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CONTENTS FROM THE SPRING 2010 ISSUE
Read our special story from the Spring issue on Wedding Cakes, featuring a list of Vermont cake designers with large, detailed images to look at and savor. Read And Now For The Cake online here.
Cover Photograph by Justin Cash Photography
The beautiful bride on our Spring cover is Sabrina Marie Sikora.
By Howard Cohen
Congratulations, you have decided to get married. As you already know the decision to wed is not made lightly. God willing, you will live a long and happy life with your beloved.
It is often said, “Love is blind.” This could not be truer then when it comes to religious differences. Unfortunately for many couples, this love that “blinds” religious differences can be a problem when looking for a clergy person to officiate at a wedding. In this article I will explore some of the issues an interfaith marrying couple may encounter if hoping to have a rabbi perform the wedding.
Interfaith marriages represent a special challenge to the Jewish people.
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism respond to intermarriage by prohibiting their rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings, period. This is non-negotiable for them. Though some Orthodox and Conservative rabbis will meet with the couple and share their concerns and/or make a connection so as to be able to work them in the future, they still will not officiate at the wedding. Other rabbis, or their secretaries, will simply turn the couple down. To be sure, there are more or less compassionate ways for the rabbi to say no. In any case, do not be offended when an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi says no to your request: it is not personal. Renewal, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbis are empowered, however, to decide for themselves whether they will officiate at an interfaith wedding.
In short, knowing the rabbi’s affiliation before you ask if she or he is available can prevent a lot of unnecessary hurt feelings.
Assuming the rabbi contacted is not Orthodox or Conservative, there are still reasons why she or he may not agree to officiate at an interfaith wedding. A common reason is that the ceremony is scheduled for a time when weddings are traditionally prohibited, for example the Sabbath and holidays. Another reason is that the couple intends to incorporate religious symbols and language from the non-Jewish partner’s religious tradition. A third reason may be that the couple is seeking a rabbi only to make Aunt Sadie or Mom happy and they themselves do not care if they have a Jewish wedding.
And then there is co-officiating, this is when clergy members from different faiths officiate together. There are Reform and Renewal rabbis who co-officiate but Reconstructionist rabbis are prohibited from doing so. There are many reasons that are considerably less support for co-officiating, which are complex and beyond the scope of this article.
Suffice it to say, the reasons are never personal. Rabbis put a lot of thought into whether or not to officiate or co-officiate at interfaith weddings long before you call. Whether seeking a rabbi to officiate or co-officiate it is definitely possible to find someone who will do it. The key is to do a little homework and determine the rabbi’s affiliation before calling.
Howard was a congregational rabbi for 12 years here in Vermont. He left pulpit work to run a small wilderness guiding business called Burning Bush Adventures (BBA) which he started as a rabbinical student. BBA offers dog sled trips in the winter and canoeing trips in the summer. He also has a private pastoral counseling practice and does freelance rabbinic work. In his spare time he is chaplain of the Bennington Fire Department, as well as an active volunteer firefighter. Howard lives in Bennington, VT with his wife, three children and cat Daphne. He was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is a member of both the Recontructionist Rabbinical Association and Ohalah: The Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.