Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Scroll down to see the most popular stories. What stories would you like me to tackle in the next year? Send me your ideas! I’d love to hear

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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.


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 spending hours upon hours for that magical 20 minutes. 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, attendance numbers don’t have much impact.

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 then 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.

I hope this helps!

Kim&Ryan3581
***
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!


To write your own wedding vows, or not to write your own vows: That is the question. About half of the couples whose weddings I have officiated have wrestled with that question. Most of them, in the end, decide not to.

What are the pros and cons of writing your own vows? What are the different ways it can be done?  This blog post strives to answer those questions, by offering some examples of successful vow exchanges I have seen.


Pros to writing your own vows:

● You get to say exactly what you want to say.

● It’s a chance to show off your fine verbal skills – and your sense of humor.

● It is sure to make half the women in the audience cry.

● It is sure to make half the men in the audience struggle really hard NOT to cry.


Cons to writing your own vows:

● It’s hard. Really hard. How do you boil down such sweeping concepts as “love” and “eternity” into the English language? That’s why we have poets. Not everyone is cut out for this work.

● It takes time. And time is one of the few things couples have before weddings. Don’t you have some centerpieces that need stuffed? And where in the world is grandma’s old blue garter belt anyway? Has that been found?

● You don’t just have to write it. You have to read it. Out loud. In public. Without making a snot-filled fool of yourself. Hey, if you can get through it, you have my endless admiration. I can never get through a wedding without losing a tear or two myself, and I’m the officiant. I’m the one person who is supposed to have it pulled together! So if you can write and deliver your vows and keep your composure while doing it, my kippah is off to ya!


Here are three different ways of writing your vows:

1)      The groom reads his words. Then the bride reads her words (or vice versa). Below is a draft of one groom’s vows to his wife, which I found particularly lovely. With his permission, I am pasting them below. The vows were kept as a surprise to the other party; I looked over them to make sure they were similar in length and tone, and made slight editing suggestions to make them “match up.”

2)      The groom and bride alternate sentences. This came off really well; the crowd was touched, and everyone laughed a lot too.

3)      The groom reads; then the bride reads. The couple planned their vows together, to play off the same words and phrases. The guests loved these vows too.


OPTION No. 1: Surprise Vows

Groom reads. Then bride reads. (Or vice versa). Only the officiant has checked their vows before the big day. Here is just what the groom wrote.

 

Example from their Jewish wedding, replete with military honor guards, at World Cafe Live:

Alanah: Two-and-a-half years ago, I asked you out for coffee, out on our first date and thankfully, you said yes. After that date, we so effortlessly became entwined in each other’s lives, it was easy to picture this day ahead.

Eighteen months ago, while on a very long distance phone call, I asked you to move with me from California all the way here to the East Coast, and thankfully, you said yes. It was a leap of faith for both of us; a fantastic storyline still unfolding.

One year ago, while on vacation in paradise, I asked you to join me up here, witnessed by our family and friends, under this chuppah we’ve since created together, to take my hand and be my wife, and thankfully, you said yes.

So now, in front of our family and friends, I have another question to ask, one that you spend the rest of our lives answering:

Will you forever be my partner in this adventure of life and lend your endless patience to help me create a loving household where mutual respect, communication and unconditional love reign over all. Will you continue to be an everlasting source of deep personal strength, the rock by my side through trying times and stay the reassuring voice of better times ahead. Will you forever be the smiling face by my side every morning, to lighten my days with the sweetness of your personality and continue to be the most genuinely kind person I’ve ever met.

Though we walked up here separately, in a few minutes you and I will take hands and walk down off this stage, and down the aisle past our family and friends, and into our future as partners, as husband and wife. I can’t wait.

 

OPTION No. 2: The Planned Back-And-Forth

(The couples exchanges one-line vows, which they clearly wrote together. Groom in bold. Bride in plain script.)

