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Making nuptials meaningful

Rabbi 2 Rabbi

Despite ample opportunity for customization, many couples opt for a traditional wedding ceremony that links them to generations past, present and future

Rabbi Adam Cutler

Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto

Rabbi Adam Scheier

Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, Montreal

Rabbi Scheier: At rabbinic conferences, I find that the most practical and interesting sessions are when rabbis share “best practices” regarding lifecycle events. Since we’re now in the thick of the summer wedding season I wanted to exchange on the topic with you.

What are some ways you attempt to add meaning or personalization to the wedding ceremony? Are there tips you offer to couples to ensure they feel connected to, and invested in, the rituals of their wedding?

Rabbi Cutler: When I first meet with a couple, usually six months before their wedding, I tell them that there are some elements of the ceremony that I must do to be in compliance with provincial regulations (i.e., signing the register and license), some elements that have to happen in conformance with Halachah (the ketubah, the giving of a valuable object, the recitation of specific words, etc.) and some elements that are traditional, though not strictly required (among them the veil and circling under the chupah). Still, I let the couple know that I want to make the wedding meaningful to them, and that there are many opportunities for personalization (beyond the processional musical selections).

Many couples have included friends and family in the recitation of the Sheva Brachot and other shared words. One couple chose to circle the whole room before going under the chupah, indicating that everyone present was part of the home they were going to build together. As well, I always encourage the bride to choose her own verse to recite when she gifts the groom his ring. And I encourage the couple to produce a guide for the attendees explaining the various rituals of the Jewish wedding.

Still, despite the ample opportunity for customization, my experience has been that most couples choose to have a very traditional ceremony. Reflecting back on my own wedding – Debra and I are celebrating 10 years – for me the power of the celebration was not in how we modified a pre-existing ritual to make it our own. Rather, I found beauty in linking myself to generations past, present and future in action and word.

How do you excite couples for the ceremony? For what other lifecycle events do you have best practices?

Rabbi Scheier: Mazal tov on your anniversary!

I, too, have found that, within the context of the traditional wedding ceremony, there are many moments for personalization and added meaning. For example, under the chupah, two cups of wine are imbibed, so I encourage brides and grooms to use goblets that carry special meaning for them. Some have brought a father’s or grandfather’s kiddush cup. Many couples also choose to utilize material from a grandparent’s tallit for the chupah. At a recent wedding, the couple constructed their chupah from a blanket smuggled out of prewar Europe by a great-grandparent.

Sometimes, I will find a moment to be alone with the bride, groom, and their parents right before the ceremony begins. I explain that the bride and groom have benefited so much from their parents’ blessings leading up to this moment, and the blessings will certainly continue. However, this will be the final time the parents will bless their children before their marriage. I find that emphasizing the abrupt conclusion of one stage of life and the joyous beginning of another creates a beautiful moment to articulate the values that connect generations.

Rabbi Cutler: I try to spend time with the couple, especially if they are people I don’t yet know very well. While there can sometimes be a lot of logistical questions to work through, it is important to me to learn about them as individuals and as a couple. Sometimes, to further the process along, I ask the couple to write a few paragraphs about what made them fall in love with their future spouse. Sometimes I’ll use their words under the chupah.

Finally, it is important to me to never repeat a wedding speech. I always make a point of drawing on something from the week’s parshah, something connected to the names of the couple or otherwise relevant to them or the time of year. I hope that in so doing, I help make the ceremony unique for them.

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