Crossposted to Jewschool.
How did the creation of this new blog, JTA’s The Life Cyclist, pass me by?
At The Life Cyclist, Dasee Berkowitz (full disclosure–I know her) writes:
As a Jewish life cycle consultant who guides couples and families toward creating meaningful ceremonies, I am presented with all sorts of creative, sometimes puzzling requests from couples planning their weddings.
One client had a particularly interesting request — a Jewish wedding ceremony that left God out of it.
Apparently, the couple in question are scientists–which Dasee informs us of as though that should explain why they’re atheists, reinforcing a dichotomy I’m far from comfortable with. The point is, the are atheists, but they both feel connected to their Jewish heritage. They want a Jewish wedding, but they want God to stay out of it.
Their request made me wonder: While adapting a Jewish life cycle event to reflect a couples’ lived values makes the event meaningful for them, does altering it by leaving God out undermine what makes it Jewish in the first place?
Maybe this an obvious question to many, but to me it seems odd. Is the presence of God in a wedding ceremony what makes it Jewish? Obviously, that can’t be the only thing that makes it Jewish. Many wedding ceremonies involving non-Jews include God. So that must not be Berkowitz’s point.
I’d argue that what makes a Jewish wedding Jewish is a commitment on the part of the two people being joined to keep a Jewish household and raise Jewish children. Of course, that can’t be the whole purpose either. Lots of groups have weddings in which it is assumed or required that the happy couple will raise children in whatever tradition that group has. What gives a Jewish wedding its Jewish character and content is treating it like a legal arrangement.
As a liberal, modernist Jew, I wouldn’t want my wedding’s legal content to be my acquisition of my wife from her family. However, the ceremony’s legal character is still important to me. I would treat it, as I think many do these days, as a mutually binding contract in which my wife and would acquire each other, so to speak.
In thinking about the content and character of Jewish wedding, God is far from my mind. In the Torah, God has nothing to say about weddings or marriage. Marriage in the Torah is a human construction. God expects us to marry, Genesis suggests, but we arrange the marriages ourselves. Unlike a ritual like prayer, where God is inherent, the wedding ceremony seems to employ God only as part of a Jewish ritual idiom. God appears not as God, but as part of our dominant idiom.
Would a Jewish wedding still be Jewish wedding without God? I think so.