 

Example from their secular wedding at a funky nightclub in Manyunk:

Groom: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

Bride: With this ring, I promise to be your best friend

I promise to cook for you

I promise to try your cooking and bake you treats

To have family dinners every night

To ask you about your day and tell you about mine

To listen and hear your point of view

To respect you

To always be honest

To tell you how I feel

To play with your hair

To fold your socks and do the dishes

To support you in achieving your goals

To be your biggest fan

To compromise

To share my bowl of ice cream, and other things in life

To control my temper

To always say ‘I’m Sorry’

To hold you in good times and bad

To make you laugh

To let you have the window seat on the plane rides home

To take lots of pictures so we can always remember the good times

To tell you that you’re beautiful

To love you even in the moments when I don’t like you

To take care of you

To try new things

To never stop traveling the world

To be open minded

To be the best father I can be

To be the best mother I can be

To always put family first

To kiss you every morning

And tuck you in every night

I love you

I love you too

 

OPTION No. 3: The Planned Paragraph Vow

(The couples takes turns reading their half of a script, which the pair clearly wrote together. The upside is it creates and plays off of the parallel structure and promises. The downside is, neither bride nor groom is surprised in the moment.)   

 

Example from their secular Jewish wedding at Morris Arboretum:

Lauren:

Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and my hand in yours.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your thoughts, your worries, your dreams and your concerns.

I promise to look after you. When you have a knot in your back, I will kneed it. When your head has a fever, I will cool it. And when you need ice cream, I will help you eat it.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From furry and mischievous kittens to your interests and hobbies, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are. When you wake up with only breakfast on your mind, I will steer you to Kashi. When we are out of Kashi, I will make you eggs.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will give support as you seek out your goals, when you are successful and when you fall short. When you achieve your goals, I will be there to celebrate. When you do not, I will be there to comfort.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.

Stephen:

Standing with you here today, among our family and friends, I cannot wait to begin this journey into the rest of our lives, with you by my side and your hand in mine.

I promise to listen. I will listen to your zany, impossible ideas, your worries, and your dreams.

I promise to look after you. When you can’t figure out how to use our kitchen appliances, I will help you.  When you have a bad dream, I will comfort you.  And when you crave the mushroomy thing I make that you love, I will make it for you.

I promise to treasure what you treasure. From kittens, to data analysis, to moments of peace and quiet, I will help you enjoy life and experience it fully.

I promise to accept and embrace your idiosyncrasies. I will remember that our quirks make us who we are.  When you get so hungry that you forget to eat, I will bring you a snack.  When you need to double check something one more time – just to be sure – I will smile and remember that your careful nature is a wonderful part of who you are.

I promise to support you emotionally. I will be there with you as you pursue your dreams.  I will celebrate with you when you are successful, and I will comfort you when you fall short.  I will never let you forget how exceptional you are.

I promise to not take our relationship for granted. I will actively nurture ‘us’. I will continue to communicate and check-in, to keep us stronger together than we are apart.


Are you looking for a ritual officiant for the burial or memorial service of a Jewish loved one?

I am a freelance officiant of Jewish funerals and weddings. I have completed four years of rabbinical school and live in Havertown in the Mainline.

In this blog post, I will let you know what the preparation process is like. While I officiate standard traditional Jewish funerals, my largest clientele is families who are unaffiliated, have interfaith family dynamics or who want a theistically secular funeral service. In this post, I will also give you some examples of specific prayers or readings we can use in the service.

Every funeral ritual is different: As an officiant, I try to match the liturgy and content with the beliefs and wishes of the deceased as well as the sentiments of his/her loved ones. Trying to do both is possible — it just takes some time, and some conversations, to figure it out.

