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Hebrew school 2Are you looking for an alternative Hebrew school? One that is less time commitment, very small classes, and a strong emphasis on the cultural and historical aspects of Judaism?

I’m beginning a home-based Hebrew school for my daughter, age 6. We will begin with “Hebrew Letter Boot Camp” – learning the Hebrew letters, and forming basic 2- and 3-letter words. The goal is basic reading in ultimate preparation for their bar or bat mitzvah (in whatever way you imagine that to be.)

I am graduating in a year from rabbinical school after 8 years of study. I have taught supplemental Hebrew school for 12 years at many age cohorts. My home is at the nexus of Havertown, Wynnwood and Penn Wynne. We straddle Montgomery and Haverford Townships.

Summer schedule: 2 hours on Saturday or Sunday morning; half of the time will be play.hebrew school

If folks live close by and want to do another 1 hour session late afternoon or early evening once during the week, I’m open to that. Having a second piece of repetition during the week does make learning of a foreign language easier. But we could also experiment with doing a second session by group Skype.

Yes, I realize families take vacations in the summer! We will work around whatever absences you have – it’s no problem. As a mom, I personally believe it’s important to not have totally dead time in summer, to keep learning, and I think this idea is a great way to keep doing so.

Please pass this info along to any families with 6- or 7-year-old kids who are Hebrew-reading ready,
and who might be interested! Thanks!

Call Joysa 

610-642-2420

Text (c) 267-902-7752

Email joysa@aol.com

 

 


Yesterday, I had the delight of fulfilling a couple’s wish of incorporating some quotes from Star Trek: The Next Generation into their wedding service.

Who says weddings should be all serious and no fun?

As someone who once had a life-sized cutout of Jean Luc Picard in my living room, this was one request I was all too happy to fulfill. After a few hours googling around the vast terrain of famous Star Trek quotes online, I settled on two that worked perfectly for their love story.

First, some background information: Rob and Lynn were married at a hotel ballroom in King of Prussia northwest of Philadelphia. It was a 25-minute marriage ceremony built around the traditions of an Irish Handfasting ceremony. After a variety of readings (by me and others), sharing from a cup of wine, and a homily sharing how they met and their love story, we ended with a ring exchange and fasting of hands. In the midst of all this were our two chances for a little laughter:

270px-ST-TNG_The_Inner_Light

Jean Luc overlooks his home village in the episode “The Inner Light.”

1) While giving some brief advice for their newly married life, I offered this wisdom from Patrick Stewart’s character, Jean Luc Picard, who said: “Seize the time. Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again!”

It was a happy coincidence that this line comes from one of the best ST episodes EVER: Called “The Inner Light,” the story centers on Jean Luc who is knocked unconscious by some sort of space probe. When he wakes up, he is on another planet, living the life of an elderly grandfather and master flute-player. His home world is about to be destroyed by its own star, which is going super nova.

(To learn more about this episode, read here.)

While he lives this other virtual life, Picard becomes a literal time capsule for this dying planet’s entire culture — he is what survives. A beautiful folk melody he learns while living this alternate life was featured in a later ST episode; he plays the song with a fellow musician in a Jeffries Tube on the Enterprise. It is this later rendition clipped from YouTube at the start of this blog post.

This was way too much of an insider reference to explain in the wedding, but it was all the more cool that in this episode, Jean Luc learns what sounds to be like an Irish folk song. I chose the quote because of its content — it was the perfect sentiment to say at that moment in the ceremony. But it literally gave me goose bumps when I started looking into which episode the quote came from, and to find out it happened to be from the one single episode in 15+ years of ST episodes that had an Irish theme to it. The couple who got married found me to be their officiant because I was the one person they could find who had an understanding and love for the Irish handfasting ceremony.

It’s as if the stars all aligned in the universe to say: “Yes, these are the words meant for these special people at this special moment!”
I love it when the mysterious workings of the world reveal themselves!

2) The other ST quote I used in the Irish Handfasting wedding was this one, which required a little framing. In explaining how the groom, Rob, fell in love with Lynn, I said: “In other words, as our friend Lt. Commander Data would put it, ‘Your neural pathways had become accustomed to her sensory input patterns’ — and that is no small thing!”

~~ pause. wait for the chuckle. ~~

It was fun. While officiating a wedding, it is always fun to say something small, and silly, that nudges the audience a little bit out of their loop! :)

***

It has been several years since I had the invitation to get zany in a wedding ceremony. The last time I had this chance was for a lovely couple (who now has a beautiful baby!) to incorporate their super hero, Indiana Jones, into their traditional egalitarian Jewish wedding ceremony. Here is how I was able to do that during the “love story” portion of their ceremony:

“Jacob and Sarah, although you two have only known each other a few years, you have taken to heart the motto of your hero, Indiana Jones, which he shared in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage!” From co-ed softball and kickball teams to hiking trips to canning eight batches of applesauce in one summer — you have become an integral and supportive part of each other’s lives. Your love story is a reminder of how ordinary, and yet how extraordinary, true love really is.

