We're Planning a Jewish Wedding... but We Needed Some Help
I was just 20 years old and still in college when my fiancé Ben and I got engaged. We were young and, growing up in a culture of Say Yes to the Dress and the perfect Pinterest wedding, we were also woefully naïve about the complexities of wedding planning. The rabbi gives you a blessing, you exchange rings, you kiss, you party. How hard could it be?
Harder than we thought, it turns out.
Above and beyond what we expected in the wedding planning – finding a photographer, booking the venue, choosing my wedding dress – we’ve found ourselves at a loss when it comes to how to handle Jewish tradition. We both feel it’s was important to have a “Jewish wedding,” but what does that mean? And how do we do that?
Ben and I are both ardent feminists. Many wedding traditions feel outdated and rooted in sexist origins, and we are loath to include tradition simply for the sake of tradition. And yet, is Judaism not about tradition? Is it possible to have a wedding that feels connected to the generations of Jewish weddings before ours, yet still modern and liberated?
Author Anita Diamant answered my question with a resounding yes. In her book The Jewish Wedding Now, released as an update to the original 1985 edition (then titled The New Jewish Wedding), Diamant walks readers through what it means to have a Jewish wedding in the modern era. She provides the history of Jewish traditions and offers new interpretations for the bedeken (ritual veiling of the bride), the Sheva B’rachot (the Seven Blessings recited under the wedding canopy), the mikveh (ritual bath), and more.
The Jewish Wedding Now has been a comfort and a source of inspiration as I plan, reassuring me that we can indeed have modern, feminist interpretations of old traditions. Our wedding should be a reflection of who we are. As Diamant writes, “To be emotionally and spiritually authentic, our weddings need to synthesize the sum total of our experience, which includes the reality of our daily lives.”
As we prepare to stand under the chuppah (wedding canopy) and start the rest of our life together, it is so easy to get caught up in all the trappings of the 21st-century wedding. But this, I imagine Diamant telling me, is the Jewish wedding now. Have your peonies, overcooked filet mignon, a group singalong to Journey – but also have a chuppah, break the glass, and say the Seven Blessings. Be intentional about including Judaism not just in your wedding but in your life.
In addition to questions of modernity, Ben and I are wondering how to integrate our different Jewish upbringings and traditions. Just a few weeks after my engagement, I found myself cornered by a member of my congregation who sought me to congratulate me on the engagement… and to find out if my fiancé was Jewish. I told her that, in fact, he was, and that in college, we went to Hillel together every week; I went to the Reform minyan and he to the Conservative.
“He’s Conservative?” she gasped. “But how will you raise your children?”
As Diamant tells us in The Jewish Wedding Now, “The world has become a smaller place, but the [chuppah], the wedding canopy, has become a very large tent, open to Jews of all descriptions and denominations…”
These days, as she points out, the boundaries between denominations are blurrier than ever.
Although Ben and I both still feel deeply connected to the traditions in which we were raised, the differences are becoming less and less distinct. He and I will each bring our own practices and interpretations as we plan the wedding ceremony and, come June, we will meet under a chuppah that is large enough for all of it.
As for the well-meaning but overbearing synagogue members? We’ll raise our kids Jewish. And when the time comes, there’s an Anita Diamant book for that, too.