Many Jewish funerals include two classic pieces of Jewish liturgy: the Mourner’s Kaddish and El Male Rachamim. But today, many people favor more contemporary readings on the issues of death and grief.  For an interfaith audience, a traditional reading from the Torah (such as Psalm 23 “The Lord is My Shephard I Shall Not Want …”) works well, and is recognizable to both Jews and Christians. OR, we can substitute biblical readings with selections that are less theistic in nature, such as an excerpt from the beautiful poem by Marge Piercy called The Seven of Pentacles.

We figure out what readings or liturgy are best to include, based on the conversations I have with immediate family members and friends.

During the memorial service, I love to include one to three guests, who come up during the service and offer a few thoughts or memories about the loved one. We can also include and “open mic” situation, where we open up the floor to any of the guests present for some impromptu memory-sharing.

I also love to include a short eulogy where I share highlights of the person’s life, her loves and interests, and what she will be most remembered for. Prior to my rabbinic life, I worked as a professional journalist for 15 years; this autobiographical information I glean from family members during interviews, and write into a eulogy that I hope captures the spirit and life of the person who died.

So how, exactly, does all of this happen? The process for funeral service planning is the following:

1) An initial phone call to get acquainted and confirm the schedule.

2) If you live in the Mainline, an in-person meeting with one or two family members who knew the deceased really well. We will meet for about 1 hour in your home, and discuss what kind of service you would like, as well as share details about who the deceased was as a person.

3) If you live outside the Mainline, this planning meeting can be done via conference call.

4) Ask you to find out the deceased person’s Hebrew name. You might need to make calls to your extended family to find this out. It might also be recorded on a ketubah. A person’s Hebrew name is usually used during the memorial service.

5) Meet ½ an hour before the service begins to go over any final details or questions.

6) The service itself is usually held at the funeral home. If internment is going to take place, the service is usually followed by a much shorter graveside service, with just immediate family members attending.

If you are on a tight schedule planning your funeral, and wish to contact me, please send me an email, as well as phone call. (I have several small children at home, so I’m not always deeply attuned to all of my technological gadgets!)

They are: joysa@aol.com,  (c) 267-902-7752.

May strength, comfort and peace be with you and your family in this difficult time.

+++

Another article I wrote on this topic can be found here: http://wanderinghebrew.com/2012/08/15/planning-a-jewish-funeral-in-philly-101-what-you-need-to-know/


Honoring the death of a person who was difficult to love

- A combo memorial service / shiva minyan can help you do so

 A few weeks ago, I had the complicated privilege of helping a family plan a memorial/shiva service for their father, who had died after a long illness, and after an even longer period of pain of estrangement from his four adult children, their spouses, and his grandchildren.

“Andy,” as I will call him, was a complicated persotombstonen, which is why I described my job, as the rabbi, to be “complicated.”

Andy was in his 80s and was hard to get along with, perhaps even abusive at times to his children. He played favorites in a way that the adult children had learned to cope with, but which had surely created much pain and heartache when they were younger and less mature. Andy had divorced his kids’ mother and she had no interest in attending any kind of memorial. None of the women he had dated since  the divorce cared to attend any kind of service either. It appears he had no friends.

Jewish burial practices were clearly made with a different kind of person in mind. Jews and non-Jews alike, including the world of psychiatric research, has a great deal of admiration for the way Jewish tradition handles end-of-life mourning practices. People have written many books about the wisdom of Jewish mourning traditions, and how they seem designed to gradually lead the survivors through the stages of mourning, and eventually back into the world of the living.

I agree. They are brilliant. And I encourage Jews who never do more Jewishly in their lives than appear at Kol Nidre services to take the time to familiarize themselves with the Jewish ways of mourning when a loved one dies. Together, they betray a keen awareness of how we humans process loss, and how marking intervals of time over this mourning process with specific rituals and prayers can help us move through our grief.

I won’t go into the various elements now – you can read them many places. Rather, what I would like to talk about here are those deaths that we feel a need or desire to ritually acknowledge in some way, but for a variety of reasons, the Jewish script on how to do so doesn’t fit quite right.

