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July 9, 2018 by

Four Things Rabbis Should Stop Saying at Weddings

Here we are, in the grip of another Wedding Season. Perhaps you’re a perpetual bridesmaid, or the one getting married, or you’re not particularly into marriage as a life choice for yourself.

Maybe you’re going to a wedding every weekend until the end of time (or Labor Day). As we descend further into the madness of tulle, plus-ones, and open bars, let’s review some things you’re basically guaranteed to find at Jewish weddings: aggressive dancing (ask me about incurring my stiletto related injury), which usually involves the couple being hoisted into the air on chairs while they pretend not to be afraid of falling, people shouting “Mazel Tov!,” and of course, a rabbi.

I spoke to a handful of serial wedding guests, and here are four things people told me they would be happy to never hear from a rabbi at a wedding ever again.

The assumption that children will be a part of the couple’s life

Look, maybe it’s in the ketubah or the couple told you they want kids during premarital counseling. Fine. But there’s literally no reason to bring this up during the wedding, especially if the couple hasn’t specifically requested that you talk about in front of their friends and family. Maybe they don’t want kids, or they already know getting pregnant is going to be a challenge, or they just aren’t sure. No matter what, they’re already feeling communal and familial pressure and you don’t need to make things worse.

Sexist ‘jokes’

“Make sure you step really hard on that glass, because it’s last time you’re going to put your foot down!” 

“The only four words that matter from now on: “Yes, dear,” and “I’m sorry.”

If you aren’t laughing, it’s because neither of these alleged “jokes” are funny, but that definitely doesn’t stop (usually male) rabbis at Jewish wedding involving heterosexual couples from using them, and a litany of others. (I’m not saying this sort of thing doesn’t happen at queer weddings, or that women rabbis don’t make these comments, but let’s just say that it’s more likely to occur when the rabbi is a cis dude and the couple is straight.) If material such as this— vintage sexist statements about how women are domineering hags who just realize their full potential for shrewry once there’s a ring on their finger— exists in your rabbinic repertoire, do us all a favor: set it on fire, and never look back.

Anything that indicates you met the couple 10 minutes (or less) ago

We are all very busy. However, if officiating weddings is part of your job, please don’t recite a generic litany that cues the audience into the fact that you don’t know anything about the couple you’re marrying, or that you didn’t take the time to weave a meaningful narrative about them. It’s not only cringe-worthy to listen to about how Jonathan thinks Rachel is pretty and Rachel is enamored of Jonathan because he is nice, but it’s a bummer for the couple who is trusting you to make this ceremony special and intimate for them.

Anything that indicates that you think this is an opportunity for you to put on a show

“There are rabbis who decide that this is a time for a sermon/performance,” said E (who has a lot of “save the date magnets” for weddings on her fridge, so you know she’s not messing around).  It’s true that officiating a wedding well does mean being a good orator, which means striking a balance between relaying information/moving things along/making sure the couple feels like you care about them as individuals and as people who are choosing to do this marriage thing together. But it’s not the time to show off your obscure knowledge of the talmudic significance of the date, or any other fascinating facts you can and should save for cocktail hour.

Your job is to facilitate what is supposed to be a meaningful experience for the couple and the other people who showed up.

And with that final admonishment, enjoy a summer of eating, drinking and being merry (or married)!

 

 

 

 

 


  • MarisaH

    I was once at a wedding on Lag B’Omer where the rabbi described being single as “wandering in the desert” and getting married as “entering the promised land.” NOPE. That reinforced ideas about single people being less than / incomplete that I found really offensive.

    • Bobby5000

      There is a chef who asked to make a dish different than that on the menu, said if you don’t like my food don’t come to my restaurant. The same with religious marriage. Consistent with Jewish tradition, the Rabbi is entitled to speak about the virtues of marriage and having children.

      I do agree with other criticism. There are off-handed comments made, sometimes in poor taste. Jewish marriage celebrates equality so comments about women are appropriately made.

  • Rabbi Denise Eger

    While this rabbi agrees with the author that those officiating should refrain from sexist comments the author gets several things wrong about what a Jewish wedding is about. The couple is important after all it is their day and he holy moment of transition that marks the beginning of the family. And every officiant should spend time with the couple getting to know them and this is why a rabbi or cantor is critical not Aunt Sally or my friend from business school officiating: premarital counseling. A rabbi or cantor ought to require each couple to engage in thoughtful reflection about issues that will confront them as they enter into married life: how they argue; how they handle finances; sexual compatibility issues, if children are in their future, in laws, the religious and spiritual life of their home and family;their dreams and expectations which surprisingly many couples haven’t talked about.

    But what this author really gets wrong is that the wedding in a Jewish context has other aims than the couple. And that is a religious and holy transformation of their family. It is also about God and the Jewish people. And a wedding homily or message is a chance to learn Torah and to relate it to the Torah of their lives together. The Jewish wedding traditions of chupah and Ketubah and breaking the glass have profound religious and spiritual meanings and the rabbi and cantor have an obligation to our tradition to help all attending understand and most especially the couple understand their radical and profound meanings in our day and time.

    • Tamtzit

      I agree. It would be nice, in articles of this kind, to write about what, ideally, a rabbi can bring to the occasion.

    • Bobby5000

      Great job, rabbi.