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Top Three Tips for Hiring a Rabbi for Your Wedding

07/06/2011 05:48 pm 17:48:38 | Updated Sep 06, 2011

With marriage in the State of New York now available to any two consenting adults, this wedding season promises to be an especially busy one. To ensure a memorable celebration, here are a few suggestions that all couples looking for a rabbi to officiate might want to consider.

Tip #1 -- Don't use your parent's rabbi

This is almost always a bad idea.

If you are using a rabbi solely because he or she was important in the lives of your parents, then your focus is on the wrong marriage. Choose someone that the two of you can connect with; this may be someone different than the person with whom your parents have connected.

And, at the very least, contact the rabbi yourself. No rabbi wants to receive an email from a parent with the subject line, "Will you marry my son?"

Tip to parents: Don't send these.

It reminds me of the father in the wedding scene from Jules Feiffer's "Little Murders," who brags to all the guests that he has paid off the officiant -- here played by a young and completely brilliant Donald Sutherland -- to "mention the name of the deity." Sutherland's preacher ends up pocketing the money without mentioning the name of the deity.

Suggestion for the recently engaged: Take seven minutes and watch the scene with your partner. Use it to spark a conversation about the type of ceremony that the two of you want to have.

Tip #2 -- Expect to see the rabbi prior to the wedding date

Plan on having a food tasting? Will your menu reflect ethical or gastronomical sensibilities?

The same careful planning should apply to your ceremony.

Meet with more than one rabbi. Ask them what they believe in. Find someone who speaks your language and understands your world.

Learn to increase your expectations.

Rabbis are not justices of the peace. And Jewish weddings tend to be religious in nature. Therefore, you will want to have discussions ahead of time about which prayers are essential and why.

Be prepared to answer the question of why you want a rabbi there in the first place. If it is exclusively to appease a member of a previous generation, that is unlikely to be a compelling reason.

Understand what your ketubah (an ancient religious prenup) means. If you don't like what it has to say, then rewrite it. Some rabbis are willing to facilitate in this process.

At a traditional Jewish wedding, the central moment is when the groom gives the bride a ring and announces that with it she now is "consecrated" to him according to the "laws of Moses and the Jewish people." Ask what those laws are and how to go about making them relevant to your union.

No two answers will be the same.

Suggestion: If you can, check with the rabbi before choosing the date. This is something that never happens. However, please note that if you have already scheduled your nuptials for a Saturday afternoon, you will be limiting your options.

Tip #3 -- Discuss whether or not you are in an "interfaith" relationship

Sometimes this can be as simple as one partner believing that science is the only means to truth and the other partner believing in a God who listens to prayers.

Note that this type of "interfaith" marriage can be just as likely to occur where both partners were raised in Jewish homes.

Whether you're from an Episcopalian family or a Conservative Jewish one, what I look for when I meet two people is whether or not they share -- or are open to sharing -- a single faith. If that faith is one that can be expressed through Jewish ritual -- and a connection to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- then it is more likely that I will be appropriate for the occasion.

Choosing a faith for your ceremony -- and, ultimately, for your home -- is not like choosing a wedding band. But, how often do we meet grooms who have abdicated this role to their brides? As if handing off a decision about a florist or a photographer.

A Jewish wedding often includes the oldest prayer in our faith -- "may God bless you and keep you ..." Expect to have at least one conversation with your rabbi about what you think this means.

Of course, you can live in a relationship where one partner is agnostic and the other a believer. That is often the relationship that we have with ourselves. But, when your partner's beliefs preclude the possibility of any sort of spiritual connection with you and your future family members -- that is a big deal.

There will, no doubt, be hard times in the years ahead. Choosing a spouse with whom you can pray -- at those moments when we all will need to pray -- has the potential to be the best decision that you will ever make. However, if you or your partner is not open to the idea that faith can have a real impact on your relationship -- or your home -- it is helpful to discuss that prior to the wedding date.

Those "interfaith" marriages have the potential to be much more challenging than those between two people from different backgrounds who are open to finding a way to establish a shared faith.

Suggestion: At some point during your engagement, invite 10 of your closest friends over to your home for a meal and a religious discussion. Invite the rabbi as well. Discuss your wedding and the union that you will be creating together, and encourage their support.

The KEY to choosing a rabbi to officiate at your wedding is finding someone with whom you and your partner would feel comfortable having these conversations.

Someone you might want to communicate with after the glass is broken.