• The death of someone who is very old, and thus leaves few survivors, is one whole category of cases where classical Jewish mourning practices don’t entirely make sense.

• The death of someone who was, essentially, a hard person to love, is another important category. This is the situation “Andy’s” family found themselves in.

In a “typical” death of a beloved, Jewish tradition kicks in with a set of clearly prescribed actions:

1.         Call the funeral home.
2.         Plan for either a burial or cremation.
(40% of Jews today are being cremated; it’s the hush-hush secret no on talks about.)
3.         Schedule a date and plan on 100+ people coming to the funeral home for a service inside the funeral home.
4.         A portion of those mourners will then drive to the graveside, where thtexte rabbi will read a few more psalms or poems, and conclude with the mourner’s kaddish. The final act is the throwing of dirt on the casket or the urn that is being buried. You can assume steps 1-4 will take about 5 hours out of your day, much of it in travel time, since the funeral homes and the burial grounds are often located very far apart. In Philly, most of them are located in the far outskirts of the city.
5.         Then comes shiva. Traditionally, it is 7 nights, but most families outside Orthodoxy observe only 1 or 2 nights. The rabbi who led the funeral usually leads the shiva as well, unless you have an educated friend or family member who can lead the service. (This is one way of saving some money, if that is an issue.)
6.         Then, about 6 months after the death, immediate family members gather graveside for the unveiling of the tombstone. This is a brief ceremony, 15 minutes tops, but people often have lunch together afterward. Due to travel time, this often takes another 3-4 hours.

The average cost for all this (assuming a burial and not a cremation) is $35,000, according to national statistics. The rabbi makes a miniscule fraction of this sum, by the way. In Philadelphia, the fixed rate for a funeral is $545 for the rabbi; shiva minyans and tombstone unveilings are negotiated separately, and vary depending on travel time.

At the end of the day, this “whole big megilla” of a traditional Jewish burial is a whole lot of money. It’s especially a lot of money if you suspect few people will even attend the funeral, the graveside, or a shiva, either because the deceased had outlived his social circle, or because the deceased was that sort of person who was simply hard to love.

But put aside all financial considerations for a moment and just think about the emotional ones. Do you want to invest 10 or 15 hours of your life memorializing someone who, despite their kinship, caused you deep grief or heartache? How much time do you want to spend formally mourning a person who caused you to spend years of your life on a therapist’s couch?

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say: Probably not much.

But that also doesn’t mean you don’t want to do nothing at all, either.

A memorial service, however it is done, is for the living, not for the dead. So first and foremost, it needs to meet the needs of the immediate mourners. The many layered, time-consuming, expensive rituals usually done upon the death of a beloved was not what Andy’s family needed.

Although the death of a difficult family member, like Andy, is a different kind of loss than the death of someone close, but it is still very much a loss. Sometimes, quixotically, it can be an even harder loss because it can bring up all sorts of feels of regret, thoughts of “if only…” and “what if…”

The death of a person with whom you had a broken relationship means this relationship can NEVER be repaired. It likely couldn’t have been repaired by any means, because the man who died was himself too broken of a person, but the survivor is left with the shards of this broken vessel for the remainder of their days, and they need to make peace with it.

Having a brief, perhaps in-home memorial service with just immediate family members can be one way of helping them do that.

Andy’s surviving children and spouses were an incredibly wise bunch. They had already figured out, long before calling me, that doing the traditional Jewish funeral rites was not what they needed. It would have been, to put it bluntly, overkill. But they did instintively know that they needed to come together as a family, and in some way mark the passing of this person who had, for better and for worse, made such an enormous impact on their lives.

They were so right. So, working together, here is what we did. I think of it as a Jewish funeral/shiva combo. It was inexpensive; it was respectful; and it served its purpose of helping the mourners mark the loss of their father, that they might now move forward to this new phase in their lives.

