Amidst all the attention being paid to the upcoming wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky - who's attending, what will she wear? -- many people of faith are wondering about the ceremony itself. Will it be non-religious, officiated by a judge? Or will it reflect Chelsea's Methodist background, Marc's Jewish tradition, or, perhaps, elements of both?
Nowhere have these questions generated more buzz than in the Jewish community. Though Jews comprise, by most estimates, less than 2 percent of the US population, the old adage "Two Jews, three opinions" accurately represents the community's conflicting opinions on intermarriage. Some view intermarriage negatively, feeling that it causes Jews to leave the faith; others see it as an opportunity for the community to grow and be enriched.
Of course, a tight veil of privacy surrounds the high-profile wedding. We're beginning to catch a glimpse of the guest list, but there's still no word on what the ceremony will be like or who will officiate -- a judge, a minister, a rabbi, or some combination. In the Jewish community, controversy surrounds rabbinic officiation at weddings for interfaith couples: Not all denominations of Judaism permit their rabbis to do so, and some rabbis who are permitted still choose not to. But officiation aside, what would the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding look like if the couple chose to incorporate elements of Jewish tradition?
The many unique elements of a traditional Jewish wedding all have purposes that infuse the ceremony with meaning -- and nearly every aspect of a traditional Jewish wedding can be adapted to suit interfaith couples. We might see a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, and hear a blessing over wine and seven blessings for the bride and groom. And after the ceremony, the couple might have yichud, some time alone together.
Perhaps the most common Jewish wedding tradition is the "breaking of the glass." Historically, only the groom broke the glass; today, some couples carry out this tradition together as guests yell "Mazel tov!," the Yiddish equivalent of "Congratulations!" There are countless interpretations for this tradition -- one favorite is that it reminds the couple that life is so fragile they should enjoy every day.
Equally common is the wedding ring -- or nowadays, wedding rings. Traditionally, a Jewish marriage occurred when the groom gave the bride a ring and recited a prescribed Hebrew statement. Today interfaith couples typically exchange rings, often quoting a Biblical phrase from the Song of Songs: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
If you see pictures of the happy couple standing under a cloth canopy held up by four poles, that's a Jewish tradition, too. The huppah, or wedding canopy, on poles held up by friends or decorated with flowers, symbolizes the new home the couple will create. Interfaith couples sometimes personalize this tradition by fashioning the huppah from a special tablecloth or wedding veil from the family of the partner who is not Jewish.
Also common at traditional Jewish weddings is "circling," when the bride circles the groom to symbolically wall him off from other women. Egalitarian Jews have adapted the ritual such that each partner circles, symbolizing how each will protect and support the other.
What other differences exist between Jewish and Christian weddings? Understandably, most Jews feel uncomfortable invoking Jesus' name or being asked to bow their heads or kneel to pray. Conversely, Christians may feel uncomfortable using the word "Adonai," a Hebrew name for God. Clergy who will co-officiate at interfaith weddings are sensitive to working these issues out with the couple before the ceremony.
In a Jewish wedding, the bride is escorted down the aisle not just by her father but by both parents; rather than waiting at the front of the room for the bride, the groom and his parents partake in the procession, too. Unity candles are not part of Jewish tradition, nor is pronouncing the couple "husband and wife" or asking the guests whether they support the couple -- but these practices are often included to create a ceremony that is meaningful to both the bride and groom and to their respective traditions.
With the wedding just days away, the veil of secrecy will soon be lifted, allowing the public a glimpse into Chealsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky's big day. However they choose to celebrate, it will no doubt be fascinating to learn if and how the couple incorporates their differing traditions into what is sure to be a wonderful ceremony.
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