Going forward, you will, no doubt, face new challenges and lessons. As Indiana Jones said to his students in the Last Crusade, “We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot.” You will have to blaze your own trail into the wild unknowns of the future — be it career changes, health challenges, and the greatest challenge of all — parenthood.

But nurtured by the love you have cultivated for each other,  the patience, kindness and attention you have shown, you will no doubt be able to reach places in your own individual lives that you would never have reached on your own.

 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM9EIbHRSh0

This is for you, all the dear couples I have met over the years — or whom I will meet over the next years to officiate your wedding.

For any couple looking for a little inspiration as they plan the wedding event of their dreams, I wanted to share this tear-jerking performance by a famous operatic singer and children’s choir in Israel. It is a photo montage of the whole wedding, but clues with dress and so forth can tell us this is a modern Orthodox wedding in Israel. (Such clues include separate gender seating; only male voices singing; the groom and bride’s father signed the ketubah, not the bride herself; and the bride’s dress gives at least a nod of modesty by having full-length arms and neck covered with lace.)

Before I go further, I should add one important caveat: This wedding appears to not be a bona fide wedding. It is a staged wedding, and the montage has been put together for performance and marketing purposes. It will warm your heart nonetheless.

(If you are planning a wedding in Israel and, I presume, have a generous budget, you can reach these musicians at muzickids@gmail.com.)

About the song’s performers: The “musickids” is a children’s choir conducted by Tal Vaknin and Yossi Yossi Azulay, two nationally renowned singers in Israel. This wedding performance was done in Havat Ronit (Ronit Farm) with a song called “Boi B’shalom“. The clip doesn’t share the name of who this incredible (adult) operatic performer is.

Now here, to me, comes the interesting part. What is this song exactly? What are its origins? Initially, I thought the lyrics to Boi B’shalom may be based on the 7th of the Hebrew blessings that are chanted or recited during a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, often by the rabbi. The blessings date back to the Middle Ages. If true, this song is an innovation on the melody of the traditional blessings; the blessings did not originate in operatic Italy after all!

The lyrics of the traditional 7th blessing are the following: “Boi b’shalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkahBoi beshalom ateret ba’alah, gam besimchah uvetzahalah toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, boi, kalah; toch emunei am segulah, boi kalah, shabat malkah.”

A translation: Blessed are You, God, who lights the world with happiness and contentment, love and companionship, peace and friendship, bridegroom and bride. Let the mountains of Israel dance! Let the gates of Jerusalem ring with the sounds of joy, song, merriment and delight – the voice of he groom and the voice of the bride, the happy shouts of their friends and companions. We bless you God, who brings bride and groom together to rejoice in each other.

————————–

Now, if you take the time to follow those words closely and watch the video simultaneously, you’ll see there is only a partial match. So like most Jewish questions, there appear to be multiple answers. Here is a second answer: I’ll leave it to you, readers, to compare the two possible source texts and draw your own conclusions.

(Also, I welcome any Jewish musicologists to weigh in right about now!)

Answer #2: The refrain in Boi B’shalom is the last verse of Lakha Dodi, which has also traditionally be sung at Jewish weddings. Here is the verse and its translation:

Boi b’shalom ateres baalah gam b’simcha uv’tzahala, toch emunei am segulah, boi challah, boi challah, (shabbas malkesa).

בואי בשלום עטרת בעלה גם בשמחה ובצהלה, תוך אמוני עם סגולה, בואי כלה, בואי כלה, (שבת מלכתא).

Translation:
Come in peace, crown of your husband, with rejoicing​ and with cheerfuln​ess, in the midst of the faithful of the chosen people: come, O bride; come, O bride (the Sabbath Queen).

Now … if you went back and did a lyric compare to the Youtube song, you’ll see this doesn’t really match up either. Well, the one sentence matches up. But where have the modern artists come up with all the other parts of the song?

In short: I don’t know. But enough high-browed thinking. Now it’s time to just sit back and soar with the music that must surely have come down on eagle’s wings.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!


Who came up with the idea of bodily resurrection after death? Like many people – Christian and Jewish alike – for most of my life I made the assumption that this was a distinctly Christian idea.

It makes sense that people would have this assumption. Christianity is so singularly focused on the resurrection of Jesus – and Jews have developed such a knee-jerk reaction against anything remotely resembling this concept – equating human resurrection with Christianity is a pretty natural thing to do. It was only as I got deeper into my Jewish learning that I began catching hints that maybe, this idea wasn’t entirely born out of Christianity at all!

