a flowery wedding canopy at sunset by the beach
A huppah awaits the wedding couple at a site on the Mediterranean Sea in central Israel. (Photo/JTA-Mendy Hechtman-Flash90)

Creating an interfaith wedding inspired by Jewish tradition

Dear Dawn: I am Jewish and planning my wedding to a non-Jewish man. I have not been very involved in Judaism since my bat mitzvah almost 20 years ago. I don’t want to have a rabbi, but I want to have Jewish accoutrements at my ceremony. My fiancé is open to whatever I want. I want to include his parents if I can. I want his non-Jewish family to be comfortable. What advice can you give me about deciding what to include? — Bride-to-Be

Dear Bride: Mazel tov on your coming celebration! It should be quite easy to get what you want. First you need to decide which elements of a Jewish wedding you want. I suggest you get a Jewish wedding book and read through the various traditional elements. For three that do a good job of covering the topic, visit the Building Jewish Bridges website at tinyurl.com/bjb-3books, and pick the ones that you would like.

A Christian bride told me that she read “Celebrating Interfaith Marriage” by Rabbi Devon Lerner and found that the Jewish traditions met all her needs. Go over the ideas with your partner and see which ones speak to him.

Most Jews, if they want anything Jewish at their wedding, want to break the glass. The symbolism of a groom (and/or bride) smashing a glass underfoot has a number of explanations. The dominant one, which originates from the Talmud, is that even in times of joy we must remember there is sorrow. For more details on this ritual, check out My Jewish Learning at tinyurl.com/mjl-glass.

No matter the meaning you attach, it is certainly the climatic bang at the end of the ceremony. You can pick your own glass for the smashing, or you can buy a kit that includes a fragile glass and items to have the broken glass shards made into a piece of art that you can keep. (P.S. Do not select a sturdy glass unless you are trying to injure the stomper.)

You could get a ketubah (a wedding contract). There are all different kinds available online and they make lovely art for your home after the wedding.

The traditional chuppah (wedding canopy) has been borrowed by many non-Jews in the form of an arch or arbor under which the wedding takes place. The nice thing about having a chuppah that is held up by four poles is that you can give four friends the honor of holding a pole. If your canopy is stationary, you can have four loved ones simply stand at the four corners.

I love the tradition of having both sets of parents walking their own child down the aisle, instead of just the bride’s father. It symbolizes the joining of two families — which indeed a wedding does. Also, all four parents get to be a part of the ceremony, not just the bride’s father.

Once you’ve decided on the Jewish elements you want, I suggest you print up a small handout naming, describing and explaining each of them for your guests. Include the names of the people performing the various acts (as that will help guests identify what is happening). This is similar to a bar or bat mitzvah and is very helpful for anyone for whom these traditions are unfamiliar.

Also, Bride-to-Be, I want to point out to you that you are exhibiting a common behavior.

Many Jews, while they may not be practicing Judaism, hold onto their Jewish identity and feel the desire to bring Judaism into significant moments in their lives.

Please be aware that this often happens when a couple discusses having a child, but even more so when the child arrives. A parent who thought they didn’t care about their child’s religious identity can suddenly want their new baby to be Jewish.

I urge you to take your fiancé to a basic Judaism class so he can see you in your Jewish milieu, gain a basic understanding of Judaism and see how you respond to the teachings. You’ll both be better informed.

Please share with your fiancé that either of you may be struck with the desire to introduce your childhood rituals to your as yet unborn child. It is best to be somewhat prepared for further discussions of your home’s traditions and your child’s identity.

I’ve had this conversation with hundreds of people and I’m happy to speak with you two.

You can read more about Jewish wedding traditions used in interfaith weddings on the Building Jewish Bridges website.

Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to dawn@buildingjewishbridges.org.