take shape, and allow enough flexibility to special projects to be undertaken as part of the learning.
What do you usually require of the students by way of preparation?
Together we establish a learning contract. This might consist of many elements: attendances at various synagogue services, learning from a private tutor how to chant the Torah portion of the week, keeping a spiritual journal of the journey, creating an entirely new ritual conceptually based on the idea of “coming of age”. Other learning objectives might include: reciting the blessings before and after the Torah and Haftarah readings. Reading or chanting a section of the weekly Torah or Haftarah portion. There is also the optional Thirteen Mitzvot program for 13 year-olds. This involves selecting, studying, and practicing thirteen different Mitzvot (precepts) during the year of preparation. These precepts fall within the categories defined as the three pillars of Jewish tradition: Torah (Wisdom), Avodah (Presence), and G’milut Chasadim (Sacred Service).
What role do parents generally play?
As always, parents write the checks. They also participate in the learning activities as a family, along with siblings–if they are willing. Parents often help prepare the service, study the same lessons, and impart by example the Jewish devotion to ongoing life and learning. They also take part in the ceremony itself and often bless their child or offer personal remarks. Part of the packet families will receive contains suggestions for what the parents might do in this regard.
The History & Meaning of Bar & Bat Mitzvah
“Today you are an adult” is a common refrain heard at Bar & Bat Mitzvah ceremonies across the country. Yet, there exists a lingering doubt in everyone’s mind. After all is there any 13-year-old who is really considered an adult in 21st Century America? Certainly no 13-year-old I’ve ever encountered has the rights or responsibilities of an adult. And I am equally sure the boy or girl who celebrates with family and friends on such an occasion is not misled by all the handshakes, presents and congratulations. They know that it will be many more years before they will really be considered an adult. Yet even with this knowledge, we continue to mark the thirteenth birthday as a special occasion among Jewish adolencents.
The phrase bar mitzvah means literally “son of the commandments.” The sense of the idiom is to be worthy of the commandments. While we do not know exactly when the ceremony began, the Talmud refers to it in the early centuries on the last millennium. The early observance acknowledged when a child had reached the minimum age to be accountable for certain religious and moral responsibilities. In Jewish law, this meant a boy now became responsible for himself in terms of keeping the commandments, was able to be counted in the required group of 10 males (a minyan) for public worship, and could give valid testimony in a court of law.
During the Middle Ages, the ceremony began to take on more and more significance, but originally the child was simply called upon to be one of the seven men to bless a portion of the Torah, called an aliyah. So the ritual would occur on the day of the reading of the Torah closest to the 13th birthday.
Eventually the Bar Mitzvah was asked to read a section (called Haftarah) of either The Prophets or The Writings immediately following the regular reading of the Torah. The child would also recite the appropriate blessings (different from the Torah blessings recited before and after reading a portion of the Pentateuch).
When Reform Judaism came into existence in the middle of the 19th Century, leaders of the nascent movement tried to do away with Bar Mitzvah or at least to postpone it to a time more closely connected to social reality. But the ceremony at age 13 was so ingrained that the early reformers simply reformed it.
The child was now asked to read or chant a portion from the Torah itself and also to read from the Haftarah portion. The main concern of Reform Judaism was that the ceremony have religious meaning, that it not just be a social event or a ritual in which the child did not understand the meaning of what he was reading.
Until recently there has been no comparable ceremony for girls coming of age. One need only examine the role of women in tradition-bound Jewish circles to understand why no ceremony took place. Women have traditionally played a relatively minor role in the Jewish world and were accorded a type of second-class citizenship. Although girls were considered to have reached the age for marriage at twelve years plus one day, the opportunity to celebrate this occurrence was not afforded them.
It was not until 1921 that the first Bat Mitzvah occurred in North America. It was done under the direction of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, who had no male sons, only daughters. He argued that girls should have the same opportunity as their male counterparts. Since that time, increasing in popularity over the decades, Bat Mitzvah has become a common practice among Reform, Reconstructionist, and even many Conservative synagogues.
Today Bar and Bat Mitzvah serve as a milestone in the life of Jewish youth. It marks not the end of Jewish education or the beginning of adulthood, but a time of transition from childhood to adolescence. This is an important time when boys and girls begin to question, to examine their world and to shape their ideas.