In Hebrew, the word for "resurrection" is "gilgul"

Background: Jewish Biblical and Rabbinic Views

The Jewish belief in resurrection finds its origins in the Bible, but the only explicit references to human resurrection after death – two of them – are fleeting and appear in the later-written portions of Tanakh. (The first is in Daniel 12:2-3, and second is in Isaiah 26:19.)

It’s obvious that later exegesis would find allusions to resurrection in other biblical texts: For example, Deuteronomy 32:39 says of God: “I slay and revive; I wounded and I will heal.” Passages from Psalms, Job and Isaiah speak of misery and dire peril as death-like states, where the victim descends to Sheol and God “restores to life.” 

Despite these later interpretations, however, such passages are not explicit statements of a bodily resurrection after death. To interpret them as such is actually a contradiction of other biblical statements that clearly argue against after-death resurrection.  One clear example is in Job 7:7-9 when Job says: “Remember that my life is a breath; My eye will not again see good … A cloud dissolves and it is gone; So is one who descends to sheol; He will not ascend.”

This then leaves an unanswerable question: Did Jews living in the biblical era really believe in resurrection? It could be argued either way. I would suggest that given the relative dearth of clear statements in its favor, the concept was a later idea that was retrojected into the biblical era by late-era writers, or even rabbinic-era editors.

By the rabbinic time period, the Pharisees clearly did have an evolving belief in physical resurrection – and this was one of the most significant points of dispute between them and the competing Sadducees. After the destruction and the ascension of the Pharisaic viewpoint, this belief made its way into many rabbinic-era texts. Two examples from the Talmud include: Ketubot 111b, which states the dead will resurrect wearing their clothes; and Sanhedrin 72a, which says the righteous, whom God will resurrect, will not return to dust. The rabbis also canonized this belief in liturgy, such as the second half of the 18 benedictions of the Amidah.

How exactly such resurrection was viewed in the rabbinic era is up for debate. Louis Finkelstein, in his book Mavo le-Massekhtot Avot ve-Avot de-Rabbi Natan, offers two schools of thought on the matter, which he believes go back to the schools of Hillel and Shammai. In Shammai, the soul descends to Sheol upon death and inactively awaits physical resurrection of the righteous. In Hillel, souls arise to be judged immediately after death. The rabbis’ later use of the term “the world to come” is meant to be deliberately vague, so as not to side with one school or another, he says.

While Finkelstein’s view is not the only theory regarding rabbinic views on resurrection, it is a very intriguing one to me from the perspective of Jewish vs. Christian origins of the resurrection belief. If Finkelstein is right – there really were two major competing schools of thought coming from two major Jewish groups in the early 1st century – then that indicates that “resurrection ideas” were very much swarming in the cultural milieu out of which Christianity emerged. [Hillel’s lifespan is dated to around 60 BCE – 20 CE; Jesus is dated to around 5 BCE – 30 CE]. And the Christian view was firmly rooted in the Pharisaic, rather than the Sadduceean, tradition.

Mormon scholar James Edward Talmage indirectly echoes this idea when he points out that, in the Acts of the Apostles, the Sadducees are often depicted as opposing the early Christian communities “doubtless due to the prominence given the resurrection of the dead among the themes of apostolic preaching,” he writes.  [Jesus the Christ: The Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures, p. 73]

Resurrection in the Middle Ages

What we have established so far is that the idea of bodily resurrection found its origins in Judaism, not Christianity. It was perhaps in a nascent state of formation in the biblical era, and by the rabbinic era, it had been embraced and was being expanded on by one of the leading powerful sects of the day; and it was this sect whose ideas ultimately won out after the Roman invasion.

Resurrection was an idea that quickly became a part of early Christian communities, but there can be little doubt that it was Judaism, and not Christianity, that invented the concept. (In fact, to be clear, the oldest foundation of an individualized resurrection theology would best be attributed to the Greeks, but here I am merely trying to address the Jewish vs. Christian origins.)

It was not, however, until the Middle Ages, that we see the notion of resurrection becoming a popular topic of conversation and a cornerstone of belief – for both Christians and Jews – although there were clear differences in how, exactly, resurrection would work. Even within the Christian and Jewish worlds, beliefs were extremely fractured, to the point that it is quite difficult to generalize what the “medieval view” really was.

“Among the medieval Jewish philosophers there were many differences of opinion with regard to the resurrection,” explains the Encyclopedia Judaica. “These controversies depend for the most part on the fact that it was not clear, or certainly not explicit, that there had been controversy in the talmudic period. Consequently some thinkers accepted one of the talmudic opinions, and others contested their views, without realizing that they were simply following different sides of an old argument.”

Here are some highlights of how key medieval Jewish theologians viewed resurrection:

• Saadiah Gaon said dead souls remain in a treasury until the resurrection, but does not endorse a physical resurrection. This is in line with the Beit Shammai point of view.

