My wedding is changing my relationship with religion

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by thatbethgirl
Photo by Crystal Liepa
"Under the chuppah at sunset." (Photo by Crystal Liepa)

I'm Jewish, but I'm not very observant. My fiancé is agnostic and was raised Christian. Before we got engaged, I didn't think much about the specifics of a ceremony. When we got engaged, I was surprised by how important it became to me to have at least some elements of a Jewish ceremony incorporated into our wedding.

My fiancé and I met with the rabbi from the synagogue my family has always gone to. It's a Reform congregation, so we knew he would be a lot more flexible than other rabbis, but we wanted to see where everyone's comfort levels were. I didn't expect him to officiate, but I figured he could still help me/us brainstorm a few ways to incorporate some Jewish elements into a civil ceremony. After getting coffee with the rabbi, though, my fiancé really liked him. So just like that we found our officiant and were doing a Jewish ceremony. I was happy, and my mom was very, very happy. My fiancé's family wasn't happy, but they are kind people and didn't try to make us feel bad about it or anything.

After that, I figured we had the ceremony settled and started thinking about other things. My mom ordered a copy of "The New Jewish Wedding" by Anita Diamanti and had it shipped to us. I'm sure many other Jewish brides on here can attest to the popularity of this book, but it's something I've been vaguely aware of for decades. My sister and each of my cousins had a copy while they were planning their weddings. I don't think I ever expected to have my own, but when I opened the box it felt like such a rite of passage.

I didn't expect to have such strong emotions about this book, but I devoured that thing. I read it in two days, highlighting and jotting down notes the whole time. Objectively, I find a lot of the traditions patriarchal and outdated. But still, I got incredibly sentimental, both about the religious/tradition aspect of the ceremony and about the fact that my gentile fiancé was going along with this.

I'm still not sure exactly what it was. I haven't been very religious since high school, but my identity as a Jew is still important to me. Reading about this made me feel like I'm participating in an important life milestone in the same way as my ancestors. We don't plan on having children, so getting to do a life-cycle ritual feels important. I may not get another chance.

Even though the initial burst of emotion has calmed down since I finished the book, I'm still really excited. The ceremony feels meaningful to me in two dimensions now: On a personal level because I am marrying the exact right person; and on a spiritual/cultural level because I am doing this in a way that honors my heritage, my upbringing, and my (admittedly limited) spirituality.

My fiancé is being really supportive about this. He's learning about the traditions and helping me choose a modern ketubah text that feels authentic to our relationship. We are talking about making our own chuppah out of a gift he gave me when we moved in together.

Anyone else felt a resurgence of interest in your religion while planning your wedding? How are other Jews figuring out the details of their ceremonies?

  1. I had a similar experience when planning my wedding. I had had some apprehension about the religious part, since we got married in the church I grew up in, which has much more conservative views than I now hold. As we were planning though, I was surprised how much I found myself opting for tradition. Minus a line or two about obeying, I wanted to take the same vows as my parents and grandparents and so many others (and the church turned out to be fine ditching all that giving away and obeying). We even decided to include communion, a symbol of our ties to our faith and community. I feel like it also helped us think about what we wanted spirituality to look like in our marriage, which is super helpful looking forward.

  2. Planning our wedding ceremony forced some deep conversations about our particular beliefs, as my husband was "open" to honoring his mother's wishes for a religious ceremony, and I was adamantly against it. It also forced a conversation with my MIL about the fact that neither my husband nor I are Christian which was horrifying and heartbreaking for her. I've always been one to be privately uncomfortable around religion, but to never make a fuss, so plenty of people assume I share their beliefs. My own wedding ceremony was NOT a time I was going to be uncomfortable though, so I held my ground and I'm so glad I did. Our ceremony was exactly what I wanted and I loved every moment of it. I feel like a liar when I go along with religious ceremonies I don't believe in, and I didn't want any lies told in my wedding vows! In many ways, the exclusion of God from our ceremony was a "coming out" for our extended families. My Catholic aunts gushed about how beautiful the ceremony was, so I think it went well in that regard. 😉

  3. I've had a bit of a winding spiritual path, having been raised almost entirely in a secular environment and then getting my parents to join a church when I was about 12-13 (a lot of my friends went to church, so that was a big part of why I wanted to go). My parents still go to that same church (it's a United Church of Christ, which we joke is actually "Unitarians Considering Christ," so very liberal, as you might imagine). I moved away from wanting to go to church pretty quickly at the start of high school because I felt like there was something missing (mainly: women) and ended up exploring Wicca, which in my experience, is a heck of a lot like Christianity, only it acknowledges the divine feminine as well. Eventually, I found Wicca to still be much too rigid and stereotypical in it prescriptions about gender, and in the process, found that I didn't really believe in a divine being of any sort.

    I was still attached to the naturalistic aspects of Wicca though, so these days I identify myself as an atheistic pagan. In the past few years, I had really fallen out of any kind of spiritual practice or observance of natural cycles, but planning my wedding with my fiance has really helped re-awaken my desire to be more regular and structured with my spirituality, atheistic though it is. My fiance is also an atheist, but not pagan. Even so, because I have discovered I feel pretty strongly about having pagan elements in our ceremony, that is how we are going to structure things. And it's really working for us. (Plus, he seems to be becoming more interested in pagan spirituality in the process, which is cool.) The ceremony will be a kind of "big reveal" to a lot of extended family about our atheism/paganism, assuming they don't read our FAQ on our wedding website. But we are trusting that even among the more fundamentalist Christians, politeness will win out and nothing will be said. 😛

  4. My fiancé and I are both Jewish, but I was raised "Reform-ish" (Progressive is probably more correct) and am the product of an interfaith marriage. I had never been to a Jewish wedding until we attended his cousin's wedding last summer (we were never close to much of my mother's family growing up, plus the majority of the closer relatives were old enough that there just weren't any marriages to attend). The parts of the ceremony that weren't conducted in Hebrew were conducted in French, so I really could not follow much of anything. My fiancé is, if anything, *less* observant than I am, but he's French-Tunisian, so the concept of "Reform" doesn't really exist, and all religious observance is Conserative in nature, even if day-to-day life is fairly secular. (This also means he's Sephardic while I'm Ashkenazi, meaning there are cultural differences on several levels.)
    Somehow, though, it is extremely important to me to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, but the kind I would be comfortable with – modified to reduce the patriarchical elements and to make the ceremony about us and our relationship with each other in a more specific way, but to also include our families. He's fine with this, but we get the feeling that his family would be less… not upset, exactly, but confused or "weirded-out" if we simply had a non-religious ceremony.
    I'd never heard of Anita Diamant's book (well, not that one, anyway), so I will be checking it out! I definitely need some guidance, having not grown up with the Jewish wedding ceremony except in abstract (my parents had a non-religious wedding and I doubt they know much more than I do). We're probably going to start looking for a Rabbi soon (female, if I have my druthers), who should be able to guide us some more, but I'm glad to see other non-observant Jewish women who are finding that it's quite important to them to have a Jewish wedding, and finding ways to do that while staying true to themselves and their partners.

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