Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What traditions are part of a Jewish wedding?
Jewish weddings are simple, and include several basic rituals, which I describe below. You may choose to add readings, music, or other elements, or you may want to just stick to these basics, which offer you many opportunities to personalize the ceremony.
- The ketubah records your promises to one another: The ketubah -- which means "written" in Hebrew -- contains the promises upon which you base your marriage. You may choose to incorporate other elements, such as values upon which you base your relationship, hopes for your future, or quotes that you find meaningful. Most modern ketubahs are works of art; they often have designs or pictures surrounding the text. There are numerous options for creating ketubahs, and I will be glad to share more information with you about this. Many couples hang their ketubah in their home as a reminder of their commitment to one another.
The ketubah is usually signed shortly before the wedding ceremony. The signers are two friends of your choice who serve as witnesses, plus the couple and the rabbi. Some couples choose to include the signing of the ketubah in the ceremony itself. The wedding couple or the officiant reads the ketubah aloud during the wedding ceremony so the guests can hear the promises on which your marriage is based.
- The chuppah creates the special or sacred space for your ceremony: The chuppah -- which means "canopy" in Hebrew -- is the covering beneath which your ceremony takes place, made of a cloth supported by four poles. It has a number of symbolisms, including that of the home you create together.
You may make your own chuppah, have friends or family members make it, or rent it from a Judaica store, wedding venue, or florist. Your choice of what to use for your chuppah is one of many ways you can personalize your ceremony. For example, you might incorporate symbols of your heritages, heirlooms from family members, or decorations created by friends and family.
- The rings serve as physical symbols of your commitment: As you and your partner give one another rings, each of you will make a brief declaration stating that, in addition to your commitment, the ring symbolizes the uniqueness of your relationship, which is different from that you have with anyone else. I will share with you the traditional versions of this statement, and we can adapt it as necessary so that it represents your relationship and values.
- The seven blessings heap good wishes upon your union: After your ketubah is signed and read aloud, and you have exchanged rings, we celebrate your marriage with blessings. There are seven traditional blessings that the officiant or friends and family read aloud in English, and often in Hebrew as well.
The blessings express gratitude and good wishes for your relationship, and for the broader context of the world and humanity that makes your relationship possible. Their themes include the gloriousness of creation, the unique potential of each human being, the importance of family and community, and the hope for harmony in the world. The blessings conclude with expressions of joy in your relationship and your wedding.
The traditional blessings are ancient, and written in Hebrew. There are a variety of English interpretations, and I will help you find or will compose versions appropriate for your relationship and values.
- The breaking of the glass celebrates the completion of the ceremony: It is traditionally followed by guests calling out, "Mazel tov!", which means "good fortune" in Hebrew and Yiddish and is the equivalent of "Congratulations!" Traditionally, the man broke the glass; today, some couples break the glass together. The glass is wrapped in cloth to avoid injury as well as scattering its shards.
There are numerous interpretations of this ritual. The most traditional is that it is a reminder of the brokenness in the world, and that even at this moment of joy, it is important to be mindful of the need to bring joy to those broken places. I will share a variety of meanings with you so at the ceremony I can offer one or more that ring true for you.
Q: Many of the people at the wedding won't be Jewish. Will there be lots of Hebrew? Will they understand the ceremony and its meaning?
I always include explanations so all the guests at a wedding ceremony will understand its meaning. Whether guests are Jewish or not, most people don't know the symbolism in a wedding, and it's also important that the guests know what it represents in your ceremony! I translate the Hebrew that's part of the ceremony, and will use more or less of the traditional Hebrew depending on your values and preferences.
Q: How long do Jewish weddings usually last?
The length of your wedding ceremony will vary depending on the choices you make, such as about which of a few optional, additional rituals you include, whether you invite friends or family to participate, and whether you add elements such as music or special readings. The basic ceremony, without additions, usually lasts about 25 minutes.
Q: What is the difference between a Jewish wedding and an interfaith wedding?
I use the term "interfaith wedding" because it's the one most people are familiar with. However, many weddings between someone who is Jewish and someone who is not are not actually "interfaith," since the person who is not Jewish often is not part of any other faith. And, in weddings In which both members of the couple are Jewish, their attitudes towards topics such as Judaism, Jewish tradition and culture, ritual, and God may be quite different from one another.
In other words, my experience is that each wedding couple is unique and there is no one answer to this question. I help the couple to explore the variety of rituals that can be part of a Jewish wedding ceremony, the meanings behind them, the many ways you can personalize the ceremony, and how these options relate to your relationship and values. Based on these explorations, and with your input, I craft a Jewish wedding ceremony that represents and celebrates you and your relationship.
Q: Why is it that many rabbis will not officiate at interfaith weddings?
There are a number of different reasons, depending on the individual rabbi and the denomination of Judaism to which he or she belongs. The Orthodox and Conservative movements do not allow rabbis who belong to those movements to officiate at weddings between Jews and non-Jews.
Below are the reasons that other rabbis most frequently give. While these do not represent my beliefs, I do want to make this information available to you. Rabbis may believe that:
- Jews marrying non-Jews is part of a process of assimilation that diminishes the meaning of Jewish tradition, and leads to there being fewer Jews who are involved in Jewish life, and fewer families who bring their children up as Jews. Therefore, Jewish leaders should discourage intermarriage, and should not take part in these rituals that cause the Jewish population and the community of involved Jews to shrink.
- Jewish weddings have developed within the system of Jewish tradition, to lead to the establishment of a Jewish home and family, which can only be created by Jews. Therefore, it is a contradiction to hold a Jewish wedding ceremony for the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew.
- Anyone who chooses to become a Jew can do so. Removing the distinctions between those who are Jewish and those who are not, such as by officiating at intermarriages, fails to show respect for these differences, and for those who make the choice to enter the Jewish community as Jews.
Q: On what days and at what times do you officiate at weddings?
I officiate at any time that I am available except for Friday evenings, Saturdays during the daytime, and Jewish holidays. I do officiate on Saturday evenings. The reason I do not officiate on Friday evenings and Saturdays is that Jewish tradition invites us to set this time aside for rest and renewal. It is the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat -- the Hebrew literally means "stop." I find this to be a meaningful practice, especially in our fast-paced, be-available-24-hour/day culture.
Q: In what areas do you officiate? Will you travel outside your area to do so?
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California and generally officiate at weddings in this area. You can find a more specific list of locations here. If you are not sure whether or not I would be able travel to the location in which you plan to get married, please ask!
Q: What if we live out of town or for other reasons are not able to meet with you in person?
We can have some or all of our meetings using an Internet conferencing service, as I have done with many couples.
Q: What is your fee or honorarium?
The honorarium for my services as your officiant is $1,000. When applicable, travel expenses outside of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area and lodging are paid for by the wedding couple. The honorarium includes the meetings, plus phone and email communications, during which we plan and prepare for your wedding ceremony, plus my presence at and leading of the ceremony itself.
In order to secure my commitment for your wedding, a 50% non-refundable deposit is required, with the remainder of the honorarium due any time before the wedding ceremony.
Q: Where and how do we obtain our marriage license?
You obtain your marriage license prior to your wedding at the office of the county clerk in any county in California. You must bring it to your wedding ceremony, where it will be signed by two witnesses of your choice. Following your wedding, I will complete your license and return it to the clerk's office. You can obtain your copy of it after your marriage has been legally registered. Same-sex marriages are legal in California; if yours is a same-sex wedding there is no difference in this procedure. More on California marriage licenses ›