• Maimonides lists belief in resurrection as the 13th of his 13 principles of faith in his commentary on Mishnah Sanhedrin. However, the little writing he did on the topic left him open to complaint that perhaps his views were not genuine. Toward the end of his life, he wrote a defense of his view, in Essay on the Resurrection. His explanation of resurrection was, however, somewhat unorthodox. He believed God, and not a human messiah, would bring about resurrection. The resurrection would also be temporary; a second “death” would occur and at that point, the human soul would be what is everlasting.

• Nahmanides challenges the view that the resurrected dead will eventually die. He believes resurrected bodies will be somewhat ethereal compared to truly corporeal bodies, and he does not believe that they will eventually die. This can be seen as a synthesis between the two rabbinic opinions.

• Hasdai Crescas is the first medieval writer to note that there appears to be a contradiction in rabbinic resurrection views. He maintained that everyone but the greatest sinners will be resurrected, that there will be a court of judgment, and that the righteous will live forever in refined bodies.

What all of these views do have in common – apart, perhaps, from Maimonides – is that body and soul are seen as important. The body is not merely a vessel for housing the soul, but rather is used as a way of ensuring accountability for human actions. “Whether it is understood that all people are resurrected for judgment, body and soul together, or whether only the bodies of the righteous are resurrected to enjoy the redemption, the central stress is the same,” the EJ explains. The human being is one essence, a unit, not merely a soul housed in a body which itself is of no worth.”

Over on the Christian side of the aisle, we see, at the meta-level, the same fundamental belief: human bodies do resurrect, and this resurrection is based on some kind of divine judgment.

In what is deemed the preeminent scholarly investigation into Christian views of resurrection, Caroline Walker Bynum traces, in meticulous detail, the evolution of the idea – and the impassioned debates around it – in Christian communities between 200 and 1336.  In doing so, she demonstrates that “Christians clung to a very literal notion of resurrection despite repeated attempts by theologians and philosophers to spiritualize the idea.”

Her book then goes on to analyze in detail all of the major Christian works to address this theology during this time period; suffice it to say, the sheer number of works produced, and the focus they took on the tiniest of details, far exceed any hope for summary! (Peter Lombard is captivated by such issues as what age, gender and height a resurrected body might be; Albert, Thomas and Giles debated endlessly over risen fingernails and embryos, not to mention the fate of genitals and intestines in heaven. These are just to name a few.)


Toward the end of my first year in rabbinical school, I happened to end up in two separate conversations with seminary students studying to become Christian ministers. They both asked me a variation of the same question: “How much Jesus do you study in rabbi school?”

It’s actually a great question, and I couldn’t help but to chuckle at my own answer: “To be honest, he hasn’t come up once this entire year!” I told them. It was funny because I could only imagine how strange that must sound to them. They probably don’t go one hour without the J-word coming up!

After three years in school, I can amend my answer, but only slightly. Jesus has come up in our history courses dealing with the Judaism of the 2nd Temple period and the various apocalyptic movements that were proliferating at that time.

Later on in my studies, I suspect he might come up more often, as we begin studying the impact of medieval Christianity on Jewish theology and society. And it certainly becomes a part of discussions about our contemporary Jewish world – although that tends to be more about the Big C as opposed to the Big J.

These seminary students’ question, though, still comes back to me after all these years, because it’s actually a quite interesting topic! While we don’t have the time nor the reason to do any in-depth study of Jesus the Prophet (or any other prophet) in rabbi school, our tradition has preserved some fascinating stories about Jesus, some of which date as far back as some of the earliest Christian texts.

Of course, what we identify as a “Jewish text” versus a “Christian text” becomes murky the further back we go, as some of the earliest Christians were Jews. What I am referring to are texts produced by the rabbinic communities that rejected the early Christian claims, and who were essentially responding to them in the typical modes of rabbinic literature. These are found in texts as old as the Tosefta, c 100CE.

A wonderful book was published in August 2009 by Princeton University Press on this topic, called Jesus in the Talmud. Written by scholar Peter Schafer, the book explores the fascinating references rabbinic texts make to Jesus and Mary, and offers an insightful analysis of what they were really saying. This latter point is crucial, for the cryptic, abbreviated nature of rabbinic literature can make them quite difficult to figure out!

One of the most fascinating pieces of the story is learning that the reason these rabbinic-era texts are not found in our modern day editions of the Talmud, Mishnah or Tosefta is because they were cut out during the Middle Ages – and not by Jews, but by Christians!

Schafer explains:

“The earliest available evidence for our Jesus texts is the Firenze manuscript from the late 12th century. The latest manuscript is a Yemenite manuscript from the second half of the 16th century. Altogether, the transmission history of the Bavli text is hampered by the fact that many of the earlier manuscripts are lost because of the aggressive policy of the Catholic Church against the Talmud, which culminated in the many burnings of the Talmud ordered by the Church (at first 1242 in Paris). Moreover, after the (in)famous Christian-Jewish disputation of Barcelona in 1263, the Church began (often relying on the ‘expertise’ of Jewish converts) to censor the Talmud text and to eliminate (erase, blacken, etc) all the passages that the experts found objectionable or offensive to Christian doctrine. It goes without saying that passages referring to Jesus became the prime victim of such activity. In later printed editions, many such supposedly incriminating passages were left out by the Jewish printers themselves in order not to jeopardize the publication of the Talmud (or of other Hebrew books).”

