As a Jewish life cycle consultant who guides couples and families toward creating meaningful ceremonies, I am presented with all sorts of creative, sometimes puzzling requests from couples planning their weddings.
One client had a particularly interesting request — a Jewish wedding ceremony that left God out of it.
Both members of the couple are scientists who hail from a long line of academics. They didn’t want their ceremony to include words and concepts they didn’t believe in.
They asked me to refer them to a rabbi to officiate. After hearing their story, I asked why they wanted a rabbi rather than a judge. They replied, “We want the wedding to feel Jewish…I grew up very proud of being Jewish but not so connected to the religious parts of it…A judge would be too sterile. A rabbi would create a sense of warmth, someone with a beard, who can play guitar.”
Their request made me wonder: While adapting a Jewish life cycle event to reflect a couples’ lived values makes the event meaningful for them, does altering it by leaving God out undermine what makes it Jewish in the first place?
One of the places in the Jewish wedding ceremony where God is mentioned repeatedly is in the sheva brachot (the seven blessings). Among other things these blessings include statements that recognize we are not masters of our own fate, but “hakol bara lichvodo,” everything was created for God’s glory. For some couples this blessing can be a recognition that we are not totally responsible for finding our soul mates. Some of the other blessings places the couple in a continuum that starts with the garden of Eden and points toward a future redemption, reminding us that every new couple both creates a new world and is a part of bringing about a better world.
Even the parts of the ceremony in which God’s name is not mentioned explicitly situate a couple within in the broader narrative of the Jewish people with its inherited customs and traditions while still recognizing the uniqueness of each particular couple. In the phrase that effectuates a Jewish marriage, “Behold, you are made special to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel” the first part of the sentence affirms this unique relationship while the second situates the couple in a broader context.
If we tailor-make our own ceremonies (e.g. God out / rabbi in) do we limit the profound messages that a Jewish ceremony is constructed to convey? Is a Jewish feeling enough to make a wedding Jewish? Or should we guide couples toward a deeper understanding of the liturgy, introduce them to multiple understanding of the notion of God, and challenge couples, even during this highly personal time to see themselves and their lives within a broader context?
(Dasee Berkowitz is a Jewish life cycle consultant in New York, and can be reached at www.JLifeConsulting.com.)