I don’t have any weddings in sight – my children are married and I’ve been married for 43 years myself. Nevertheless, I loved reading Anita Diamant’s The Jewish Wedding Now.
A revised version of The New Jewish Wedding, first published in 1985 and revised in 2001, the book conveys what seems to be a huge amount of information about Jewish wedding traditions in a warm, informal and engaging style. I learned a lot that I didn’t know, about the engagement ceremony known as tenaim, for example, or the tradition of the badchan, a joke-telling entertainer at the wedding. I highly recommend the book for anyone looking ahead to a wedding – marrying couples, their parents, their relatives.
I’m most interested of course in interfaith couples, and highly recommend The New Jewish Wedding to them and their families too, because the book clearly is written with them in mind.
Describing changes over time, Diamant says “the huppah, the wedding canopy, has become a very large tent, open to Jews of all descriptions and denominations… and people from different faith traditions. The status and validity of some of these weddings is the subject of intense debate – par for the course in all things Jewish – but this edition reflects the facts on the ground.” She explains that there is no chapter devoted to intermarrying couples because the book “is a menu for all who wish to include meaningful Jewish choices as they plan their ceremony and celebration; choices that are the same for everyone.”
That’s the overall tone Diamant takes towards interfaith couples – intermarriage is happening, interfaith couples are welcome to make the same Jewish choices as everyone. To those who say the presence of interfaith couples under the huppah is a threat to Jewish tradition, she says “the countervailing tradition of adaptability is the reason why Judaism has survived and thrived.” The addition of new faces under the huppah, she says, are “a healthy infusion of living waters, mayyim hayyim, and another chapter in a long, lively, disputatious history.”
If you stop to think about it, given that many in the Jewish community would not recognize a wedding of an interfaith couple as a Jewish wedding, it is quite remarkable that a prominent author revising a book about Jewish weddings for the third time would so matter-of-factly and explicitly help interfaith couples design their own Jewish weddings.
When I first read that there was no special chapter for interfaith couples, I was concerned, unnecessarily as it turned out, that the special considerations that interfaith couples do indeed have would not be addressed. To the contrary, in a few pages under the title “Non-Jews under the Huppah,” Diamant succinctly addresses the history of attitudes towards intermarriage, states that now “intermarriage is the communal norm” (I strongly agree), discusses some of the questions interfaith couples encounter, and says “Couples who can talk about religion before their weddings are much better prepared to handle knottier questions later on” (I strongly agree). She also addresses ways to inform relatives from different faith traditions about what will be happening, and ways to include them in the wedding ceremony. I love how she casually mentions the presence of other traditions, when she talks about including phrases written in Chinese or Hindi on wedding invitations, translations of interfaith ketubot into Spanish and Japanese, and huppot made from Scottish tartan or African textile.
I love that she talks about the phenomenon of couples having friends ordained for the day to officiate at their weddings, but gently says “you need a rabbi” to create a Jewish wedding. I love that Diamant encourages interfaith couples to find a compatible rabbi to officiate at their weddings, describing some of the rejection they may encounter and resources available to help them.
As Diamant says, debate is par for the course in all things Jewish. I don’t agree with Diamant saying that the term “interfaith is only appropriate if the non-Jewish partner has an ongoing connection to another religion and wants that tradition reflected in the wedding ceremony and in married life.” As I’ve said before, “interfaith” today doesn’t mean anything about religious practice, that couples are practicing two faiths, or one and none; it just means they come from different faith traditions. I also try not to use the term “non-Jew” because people don’t define themselves as “non’s” and would have preferred to see the admittedly ungainly phrase, “partner from a different faith tradition” throughout the book.
Moreover, a not insignificant proportion of interfaith couples are looking for rabbis to co-officiate their weddings with clergy from other religious traditions; The Jewish Wedding Now is, I believe, silent about that phenomenon. As I noted above, the book is extremely informative about Jewish wedding traditions, with parts appealing perhaps more only to those interested in more traditional ceremonies. I would have liked to see a nod to couples looking for co-officiation – something like “this is a book about Jewish weddings, not really about weddings that are conducted in Jewish and other traditions, although you can find elements of Jewish weddings in it that you might incorporate in such a wedding.”
But it’s a tribute to The Jewish Wedding Now that it would in fact be informative and helpful to the whole range of interfaith couples planning a wedding and wanting their wedding to include Jewish traditions, and it’s written in a way that makes those traditions accessible and inviting to interfaith couples.