One of the great strengths of Schafer’s book is how it is organized. If you don’t have the time, interest or attention span to read a detailed analysis of each of the texts he presents, Schafer’s first and last chapters provide great thematic summaries. Just by reading those two chapters, you will walk away with a good sense of what these texts were about, and the historical contexts in which they were written.


This summer, Bride magazine published a sample budget for a wedding whose budget totaled $35,000. That total price tag is considered the “average” price for a wedding nationwide. Of course averages just being averages, that means there are many weddings that cost much more than that, and many weddings that cost much less.

The writer gave a line-item listing of what each element would cost and take a guess how much she budgeted for the officiant at this $35,000 event — for the person who stands up before all of your guests and crafts the very words and memories that are what make you married? Take a guess!

$900?Wedding budget piggybanks

$700?

$400?

Alas, not even that much. On a $35,000 wedding, Bride magazine thinks it’s OK to pay an officiant a measly $350. At that rate, the janitor who cleans up after the party is over is earning more money per hour than the minister or rabbi earned.

Compared to USAA Magazine, however, $350 for an officiant appears to be generous. That magazine recently ran an article on a couple who threw their “dream wedding” for under $480. I admire frugality and innovation, but the way they managed this frugality was by roping large numbers of people into doing things for free.

It’s one thing to ask your church social club to donate desserts for a potluck at your wedding; it’s an entirely other matter to ask someone like a Protestant minister to conduct a wedding for FREE, since conducting weddings is a major way ministers earn a living and feed their families! Protestant ministers have among the lowest annual salaries of anyone in the country — they earn less, on average, than teachers and even social workers. And yet, this couple, so focused on saving money for themselves, got a “family friend” to conduct their wedding for free. Did they ask themselves whether this request was fair to him, and respectful of the years he had spent developing the pastoral skills needed in a good officiant?

I’m going to take a gander here and guess No.

Folks, at some point, frugality is no longer about preventing financial harm to yourself; it enters into the realm of doing financial harm an another person. I can’t speak for this minister who said “yes” to this request, and can only hope that he had the financial means to give away his professional services for free — and that he loved this couple enough to do so without resentment.

I’ve been officiating weddings for five years, and I’ve had to learn many of the financial lessons of running this “business” the hard way. I’ve made plenty of mistakes.

Perhaps my worst mistake was the time I gave a couple a price quote for a wedding ($500) and a few months later, they moved the wedding to another state, an 8-hour drive away. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding that I realized that I had never gone back to the couple to discuss my fee, and point out that my time investment was now about 4x greater than it originally had been, not to mention gas, tolls and babysitting fees.

It would have been nice if they had thought about it; but they didn’t. Beginning to end, I spent about 25 hours on a wedding for which I was paid $500, and for which I paid out over $100 in child care costs.

Yes, painful.cake party

Another mistake: The time I quoted a price for an at-home wedding that I was told was a 10-minute drive from my house. The day of the wedding, I typed the address in my GPS and discovered it was 45 miles from my house. They had moved the venue without telling me. Again … financial disaster for me. I basically didn’t get paid for 4 hours of driving and child care … again.

What are the insider-costs of trying to make a living heralding people into the covenant of marriage? Well, if you have read this far, I am happy to tell you the Inside Story behind the prices wedding officiants cost you. And from what I hear, they can be all over the map:

The Hidden Costs of A Wedding Officiant:

* I pay $300 a month for online advertising; rabbis or ministers who have brick-and-mortar congregations don’t have to pay for advertising because they have a huge referral stream in their own congregation, in addition to “phone book” referrals (these are the people looking for an officiant who naturally start looking at congregations near their home or wedding venue.) Freelance rabbis or ministers don’t have this perk, so we have to pay for our web presence. Without it, we’d have virtually no business at all, so nixing this expense isn’t really an option.

* In light of this, I hope you will consider looking for a freelance wedding officiant for your ceremony! We usually have the same training as bricks-and-mortar rabbis, and we usually have more time to dedicate to your wedding, since we have fewer other obligations. Plus, you can feel good for supporting what is essentially a mom-and-pop-styled family-based business!

* Most years, I have no weddings to officiate for 6 out of the 12 months. Weddings are a hugely seasonal business. So, in an average year, I’m paying  $1800 in ad costs for 6 months when I am earning no money to pay for it! Ouch-o-rama.

