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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Mazel tov

Galilee Diary #408, September 21, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein


Mar the son of Ravina threw a wedding feast for his son. He saw that the rabbis were rejoicing too much, so he took a goblet worth 400 zuzim and broke it before them, and they were duly saddened.
-Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 30b-31a

There was a great wedding on Shorashim the other day. While we have a few members' children who have gotten married, this was the first who held the celebration here on the moshav. It was a very happy occasion, as the young woman, like her two sisters, has always been a favorite, among her own generation and among her parents' generation in the community. The wedding followed a pattern that has now become popular – the ceremony comes between two parties: first there was a sit-down dinner on the lawn for a few hundred invited guests, then the ceremony, and then an open-air dance party/dessert bar for a larger circle of friends and neighbors (including the whole population of Shorashim). Needless to say, customs like having the bride and groom be apart and/or fast before the ceremony have long been forgotten. In any case, everyone had a great time; the dancing went on until the wee hours (when residents of communities a mile away called the police to complain about the noise). In Israel, you don't have to be rich to have a big wedding – there is no limit to the number of guests, as they are expected to pay their own way. The couple don’t need to register at Macy's – they just put a safe near the entrance, with a slot for the envelopes. There are even websites that help you calculate, based on venue and season, etc., how much you need to give to cover your cost; it is really considered rude to give less.

The ceremony was typical of others we have seen – the rabbi, properly bearded and frocked, is present as a representative of the state and the Torah. He has no connection to the couple or to the community. It seems that some rabbis, in order to try to conquer the alienation of the crowd from Orthodox ritual and its officiants, resort to a sort of stand-up comedy style of conducting the wedding. So too, this one kept cracking little jokes, teasing the groom, etc. His remarks to the couple were totally generic, based on some esoteric interpretation of the gematriah (numerical value of the letters) of the Hebrew word for love. The one time he tried to get personal and refer to the couple by their names, he got the groom's name wrong. The crowd was happy to laugh with (or at) his light-hearted approach – and happy to see him leave so they could go back to partying. I guess that these rabbis, seeking to combat alienation, end up with marginalization instead. Instead of trying to explain, to dignify, to infuse meaning into the traditional ceremony, they reach out to the crowd – who have little knowledge of or interest in what seems to them the mumbo jumbo of the traditional ceremony – by lowering themselves to their level, essentially mocking themselves and what they stand for in an attempt to endear themselves to the participants. It seems to me it would take so little to leave the crowd feeling a bit uplifted instead of pandered to.

On the other hand, there is a tradition of "entertaining" the bride and groom at Orthodox weddings – the age mates of the couple often go really wild, cavorting and clowning before them. I assume this originates from the psychological reality (more pronounced, of course, in traditional societies than in modern ones in which marriage is late and often of a couple who have been living together for years) that weddings, in which young people are suddenly removed from their childhood homes and thrust into a scary new setting, can be pretty traumatic transitions. So maybe these joking rabbis are simply trying to fulfill this traditional obligation to cheer up the bride. If so, I don't think anyone gets it except them.

Israel would be quite a different place today, I think, if the Orthodox leadership had been more sensitive and sophisticated in seeking to educate the non-Orthodox public instead of going with the two extremes they have chosen - going head-to-head with them, or giving up on them.

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