17 not-so-obvious wedding questions to ask your rabbi

December 2 2015 | Guest post by Julie Golick
Laughing at his vows
Photo by Dominique Berho

Recently, Offbeat Bride posted a great article on questions to ask your officiant. I thought all the questions were spot-on and insightful. But it didn't touch on everything.

If you or your spouse-to-be are Jewish and you are planning to have a rabbi officiate at your wedding, here are some extra questions you might want to consider asking your rabbi…

The couple

Are you willing to perform interfaith marriages?

It's estimated that more than 50% of Jews marry non-Jewish partners. Despite that, most non-Reform rabbis will not be comfortable with performing an interfaith marriage.

Are you willing to marry a same-sex couple?

Expect that most Orthodox rabbis will not be willing to marry same-sex couples. It is more accepted among Conservative and Reform rabbis.

Timing and venue

What time is sundown on the day we are planning to get married? What time will we need to have the ceremony so that the Jewish date and the secular date "match"?

Because the Jewish calendar runs from sundown to sundown, you will usually want to start the ceremony at least an hour before sunset.

Are there any Jewish holidays that would conflict with our proposed wedding date?

Rabbis know about a lot of black-out dates that you might not consider, like Tisha Ba'av, certain parts of the Omer, and other fast days that are not usually observed except by the very religious. Also, Jewish weddings cannot occur during the Sabbath and so usually happen on Sundays.

Do you use a specific kosher caterer? What about cake?

If you are holding your reception at a synagogue, be prepared to use a kosher caterer. The synagogue may have a specific caterer that they use. Note that kosher food is often more expensive than non-kosher food.

Are you willing to conduct a ceremony in a non-kosher venue?

There is no requirement for a Jewish wedding to take place in a synagogue. However, if you are planning to have your wedding in a venue that does not serve kosher food, many Orthodox rabbis will not be willing to officiate, even if both partners are Jewish.

Traditions before the wedding

Will one or both of us need an aufruf? If so, when and where would it be?

An aufruf is a special aliyah in which the husband (Orthodox) or both members of the couple (Reform) are called to the Torah. Often this takes place during morning services in the week before the wedding.

Should one or both of us use the mikvah before the wedding?

A mikvah is a ritual purifying bath. Among other uses, it is traditional among the very religious for men and women to go to the mikvah before their weddings. I don't personally know anyone who did this, but if it is a tradition that sounds interesting to you, you can talk to your rabbi. Be aware that at the mikvah, you will be completely naked in the presence of an attendant.

Will there be additional ceremonies on the day of the wedding?

A few traditions or ceremonies that could take place on the day of the wedding include signing the ketubah (wedding contract), kabbalat panim (separate pre-ceremony receptions for the bride and groom), bedeken (veiling ceremony), yichud (private time for the bride and groom after the ceremony), horah (circle dance at the reception), and birkat hamazon (grace after the meal).

The Ketubah

What requirements are needed for the people who sign the ketubah?

This can vary greatly. Our Orthodox rabbi wanted male non-family members who kept Shomer Shabbat, which was pretty much no one we knew. A friend's Conservative rabbi asked for Jewish non-family members of either gender, which could have included most of their guest list.

Do we need to know any Hebrew? Will we have to sign our Hebrew names?

In Orthodox weddings, the groom will probably need to recite some Hebrew during the ceremony. Usually the rabbi will speak the words first and have the groom repeat them. If you are signing the ketubah, be sure you know how to sign your Hebrew names.

The ceremony

Can we use this ring?

In a traditional Jewish ceremony, the ring that the groom gives the bride should be an unbroken band of gold with no stones, and it must belong to the groom. If you have your heart set on a particular ring that does not meet these criteria, be sure to ask your rabbi if it's okay to use it.

Do you provide the chuppah, kippahs, and other ceremony trappings?

If you are holding your wedding at a synagogue, these may be provided. If not, you might need to purchase or rent them yourself.

Can we do ________ during ceremony?

A few things that do not generally happen in traditional Jewish ceremonies:

  • giving away the bride
  • vows
  • "I do"
  • unity ceremonies
  •  readings
  • speeches (except the rabbi)
  • live or recorded music (except for processional and recessional)
  • "I now pronounce you man and wife"
  • "you may kiss the bride"

If you are interested in having these or any other elements not usually included in Jewish ceremonies, speak to your rabbi.

Are there any extra Jewish elements you intend to include in the ceremony?

Even though we'd gone over our ceremony in detail with the rabbi beforehand, our cantor sang the Israeli national anthem towards the end, which was a surprise to both my husband and me.

How "Jewish" will you be with the sermon?

This varies wildly. Some rabbis try to tie in the weekly Torah portions into their sermons. If this is a concern for you, be sure to ask beforehand.

After the wedding

Will we have to sign a pre-nup? Do you have any specific paperwork about a get?

No one likes thinking about divorce while planning their wedding. That said, our rabbi had us sign some paperwork in which we agreed that if we got a civil divorce, my husband would give me a get (Jewish divorce) at the same time.

Stay tuned to see Julie's wedding later this week. In the meantime… Any questions we missed? What where the most important questions that you asked your rabbi before the ceremony?

  1. I would add:

    Will you do a two ring ceremony (many orthodox rabbis will prefer a one ring, though there are work arounds)?

    Will you provide the text for the ketubah and do you care what it says? (there are a lot of different texts)

    I did go to the mikvah before my wedding and it was a delightful experience. Perhaps I should write an OBB post about it.

  2. Having recently been to the mikveh for conversion purposes, if you are sensitive to chemicals like chlorine or bromine, you probably need to take that into consideration. Most of the sensitive parts of my body had a rash from the mikveh water for a week or two. It was a really good experience, despite that.

    If you are interfaith, some rabbis will push you to sign something saying you agree that you'll raise any children from your union as Jews.

    My favorite book about Jewish weddings is The New Jewish Wedding, by Anita Diamant. She covers pretty much all the questions asked here in more detail. It is a lifesaver for planning my own.

  3. Great ideas, thanks for posting this!
    Re: rings. I've heard that some couples will use a plain gold ring belonging to a family member for the ceremony then the groom will give the bride the ring she wants to wear day to day (with stones etc) as a gift during yichud.

    • This is exactly what we're doing in October- actually it's my great great grandmother's ring. (She's my namesake and the first to come to America.) Every woman in my family has been married in that ring since, though we all have our own personal wedding rings as well.

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