 A Combined Home Memorial  / Shiva Minyan Service

(in lieu of the traditional memorial service at funeral home/graveside service/
and then shiva minyans)

Timing: Andy had died and been cremated about one month earlier. An in-home memorial was planned for a few weeks after his death to give relativmosaices from out of town time to buy plane tickets at a reasonable price and prepare time off from work and school (in the case of the grandchildren).

Location: At the home of one of Andy’s daughters in the Mainline PA.

Time: Late morning or early afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday seemed to make the most sense. This minimized impact on their own work/school lives, while also making it possible to follow the home memorial with a meal together, which they had at a restaurant. (I led the service, but did not join them at the meal).

In Attendance:  Four surviving daughters, their four spouses, and all but one of the grandchildren (the missing grandchild was in college and had only met his grandfather once, so in his case, it didn’t seem to make sense that he would incur the cost and headache of missed collegiate work.)

 A Sample Service:

We sat in chairs in a circle in the living room, where we could all face each other.

Rabbi: I began with a favorite reading from Albert Einstein, where he reflects on the meaning of life. I concluded by saying:

“Thank you to all of you who have come here today, to stand in comfort and support of the Smith family, as they mourn the passage of their father, father-in-law and grandfather, Andy Smith. Please turn to page 4a.

 Rise for the Shema

Rabbi: Read a brief writing from Chaim Stern

Volunteer Reader: Reads an English rendition of Ma’ariv Aravim

Everyone: Recite the Shema together

Volunteer Reader: Read an English rendition of V’ahavta

Rabbi: “There are times when each of us feels lost or alone, adrift and forsaken, unable to reach those next to us, or to be reached by them. And there are days and nights when existence seems to lack all purpose, and our lives seem brief sparks in an indifferent cosmos. Fear and loneliness enter into the soul. None of us is immune from doubt and fear; none escapes times when all seems dark and senseless. Then, the ebb-tide of the spirit, the soul cries out and reaches for companionship.”

Please turn to 13a as we rise and recite together the first three blessings of the psalmnatureAmidah. For the 15 remaining blessings, I invite you to recite them silently, or simply take this time for quiet personal reflection.

 Group: Recites the Amidah (Also called “The Tefillah”)

 Conclude the Amidah by singing together “Oseh Shalom”

Rabbi: Shares a reading from Marge Piercy

Rabbi: Shares some highlights from Andy Smith’s life: where he was born, raised, what kind of work he did. Mention his strengths and those things he did well in life.

Then open the circle to anyone else who would like to share some memories
Three members of the family shared some brief positive memories they had of Andy.

Volunteer Reader: The circle closed with a recitation of the poem by Albert Fine: “Death is a Beginning, Death is a Destination.” (The poem had been suggested by one of the daughters; she had heard it at other funerals and liked it.)

Rabbi: Sings/Chants El Malei Rachamim – a mournful prayer in which we ask that the soul of the departed carry on into the next world on the wings of angels.

Rabbi: Leads the concluding Mourner’s Kaddish.

 *   *   *

Shavuot: Let's keep it the harvest holiday it was originally meant to be!

This is just one of many ways a combined at-home memorial / shiva service can be conducted. The readings and content was selected after speaking with the family members. All in all, the service lasted about 40 minutes.

Every death is different. The needs of the mourners will be different for any family. To discuss what kind of service might meet the needs of your family, please give me a call. There is never any charge for a consultation, and if I feel I am not able to meet the needs of your family – for whatever reason – I am happy to help you find someone who will.

Every death, even the most difficult one, deserves to be honored and recognized in some way. Working together, we can make this happen for you. I have formal training across the non-Orthodox spectrum: Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal and Secular-Humanist. We can craft a ceremony that honors your theistic beliefs, and those of the deceased.

Please call both my numbers, and my email, if you are trying to schedule a memorial/shiva. I’m not always checking my electronic devices, so try all three. My name is Joysa and my numbers are 610-642-2420. Cell 267-902-7752. Email: joysa@aol.com