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Marriage and Weddings

Answer By: 
Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, D.Min.

For centuries, Jewish custom has prohibited marriages at specific dates and times during the Jewish year. A strict interpretation of Jewish law prohibits work on certain days: Shabbat, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and the first and last days of Festivals, such as Passover and Sukkot. Since weddings historically involved a monetary transaction and the signing of a legal contract, both considered forms of work, Rabbinic law prohibited weddings at those times.

Although many contemporary Jews and Jewish movements do not view weddings as a legal business transaction, most rabbis nevertheless maintain the custom of not officiating at weddings on these days. There is an additional reason not to officiate at weddings on Shabbat and Festivals: a midrash teaches that weddings are not celebrated on these days “because we do not mix one simchah (joyous occasion) with another” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkot T’filah 1:2 based on Mishnah Mo-eid Katan 1:7).

From Beyond Breaking the Glass, A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding, CCAR Press.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

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 structures that can serve as a chuppah and be decorated by a florist. The openness and temporal nature of the chuppah remind us 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.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

A father's responsibilities to his son are outlined in the Talmud, Kiddushin 29a. According to the text, a father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him if he is the firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Talmudic scholars added that a father must also teach his son to swim.

These directives are all intended to help a child grow into a successful and independent adult, one who will be part of the Jewish community, establish a household and find meaningful work. While teaching a child to swim may seem less important than other items on this list, the sages interpreted this as an essential survival skill.

Today, we think of these instructions as incumbent upon both fathers and mothers and applicable to both sons and daughters, as appropriate. Many modern Jews also no longer feel obligated to help find a spouse for their children, though parental meddling is a tradition that seems to endure.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

Aufruf (pronounced "owf-roof," or more colloquially "oof-roof ") is a German word meaning "calling up" and refers to a synagogue celebration on the Shabbat preceding the wedding. The custom is biblically based. According to the Talmud, King Solomon built a gate in the Jerusalem Temple where Jews would sit on Shabbat and honor new grooms.

In a traditional setting, the groom is called to the Torah for an aliyah (the honor of reciting the blessings before and after the reading of a section of the Torah) on the Shabbat morning prior to the wedding. After he completes the concluding blessing, the congregation sometimes showers him with candy, indicative of their good wishes for a sweet and fulfilling marriage. In an egalitarian setting like that found in a Reform synagogue, both the bride and groom will be called up. Often in Reform synagogues, aufrufs take place during Friday night services, at which the rabbi will bless the bride and groom.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Ketubah means “written” and has come to refer to the Jewish marriage contract. An ancient document, the ketubah represented an advancement in women’s status by protecting the rights of the bride. In its original form and written in Aramaic, the ketubah specified such things as the bride price, the dowry, and the groom’s responsibility to support his wife. The ketubah is read just prior to the wedding ceremony or during the ceremony. Today, the ketubah is usually written in Hebrew and English, and rather than financial obligations, the ketubah often includes the spiritual and religious aspirations of the couple and the household they are forming by their union. Many wording options are available and couples sometimes write their own ketubah text, creating a personal and egalitarian document. Ketubot (plural of ketubah) have become works of art and many couples hang their ketubah in their home.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

The origins of breaking a glass at a wedding are unclear. Many cultures share the practice of breaking something, such as a plate, upon the confirmation of a contract. Some believe the noise made by the shattering of a glass or plate scares away evil spirits determined to mar the joyous occasion. Many rabbis explain that the breaking of a glass reminds us of sad moments in Jewish history, or that relationships are fragile and must be taken care of, lest the break.

Since this is a matter of custom and not religious law, there are no rules guiding what should be broken. Many people choose a light bulb because it is easy to break and may make a louder noise. If you are using a glass, one made of thin material and with a short stem will be easier to break. In either case, whatever is broken should be well wrapped in a thick cloth napkin.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

Mazel tov on your upcoming wedding. Although different rabbis may respond differently, nearly all Reform rabbis (and cantors) would be happy to work with you.  Reform Judaism has a long and proud history of supporting civil marriage equality and supporting clergy who perform Jewish weddings and commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. Many Reform rabbis and cantors will be happy to officiate at your wedding. Depending on the rabbi or cantor, and on your wishes, the ceremony can have both traditional and creative elements. Visit ReformJudaism.org to begin learning about and planning your Jewish wedding. Beyond Breaking the Glass - A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding is a wonderful resource for today's couples.

What is the Reform position on officiating at the wedding of a Jew to a non-Jew? My fiancée is not Jewish, and doesn't want to convert or give up his religion. We want a Jewish wedding, and plan to raise our children as Jews.

One of the most important steps in planning a Jewish wedding is finding a rabbi or cantor to officiate at the ceremony. When it comes to officiation at weddings between Jews and non-Jews, you will find a variety of opinions and practices. Reform Rabbis belong to the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). The CCAR discourages its members from officiating at interfaith weddings. Many rabbis understand their ordination as authorizing them to officiate only at Jewish weddings where both members of the couple are Jewish. While the CCAR discourages it members from officiating at interfaith weddings, it does not prevent them from doing so. Ultimately, rabbis are given autonomy in such matters and each rabbi interprets Jewish tradition according to his or her own understanding. Some Reform Rabbis reach the decision, after much study that a greater good is served by officiating at interfaith weddings. Most rabbis do so with certain standards. Often they require that the couple or non-Jewish partner take an Introduction to Judaism class and commit to creating a Jewish home and raising Jewish children.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

The Jewish people is compiled of people of just about every race and ethnicity. It is safe to say that Jews come in all colors.  As a result of factors like conversion to Judaism, marriage and transracial adoption, the Jewish people is growing more diverse. Reform Judaism welcomes all those who wish to join us, regardless of their race or ethnicity. And Reform Judaism is supportive of interracial Jewish marriages.

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