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September 17, 2014 | 22nd Elul 5774

Wedding season

Galilee Diary #353, September 2, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

 

Mar son of Rabina made the wedding feast for his son. When he noticed that the Rabbis were very wild, he brought a precious cup worth four hundred zuz, and broke it before them and they immediately became sad.

-Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 30b

With the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, this year, comes Ramadan. The lunar months of the Moslem calendar coincide, of course, with the months of the Jewish calendar, in that they begin with the new moon. Every time we have a leap year (every 2 or 3 years) and add a month, the Moslem calendar shifts back one month in the Jewish calendar. Thus, Ramadan has coincided with Tishrei for the past three years, but since 5768 is a leap year for us, next year Ramadan will coincide with Elul.

In any case, what this all means in practice, this year, is that the wedding season in the Arab community has ended, as people don't hold wedding celebrations during Ramadan, a month of daily sunrise-to sunset-fasting. And after Ramadan it will already be the rainy season. Arab weddings are held, almost universally, during the summer months, as they are usually outdoor celebrations involving the whole village. While weddings are of course joyous occasions, those of us who live near Arab villages (and, it turns out, the people who live in those village) greet the end of the season with a collective sigh of relief. No more earsplitting music all night, no more the constant annoying staccato of firecrackers and rockets (and the more ominous, traditional, prohibited yet not infrequent firing of guns into the air). If this cacophony is irritating to those of us who live a mile away, imagine the lives of the immediate neighbors. And this is not just an occasional simchah, but virtually every night for several months (a typical village wedding lasts three nights). More daunting, perhaps, for the neighbors is the gift-giving obligation. When you come to the entrance to the wedding courtyard, the bride herself or other family members greet you and accept your good wishes – and receive your envelope, which they deposit in a slot in a safe. A nice glass vase or elegant salad set won’t fit through the slot. Nobody “registers” at Bloomingdales. I don’t think you can register at a bank.

This expectation of monetary gifts is standard also among the Jewish population. At the first wedding we attended after we made aliyah, we shopped carefully for a beautiful object for the new couple’s new home. When we arrived at the wedding, there were some awkward moments while family members had to figure out where to put our package. We never did get a thank you note. It is quite common in Israel, in both Jewish and Arab communities to put on a wedding that far exceeds the financial capabilities of the family – 500 guests, 700, whatever – and pay the caterer out of the contents of the gift safe. Therefore, there are rules of etiquette dictating how much it is appropriate for a guest to give, to make sure that your cost is covered. There is now even a website with a calculator: you enter various details like your degree of relationship to the couple and the location of the wedding, and the site displays the appropriate sum for the gift (e.g., for a couple, attending the wedding of a first cousin, during the summer in a catering hall, the answer is 500 shekels [$125]). Synagogues generally are small and crowded, without social halls and kitchens. Arab weddings take place either in the courtyards of the village or in large catering halls or “wedding gardens” in rural areas. The Jews usually use hotels, catering halls or gardens, or more exotic locations like archaeological sites. The loudness of the music, in both cases, is such that the Ministry of Environment recently issued legal maxima for decibels, and will be dispatching inspectors to levy fines on catering halls that exceed the legal limit.

We generally associate the breaking of the glass with the destruction of the Temple; some rabbis have frowned on the custom because of the sexual innuendo attached to it; and some scholars have seen it as a survival of a method of repelling demons. But maybe what the Talmud text above suggests is that even 1,700 year ago in Babylonia wedding season seemed to some, at least, “a little much,” and the crash of the glass was meant to wake people up and put things in perspective.

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