Archive for February, 2012

This is a series of posts informed by my experiences officiating weddings. Most of my weddings incorporate Jewish traditions – some lightly, some a lot. But others have been fashioned entirely on other faith traditions, and especially from the secular world. 

Here I am sharing some of the most common questions couples have asked me along the way of their wedding journey. 

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

I think the answer to your question lies not in what’s right for your wedding, but rather what is right for your future household. Your wedding should reflect the spirit or nature of the home you plan on creating together.

So, what kind of home do you plan on creating?

When it comes to identity, people almost never fit into the neat black-and-white depictions I will give here. But hopefully these examples shed light on the larger idea.

 You are NOT planning on having kids, and …

•    the bride goes to church regularly and the groom never goes to synagogue.

~ It sounds like your future home will be more Christian than Jewish, in terms of holiday and ritual expression, so a minister sensitive to a half-Jewish audience would make the most sense.

•    neither couple identifies as “religious.” You plan on celebrating Christmas with the Christian side and a Passover seder with the Jewish side, and that’s pretty much it.

~ It sounds like a secular ceremony (whether officiated by a rabbi or a minister) is the best reflection of your future household. The officiant’s “credential” (ie, whether “rabbi” or “minister”) won’t matter nearly so much as finding the right person. Some officiants have agendas. You need someone who can embrace a multi-faith audience.

 •    the bride cares about her Jewish heritage (though doesn’t religiously celebrate) and the groom is basically atheist.

~ Probably a rabbi is best for you, but a rabbi who will create a Jewish ceremony that emphasizes the cultural aspects of Judaism over the theistic ones. Also, she or he needs to be comfortable working in multi-faith groups (which includes “atheists” – who are their own distinct faith group with their own set of beliefs.)


The examples I have given are for a couple not intending to have children. That was intentional. When no kids are involved, it makes the conversation a little easier and more straightforward.

If you are planning on having children, the same principles apply, but the shades of gray get more complex. Your choices after all, will not only affect you as adults, but will also shape the childhood experiences of your kids, as well as have a major impact on their evolving identities.

Please see my additional post specific to raising kids in an interfaith home.

Other articles in this series:

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

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

“Can I be a secular Jew and have a ‘Jewish atheist’ wedding?”

Hiring me to officiate your wedding in metro Philly

I love to hear from readers. Please post your comments below. To inquire about my wedding services, write me directly at joysa@aol.com.


Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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This is part of a series of posts about my experiences officiating weddings. Most of my weddings are Jewish in one fashion or another. But many incorporate readings from other faith traditions, or even secular tradition.

Many of the couples I work with are devotedly “agnostic” in their beliefs (whether “Jewish” or not). They bristle at the classic hierarchical God language that so dominates traditional blessings and liturgy. Hey, no problem, here; I do too! For me, this discomfort is a bright open door inviting me to create the words that do capture my heart and soul. It is my deepest honor to be asked to do this for others too…

Here, in these posts, I am sharing some of the most common questions couples have asked me along the way of their wedding journey.

“How Can I Make My Wedding Unique, Funny or Even Funky?”

No cookie-cutter weddings here!

Wedding are supposed to be times of great joy – not somber sobriety! They’re a time to bring out the best of our traditions, but not bury ourselves in them. It IS possible to create a wedding ritual that mixes meaningful words of love with joyful, even unexpected elements that will have your guests chuckling about your wedding for years to come.

There is no “recipe” for creating a funky, unforgettable wedding. It comes about by brainstorming, thinking creatively, and most importantly of all – giving me the license to go! Once I know what you are open to a funny curve ball, I promise you, I can come up with one!

Example 1: “No God, Two Cultures, Please Make ‘Em Laugh”

Eric and Maria wanted a non-theistic wedding that was light-hearted and not overly serious. They were an “older” couple, with grown children, who each had small parts in the ceremony (playing instruments, for examples). I came up with two surprise elements in their wedding that I felt proud of:

1)    First, I read, in Spanish, a poem about love by Pablo Neruda. The bride is Spanish, and I knew her family would be watching the wedding later via YouTube, and would be delighted to suddenly hear some of the ceremony in Spanish. I practiced it for hours and think I got the accent decent enough!

