Tag Archives: interfaith marriage

Solemnize or sanctify? A Wedding Question

When a couple marries, is the ceremony one of Solemnization or Sanctification? This is an important distinction to understand for couples getting married and for those of us doing the officiating. When an officiant solemnizes a wedding he/she duly performs a formal marriage ceremony. When an officiant sanctifies something, that something is consecrated, set apart and declared holy, or made legitimate by a binding religious sanction. It is important to see that one can perform a legitimate ceremony (solemnize) without adding the consecration. And in point of fact, officiants are often called upon to do the one without the other.

My role as a rabbi requires that I be committed to doing both. But that does not mean that a different officiant, a layperson, for example, cannot also incorporate the holy into the ceremony. For all of us, it requires deliberate forethought to solemnize and sanctify a wedding.

If someone asks me to perform a service that uses Jewish ritual as a perfunctory overlay, I believe that still falls under the auspices of solemnized but not sanctified (and something I am uncomfortable doing). It is only when the ritual is embraced as part of the meaning making process that we can elevate the ceremony to be one of consecration.

I have long thought about this issue as couples approach me regularly. I need the couple to make a commitment to a Jewish family and future, as well as a ceremony that resonates with the couple. Every couple I work with therefore is required to invest time and effort to understanding the rituals they will include and exclude from their ceremony in addition to having the important conversations with each other to discover what each of them understands as a Jewish family and future. I serve as the lamplighter on this journey.

A young woman shared that she was asked to officiate at her sister’s wedding. The couple said it was because the sister knew them well. The couple is in love but neither is religiously affiliated or active. Given their lack of attachment to Judaism, it is likely a ceremony that I would not do. But this anecdote points to a trend towards serious, but non-religious union. I am sure that this young woman will do her utmost to provide a meaningful ceremony. However, she will need to invest much effort in order to sanctify and solemnize her sister’s wedding (I am confident that she will, and I stand ready to help her). I wonder if the fee-for-service or mail-order ministers would do justice on behalf of the couples they ostensibly serve.

Sanctification should be an important consideration for every couple seeking a meaningful ceremony. And it needs to be an issue that every officiant honestly confronts.

How do you serve two masters-the interfaith marriage debate

How do you serve two masters?

We are called upon to do this regularly including in the current discussion about the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew. As Rabbis, we serve Jews and we serve Judaism. These often do not align. How these two competing missions live in tension and how we resolve the issues is something our wisdom tradition teaches us.

We serve Jews. As I have been taught, my service to them requires me to go where they are to help them along their paths, using the wisdom of our tradition to connect and shine light upon the journey. I am also in service to Judaism, charged with Shamor v’Zachor in all of its complexity. These often align with each other, but often they do not. We live in a complicated world where we usually do not choose between good and evil (that’s an easy one of course) but we choose between competing good things. Which one takes primacy? Must they be mutually exclusive, or can they co-exist? Our great tradition including Talmud urges us to grapple with these questions.

We all know minority opinions are kept because they add value, depth, and nuance to the conversation. We have seen Hillel and Shammai duel. Even though Hillel usually prevails, Shammai remains as insight into important issues that cannot be overlooked. It is incorrect to dismiss Shammai as wrong.

We all recall the story of Teaching Torah on one foot. Two radically different approaches are offered, both containing deep wisdom. Ultimately we are left with, “What is hateful to you do not do to another, the rest is all commentary. Now go study,” but not before we understand the gravitas and respect that one must have to approach the process.

The conversation about officiating weddings between Jews and Non-Jews should be viewed through this lens. Is our primary allegiance to preserving and protecting Judaism, or to reaching out to Jews wherever they may be? What precisely does each of these things look like? Where we ultimately define ourselves and cast our allegiance will determine what each of us can do and what is beyond our ability. I have no doubt about the seriousness that each of us approaches this task. And I am not criticizing the considered decision of anyone.   However, there are real ramifications to our decisions. How we are perceived in our respective communities and how will our decisions affect the couple requesting our services as officiant are two profoundly important questions we must ask ourselves as we consider the issue.

There is a substantial segment of Jews who seek to marry someone who is not Jewish. How we approach them may forever affect them and their relationship to Judaism. When someone approaches us, what will we do? If we cannot officiate based on a principled position, do we dismiss them, or find a colleague who can be present in this important and critical time? Will you be Hillel or Shammai?