* Weddings are SUCH a seasonal business, the days and times you can potentially officiate a wedding and hence earn money is narrow. 95% of weddings are on Friday or Saturday nights, or Sunday mornings. Holiday weekends are popular. I had four people try to hire me for a wedding on September 15 this year. I have no idea why that Sunday was so popular, but it was painful to turn away three couples. By the time people shop for an officiant, their date is set, so, they went on and found someone else to officiate. How great it would have been to have spread those three couples onto the three other weekends in September and had four weddings that month! Alas, it doesn’t work that way.

* (Of course) no health care, 401(k) or any other benefits of traditional employment.

* Not all officiants have this cost, but for me, $15 an hour for every hour I’m not at home to pay for babysitting: If my meeting with the couple is at a coffee shop or somewhere other than my house, that is 2 hours of babysitting, plus: travel time to and from your wedding venue, arriving at least 1 hour early, staying up to an hour after the ceremony — on the day of wedding, I usually pay for 4-5 hours of babysitting for a local wedding, even though your ceremony itself only lasted 20 minutes.

* Gas and the asundry costs of owning an automobile.bold cake

* This final cost varies widely, but, the cost of paying for the education that led to an officiant’s ordination. Here, rabbis really take it in the gut. Most Protestant ministers are ordained after 2 or 3 years of study. Most rabbis have to complete 5 or 6 years of study; rabbinic ordination if roughly equivalent to getting a doctorate. A generation ago, rabbis went through school largely on scholarships but that has changed. Nowadays, rabbis without family money or high-paying earlier careers  graduate about $100,000 in debt at least. And  though our country is at the lower interest rates in history, the loan rates for students is 7.5%.

* This last issue also varies widely, but it’s a question you can ask you shop around: How long does your officiant plan to spend preparing for, getting to and officiating your wedding? My average time investment, for a wedding in the Philly metro area, is 13 hours. Give or take. If you interview a candidate who lives several hours away from your venue, and they offer you some improbably low price of $200 or $400 — you might ask them this question. Because offers that sound too good to be true; well, they probably are! :)


Some other articles on marrying and dying:

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

Mainline Philly’s best-kept outdoors wedding venue secret (and it’s free!)

“We are an interfaith couple. Should a rabbi or minister marry us?”

Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Can a Jewish ‘atheist’ have a Jewish wedding? Short answer : Yes.

Interfaith rabbi for secular, interfaith or Jewish weddings, baby namings and funerals

Secrets to finding a wedding officiant you’ll love

Best place to get married in Philly — and the world’s best wedding dress website!


imagesHow much can you expect to pay for a person to come to your location and officiate your wedding? What is a fair price ― a price that doesn’t seem like gross profiteering to you, and is a respectable wage to them?

In the past few months, I’ve had a variety of exchanges with people ― both email and phone ― about the economics of lifecycle officiation. Most of these were about weddings in particular, but they have also happened around vow-renewal ceremonies, tombstone unveilings (a Jewish funeral tradition) and baby namings as well.

Some, but not all, of these people made it clear that they were taken aback to discover the “going rate” for wedding officiation. One person put it more bluntly, in a comment she posted on the wedding site The Knot. Her vent to fellow brides was along the lines of this: “How can a person charge $500 for a 20-minute service!? It’s outrageous!”

Hmmm. Well, actually, it isn’t. And I’ll explain why.

In this post, here is what I hope to share:
• How much does it cost to hire a wedding officiant in metro Philly (or the East Cost in general)?
• How much should it cost?
• How can you save costs on a wedding in order to be able to hire the talents of a good wedding officiant ― as opposed to someone just “dialing it in?”
• Lastly, for the truly budget-bound, I’ll offer some even more frugal ideas.

As you continue reading, I’d like to challenge you to think of these questions: What kind of a price do you expect to hear when asking for a price quote? Is your expectation reasonable? Do you believe a person engaged in a “religious” occupation should be taking a vow of poverty? If you extrapolate out your price expectation, would the person be living in poverty?

How you answer those questions might influence how you have, up until now, thought about the economics of the different people you are hiring to conduct your wedding.

So How Much DOES It Cost, Anyway? (Your cheapest option)images 2

In the state of Pennsylvania, you can get married for $90. Literally. Go to City Hall downtown, get a “self-marrying license” for $90, wait three days (that’s a legal requirement), and then sign the license in the company of two legal adults. They will sign it too, and provide their addresses. Mail it back to the court. You are married.

People often express disbelief when I tell them this, but it is the honest to God’s truth. This is how I legally married. You can thank the Quakers for this; the state has very easy marriage laws because it was founded by a religious community that believed ardently against hierarchies.

If I take one issue with the “wedding chapel” type businesses propped up around the state, it’s the fact that not one them ever admits this fact. As someone who worked in journalism for two decades, I’m a big believer in “full disclosure.” You can get married in Pennsylvania for under $100, and you don’t need anyone else to do it.