2)    Then, with a little behind-the-scenes sleuthing, I dug up some dirt about the couple’s younger lives. Then, when it came time for the vows, the “repeat after me” part, I mixed in serious vows, with funny ones they totally didn’t expect.

“Repeat after me. I, Eric, promise to not get drunk and wake up naked beside the Colorado River.” {Insert riotous laughter here!}

“Repeat after me. I, Maria, promise to always make you really great mojitos” …

You get the idea. It was the best part of the ceremony!

Example 2: “No Religion, No Time To Plan, the Funkier the Better”

Claire and Collin got a sudden job offer in Europe so they had a quickie wedding with very little preparation time. But they were careful to throw in their own quirky touches in all aspects of the day.

First, my favorite, they had the groom’s sister dressed identically to all the groomsmen, and she was also called a “groomsman!” Then they had a wall of tea lights, before which we conducted the ceremony. It was gorgeous! They also had everyone pitch in. The bride’s 13-year-old sister played all the entry music on the violin; a friend sculpted the bride’s hair.

Their main ritual request was that I not use any traditional God liturgy (either Christian or Jewish). They also had an aunt and uncle whom they wanted to honor by doing a blessing or reading for them.

After giving my rabbi-ly advice on the secrets to lasting love, with quotes from the great poet Kahlil Gibran, I called up their aunt and uncle to dispense their marital advice. That advice, much to everyone’s surprise, was a spirited reading of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You Will Go!”

The audience loved it. A few days later, I received a nice note from one of the moms, Ruth, telling me that their crowd of Jews, atheists and Christians of all stripes had been touched by the ceremony. As an officiant, I couldn’t have hoped for more!

Example 3: “Christian-Jewish Interfaith … And Honor Both Religions”

My last example is a showcase of how it’s possible to do a wedding that is religious both Jewishly and Christianly, without offending either side.

For this wedding, the couple was not personally religious, but they had agreed to raise their children Jewish. Thus, they wanted a Jewish wedding and rabbi officiant. The groom’s family, however, was very devotedly Christian. While they weren’t upset about having a Jewish wedding, the groom didn’t want them to feel “left out” or to feel like they were watching some alien scene out of a movie they didn’t understand.

I’ve officiated many Jewish or Jewish-lite weddings for interfaith couples. But this was the first time I was asked to do such a wedding actively incorporating something distinctly Christian. The million dollar question was: What to incorporate without totally “crossing the wires” of the two traditions? What Christian thing could we say that was authentic to Christians, but not alienating to Jews?

After much discussion, we did two things:

1)    The mothers came up and lit a unity candle. This beautiful ritual, which symbolizes the creation of a new light by a new family, comes from Protestant tradition. But there is nothing “Jesus-specific” about it.

2)    We also included a reading from the Book of Corinthians on the nature of love. The passage, while from the New Testament, does not quote Jesus, and thus would not have made the Jewish members of the audience uncomfortable.

At virtually every interfaith wedding I have been blessed to officiate, some very old Jewish grandmother or great-grandmother comes up to me afterward with tears in her eyes, grateful that a rabbi officiated. She is, I know, scared for the fate of her grandchildren. Will they still be Jewish? Will the Jewish family lineage live on?

This wedding was the first time I also had the Christian grandmothers come up to me, crying. “Thank you,” they said, “for making our faith feel so respected. We feel so apart of this family now.”

Ah, what a joy. What an honor. I would have made my dear Christian grandmother, Zelda, of blessed memory, proud. I felt proud too.

This is why I love what I do!

I love to hear from readers. Please post your comments below. To inquire about my wedding services, write me directly at joysa@aol.com.

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