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Vale: How many rabbis does it take to perform a wedding?

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How many rabbis does it take to perform a marriage ceremony? The question may sound like a take-off on the old light bulb joke. But if you’ve ever been to an Orthodox wedding, you may have noticed a lot of beards under the huppah.

While technically anyone can play a role in the nuptials, it is common for religious families to give such honours to rabbis they are connected with through their shuls, children’s schools or other institutions. There can be a different one for each of the seven Sheva Brachot, plus two witnesses each for the ketubbah, the ceremony and the seclusion after the huppah, as well one to read the ketubbah.

The one participant who must be a rabbi is the officiant. That’s both according to Jewish tradition and provincial law. I have had the privilege of doing this at many weddings. On some occasions, it was a result of my association with the family. At other times, it was because I was the “house rabbi” at a shul’s catering hall.

In one situation, even though there were other rabbis who were closer to the couple and their families, I was asked to assume the role when they realized that everyone else was either from outside of Ontario, or not licenced to perform marriages here.

As the licence was being signed, I realized that it was very fortuitous that I should be doing this. I turned to the groom and bride and their witnesses – the bride’s sister and her husband – and pointed out to them that I had gone to high school with one of their parents and  that my wife had gone to high school with a different parent and to university with a third one.

What are the odds of that happening? Each of us had gone our separate ways after our schooling was complete, but Divine Providence had brought us back to each other.

There’s more to the story: none of them were observant back in those days. One wasn’t even Jewish. Over the decades, that person converted and another became fully observant. All of them now have children who are living rich Jewish lives.

Much is written in the pages of this newspaper and other publications, including in my column, about assimilation and the rapidly shrinking Jewish population. It is a grave issue that must be taken seriously. At the same time, my encounter with this wedding party was a reminder that there are always individuals who voluntarily join the Jewish people and others who come back to traditional observance. The decisions that these particular people made earlier in their lives not only enriched their own lives, but those of future generations, as well. They are an inspiration for us all.

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