So, if you really can’t afford a wedding, don’t have one. Do this, and go on a honeymoon instead!

Your Next Budget Option

23987225_007_aYour next-lowest price alternative is to go to a place like the Wedding Chapel, open for business 365 days a year. Their cheapest “drop-in rate” – which still requires a reservation – is $95. This is still in addition to the marriage license fee (which you must get at a court house.) Then for their $95 fee, they will let you pose for traditional pictures in their chapel and on their grounds, and they conduct a “ceremony” for you using a stripped down and pre-scripted script. This cheapest price does not allow you to bring guests: It’s just for you and the groom.

In other words, your total price for this option is: $95 + $90 = $185.

The Wedding Chapel does have other packages, going up in price, to which you can bring a couple of guests. Another place I’ve found online, called HumbleManWeddings, charges $150 (plus the price of the license) to go to his house, and be married by him in his backyard garden. (So, $150 + $90 = $210 total.) The pictures on his website look lovely, and he seems like a nice enough guy. I haven’t met him personally.

So, if you want at least the bones of a ritual, but otherwise can’t afford a wedding, something along these lines would work best for you.

Having an Officiant Come to You

61After these options, you have entered the realm of standard wedding officiation – where you are hiring someone to come to your event, wherever that might be, and deliver a heartfelt, meaningful ceremony before you and your guests. You plan in advance (in person or by phone), and you secure the officiant’s commitment at the time and place you have chosen.

The low-end range for this kind of ceremony is around $350. For that price, an officiant will not hold any pre-meetings in person, will not spend a lot of time getting to know you and writing a personalized “speech” or blessing for your ceremony, and is probably not traveling too great a distance to the venue site.

However, one would hope they are still taking the time to customize a ceremony with readings, sentiments and God-language (or lack of God language) that matches who you are as people.

A more typical price range for what I will call a truly customized service is $500 to $1,000. Factors affecting the price are: who is offering the service, where the event is being held (travel time), and perhaps even what season it is. This is the price range you can expect for a full-on, traditional half-day wedding. You’ll meet in person with the officiant beforehand, and communicate a good half-dozen times shoring up details of your ceremony. The officiant will spend several hours on-site on the day of your wedding, plus however many hours traveling.

If the distance is more than a few hours, it would be nice if you offered one night’s stay at your hotel to the officiant as an option. I’m always grateful and appreciative when people hiring me extend this option.

Here are three factors that influence price:

print 61• The education or training of the officiant. As in all professions, people who have invested tens of thousands of dollars into their learning tend to charge more than someone who, for example, was ordained on the Internet. (And all the shades in between).

You may find that rabbis tend to charge more than pastors; that’s because the length of our education is often five or six years of full-time post-graduate coursework. Most Protestant programs take about two years. Hiring a rabbi is akin to hiring someone with a doctorate.

• The season. Why is this? Well, there are a LOT of weddings in the spring. If you are struggling with a budget, you can negotiate better prices among all your vendors if you schedule in the off-season. I’ve never gotten a call to do a wedding in February! I’ll give you a great price in February!

This spring, I got a call from someone pressing the price-panic button. I was very sympathetic until I learned their wedding was on a Saturday night in mid-May. I’m happy to give discounts to people in financial distress, but my Saturdays in May are going to be booked solid; can I really afford to take a huge cut in my usual fee when this means I will probably turn away another event that would have paid me full price? Especially when the wedding business (and hence my income stream,) is so erratic?

If you’re hoping to negotiate with your vendors, think about your timing. November weddings are much easier to negotiate than June weddings.

• Lastly, distance. If an officiant is traveling 4 hours to and from your wedding, versus 30 minutes, that’s a big difference. Not just in miles on a car and time in a day, but in my case at least, in the cost of child care! In my early years of officiating weddings, I actually lost money a couple of times because I failed to take travel time into consideration.

More About Those Pesky Wedding Licenses

Keep in mind, by hiring a traveling wedding officiant, you still must go to the court house and pay for the license itself. A “standard” license at City Hall (good for anywhere in the state) is $80. A self-marrying license is $90.

If you are getting married in a county other than Philadelphia, you also have the choice of getting a license in the courthouse of the county where you are marrying. Sometimes, those licenses must be used in the county in which it was issued (it varies; be sure to check). Other counties charge slightly less money than Philadelphia ― $50 or $60 for example. But the difference is negligible. I suggest going to whichever location is easiest to get to. Your time is valuable too!

Hiring a Wedding (or Ritual) Officiant: What You Are Paying For

So if you aren’t hiring a ritual officiant for the legal aspects of getting married, why hire one at all? And how can you weigh a “good” one from a “bad” one?

What you are paying for when you hire an officiant, is the skill, knowledge and heart of the person who is creating the ritual for you. Even if what you want is “very simple,” no officiant worth their own dignity is going to show up with some canned, pre-scripted script with just your names inserted.

