Facilitating Interreligious Weddings

Since the fall of 1989, I have been involved as a kind of facilitator for three weddings, held in the manner of Friends, in which a person of Jewish heritage and a person of Christian heritage, sometimes but not always Quaker, were joined. I became involved in two of them because I was clerk of the meeting that provided oversight of the union. In the other case, an attender at one of the weddings asked for my assistance. With each wedding I gained knowledge of the various traditions and rituals, and would like now to share what I have learned.

All of my relevant experiences have been with unprogrammed Friends and Reformed Jews, and I found many underlying similarities in their practices.

In the Quaker context, a couple is married by exchanging vows in the presence of God and human witnesses, with the latter signing a document that formalizes the union. The exchange of vows takes place within a meeting for worship called especially for the wedding, and is thus a time when persons present may feel called upon to speak. While Jews typically have more outward symbolism in the ceremony, the presence of a rabbi is not required. A marriage is a contract offered by a man in the presence of witnesses, willingly accepted by a woman, where the witnesses sign the contract. At heart, then, the two approaches to weddings are strikingly similar. The most common outward features of a Jewish ceremony are the presence of a huppah, or canopy, and the breaking of a glass. All three of the weddings I facilitated included both of them. Incidentally, all three weddings took place outdoors in lovely settings.

With the third wedding I learned the most. I had more time to do some searching, for I had recently retired. A close friend, a former member of our meeting, had recently converted to Judaism and was actively learning about it; she proved to be an immense help. Together we found many similarities between the two services and underlying philosophies. The major source for what we learned was a book entitled The First Jewish Catalog—especially the chapter dealing with weddings. One marginal quotation in particular, by Baal Shem Tov, speaks in an especially Friendly way about the ideal marriage: "From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being."

We learned that the huppah was originally a garland of flowers. It eventually became a canopy, often of flowers, that symbolized a new home, a new beginning. We also learned about the ketubbah, or certificate, of the contract. Just as Quaker couples retain and cherish the scroll signed by those present at the wedding, Jewish couples retain and cherish their ketubbahs, which are also so witnessed.

Even though neither the bride nor the groom had any significant experience with Quaker meetings for worship, they agreed to have a period of silence during which anyone in attendance might choose to speak before and after they exchanged their vows. I agreed to introduce this aspect of the ceremony to the attendees, to provide a repeat-after-me for their self-written vows, and finally to conclude the service with both the breaking of a glass and a simple benediction, reminding attenders of the need to sign the scroll/ketubbah.

The most significant aspect of my responsibilities was a matter of timing. How long must the couple wait to exchange their vows? And how much longer until it is all over? While the answers to these questions cannot be given with any precision, let me pass along some advice I received for making such timing decisions: "Wait until you think it has been long enough, and then wait that long again."

There are various views about the broken glass. We learned that part of the issue was to make a loud noise to scare any demons away; but our favorite perspective was a wish that the marriage would last until the goblet could be made perfect again, i.e. forever.

I enjoyed being part of these three ceremonies, each different from any other. The document that was witnessed by the atten-dees was probably not a true ketubbah, but the Jews in attendance certainly understood its relevance.

The benediction was spoken in both English and Hebrew. It goes as follows:

Yeevarechecha adonoi veyishmerecha.
May God bless you and keep you.
Ya’er adonoi panav elecha veehuneka.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
Yeesa adonoi panav elecha viyasem lecha shalom.
May God’s presence be with you and give you peace.