But alas, some people actually will. When I see people advertising a “customized” wedding ceremony for only $250, all I can think is: “Well, it must not be very customized.” It’s just not possible to write a customized wedding, spend 3-6 hours on the day of the wedding getting there, doing your job and getting back — and then charging $250! When you compare ads and officiants for weddings, we all use words like “customized,” but we don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

Ask questions.

Get details.

Most people getting married think: “Oh, I don’t want anything fancy. It’s simple.” Well, it may be simple in how it looks on the outside, but in the details, there are a million different ways that I can stand up and marry two people.

• Do you want someone standing up in front of your guests, quoting passages from the Old Testament and talking about the role of wife as a “helpmate”? If you do … that’s fine! But you don’t want to hire me.

• How do you feel about the audience saying “amen”?

• How “spiritual” do you like to get? Is it okay if your officiant wears a big bright hat and flowing robes? Or do you prefer a more demure or formal presentation? (I’m not in the big hat camp, by the way. Just fyi …)

• Would you like your officiant to crack a few jokes, or do you think a wedding ritual should be more serious?

• Does 10 minutes sound about right? Or more like about 20? Or even 30? Does your officiant ask you what you want!?

• Would you like a guest or two to come up and do a reading?

• Do you know what readings you like? How many hours do you have to find some? (I have a PDF file 25 pages long of readings I’ve assembled over the years; some officiants really strive to give you all the options; others leave you to figure it out on your own. That’s why they are only charging you $250!)

•  Do you want to write you own vows? Do you need guidance on writing them? Will the officiant offer it?

Even though we wedding officiants DO recycle parts of ceremonies and readings here and there, there is no such thing as a “canned script.” At least not one that is going to do you or your guests any justice.

Without spending at least some time talking to the officiant, explaining who you are as people and what your preferences are, we have no way of knowing what is the “right” thing to say.

alanah and scott, ketubahIt Just Takes Time

Beyond this ephemeral thing called “skill” you are paying for in an officiant, the other thing you are paying for is his or her time.

It takes time for an officiant to field calls and return calls (some of which won’t yield work). It takes time to:

* think about the couple and all the ways something can be said;

* get to know both partners, outline the many ritual choices, sometimes even meet with their parents;

* plan ahead for their date and not schedule vacations or personal events on the day of their wedding;

* give up time with our own family, usually on a weekend and often in an evening;

* possibly hiring a babysitter;

* travel each way to the venue site, which often takes more time than the wedding ritual  itself.

In short, we are investing way more than the “20 minutes” presumed by that blogger on The Knot ― even for a “simpler” lower-budget wedding. We are investing many hours for that magical 20 minutes that looks easy and came off seamlessly. And hey, don’t knock the importance of “magic”. A wedding ritual should be magical, and it is worth way more (in my opinion) than having high-end napkins on the table, or having 2 buckets of flowers instead of one.

One other thing to keep in mind: How many people you have in attendance at your wedding or vow renewal has virtually no impact on how much time we spend working for your wedding. Caterers price based on head count, but for officiants, we factor based on time. The prices people quote you will be an indication of how much time, thought and energy they are planning to spend creating the ritual of your wedding.

Is it okay with you if your officiant shows up five minutes before the ceremony, reads a canned script that takes under 10 minutes to declare you married, and then dodges out the door the minute it is over? If you are okay with that, then go for the $250 offer.

But, if the ritual part of your wedding is more important to you than that; if you want to be more involved, have a choice of readings, maybe even meet in person first; if you want your officiant to show up early and stick around a little bit afterward – you’ll need to anticipate a higher price.

So just what kind of price quotes will you get in the officiant bidding process? Assuming your venue is within one hour of the officiant’s home, you can get $250 for a stripped down, no personalization process, uber fast (under 10 minutes) I described above. A typical price for a full-on wedding, with meetings, ketubahs and interfaith discussions (which take longer), $800 is the standard Philly free. Some rabbis are willing to bend on their price (I am, depending on hardship, and depending on location). Prices can go up to the $950-$1300 range when travel time is several hours in each direction.

Lastly for very small home weddings, esp. second marriages, with 10-15 guests, often done in someone’s home, but with ritual planning beforehand and a reasonable location, $500 is the fairly universal fee.

I hope this helps!

Kim&Ryan3581
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For more on weddings, please see some of my other posts:

“How can I make my Jewish or interfaith wedding unique, funny or even funky?”

Mainline Philly’s best-kept outdoors wedding venue secret (and it’s free!)

“We are an interfaith couple. Should a rabbi or minister marry us?”

Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Can a Jewish ‘atheist’ have a Jewish wedding? Short answer : Yes.

Interfaith rabbi for secular, interfaith or Jewish weddings, baby namings and funerals

Secrets to finding a wedding officiant you’ll love

Best place to get married in Philly — and the world’s best wedding dress website!