Jewish Weddings on Shabbat: A Different View
Fri, 08/27/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

My friend and colleague Rabbi Leon Morris has made a provocative call for a moratorium on weddings performed before the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening. He argues that such weddings undermine the sanctity of Shabbat and send the wrong message about the demands of Jewish commitment.

While I applaud Rabbi Morris's commitment to Shabbat and honoring Jewish customs, acting on his proposal would not only alienate the vast majority of American Jews, but it would constitute a tremendous abdication on the part of Reform rabbis to engage our members and honor the spirit of Reform Judaism.

Let me start with two assumptions. First, celebrating and honoring Shabbat is an absolutely essential component of Jewish life. We American Jews need Shabbat, as it guides us to live by Jewish time and provides a necessary respite amidst the business of everyday life. It also, as Rabbi Morris eloquently argues, serves as the basis for an environmental ethic that can help check on our human efforts to dominate the natural world.

Second, Reform Judaism demands an engagement with Jewish law, but it does not insist on its binding nature. As Mordecai Kaplan aptly put it, Halacha has a vote but not a veto. Rather, what makes Reform Judaism unique and essential to the vitality of Jewish life is its insistence that we look at Jewish practice in light of the challenges and norms of contemporary life.

The challenge, then, is to arrive at a place where we can honor Shabbat within the context of American life. It is not an either-or choice. We do not need to self-segregate in order to live fulfilling and committed Jewish lives.

To insist that a marriage ceremony take place at 9:00 pm on a Saturday night rather than 6:00 pm, as such a moratorium would demand, would do exactly that. It would define Shabbat so stringently as to communicate that a three-hour difference constitutes the end-all and be-all of a Jewish wedding. Is that the message we want to send?

A wedding ceremony is an opportunity to create a Jewish memory at a critical moment in a couple's life. It is a chance to welcome a couple into the Jewish people with open arms and open hearts. It is the last area where we should seek to impose an obstacle that does not violate the spirit of Shabbat.

Rather, as Rabbi Eugene Mihaly wrote in a seminal responsum on this topic in 1976, a wedding ceremony can provide the oneg (joy) that is so central to Shabbat observance. He argues, "The spirit of a religious marriage ceremony is thus in perfect consonance with the spirit of the Sabbath. Halachic tradition, liberally interpreted, as it must be by Reform Judaism, far from prohibiting a marriage on the Sabbath would, on the contrary, encourage it as a most appropriate and fitting activity, congruent with and an enhancement of the highest reaches of Sabbath observance."

We do not have to go as far as Mihaly does in encouraging weddings on Shabbat to appreciate his point. A marriage ceremony provides the joy and sense of kedusha (holiness) that is central to Shabbat. To prohibit them based on halachic norms that, as Rabbi Morris points out, view marriage as a purchase constitutes the overly rigid Orthodoxy that Reform Judaism was meant to challenge.

The Talmud instructs us to "Puk Hazei Mai Amma Davar-- go see what the people are doing" when we need to interpret a law or understand a principle. We do not have to draw take this point to its logical conclusion, as there are places where leaders need to challenge the dominant practices of the community. Yet, Saturday evening weddings are not one of them. Many couples have a strong commitment to Jewish life and have legitimate concerns that lead them to get married a few hours before sunset on a Saturday evening. Are we going to turn them away?

Rabbi Evan Moffic is the spiritual leader of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL

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Sadly, I cannot be the perfect jew. I cannot follow all the laws. I am getting married and because of the American concept, I want to be married at 5:00 pm on Saturday. It is my understanding that in Isreal, the wedding is done during the week, and it is a holiday. It is not practical, to wait until 8:15 pm to get married. So, I might make one mistake, and get married sooner. If this makes me a non-jew, or a bad person, then I hope that g-d will forgive me, since it wasn't my only mistake in life. Btw, my previous marriage to a non-jew resulted in 4 kids that were Bar/Bat Mitzvah. From what was a sin, I brought into this world 4 of the best jews.

Many couples have a strong commitment to Jewish life and have legitimate concerns that lead them to get married a few hours before sunset on a Saturday evening. Are we going to turn them away?

Clearly they don't have a strong commitment. Within a few years, their lack of morals and values will lead to further assimilation and their children will disappear into the nation of goyim.

I read this with my jaw dopping open. How can a Jewish wedding be held on the Sabbath. I have never ever heard such a thing before. It can only I am sure happen in America.To excuse it by saying that it is 'oneg shabbat' makes me laugh out aloud. Is it true that in America 'men can marry men' ? and women can marry women? oh my!

I left the following comment on Rabbi Morris' piece: "You can't stop intermarriage - but you CAN welcome intermarried couple & encourage them to make Jewish choices for themselves & their families. Please don't be so vain as to think that a rabbis' edict will keep interfaith couples (or Reform couples, or Reconstructionist couples, or whomever!) from getting married on Saturdays; rather, it will keep them from getting married by rabbis.If you turn them away right from the get-go ("Having your wedding on a Saturday disqualifies you from being Jewish," essentially), you'll alienate those couples from the faith right off the bat. Which is more important - one Saturday or an entire lifetime?" Thanks for a great piece & an open mind, Rabbi Moffic.

Good. Alienate them. Their children or grandchildren are bound to become goyim anyway.

It is lovely that 12-15% of Jews want to live a hybrid medievel-modern existence under self-imposed halakhah, men want their women silent and behind them, all Torah-carrying women arrested, all corpses circumsized, homosexuals out of sight, to be able to label and track all the mazerim, and to keep the agunot in their place, but the fact is that most Jews world-wide have voted with their feet. They want ot be Jewish but they don't want to live governed by halakhah. They may selectively embrace it (When a loved one dies, for example), it is cafeteria-humrah at best. Dr. Mihaly (a'h) got it right. Rabbi Morris is a mensch and a great rabbi. He represents the strong(est) pro-halakha wing of the Reform movement, but as Rabbi Morris himself knows, his halakhic approach makes it diffcult for him to effectively serve as a rabbi in any Reform pulpit, and impossible outside of of NY/Chicago/Boston. Our congregants need consistency, but flexible consistency.
yeesh. the whole raison detre of the reform has been demolished by the orthodox. if the orthodox can find value and meaning in halacha as practiced for the past 2000 years, why do i need a reform movement, which essentially states that we need to ignore or change halacha to make it relevant in a modern society? why can the orthodox practice halacha and at the same time, be completely immersed in the secular world of art and science (just visit yeshiva university), and not the reform? the answer is inconvenient and difficult- the problem is not the halacha. the problem is in reform jews. every jew can find relevance and meaning in halacha. the orthodox are not a bunch of geniuses or magicians. reform jews- if you have trouble finding meaning and relevance in halacha, i suggest you please, simply, tap an orthodox jew on the shoulder and ask how he does it. articles like these, which try to explain to me why its a good idea to abandon the idea and practice of shabes that has been around 2000 years, just drives me nuts.
I was married on a Saturday evening in summer, just at the beginning of sunset. We wanted to honor Shabbat, and so we did Havdalah first. Our officiant was very traditional and expressed his qualms about starting before sundown. Ultimately, we did the cocktail hour first and pushed the ceremony back as late as we could, and he acquiesced. It wasn't fully dark yet, but it felt like a respectful, if not fully halachic, compromise on both sides. I think that for less observant (or non-observant Jews), that kind of conversation and creativity is more important than observing strict halachic rules and missing the beauty and richness of the tradition, but then again, I'm not frum. For what it's worth, it was the most "Jewish" wedding that I or any of my guests had ever attended. Everyone told me how beautiful and moving it was, and many of our guests asked numerous questions about the traditions, rituals, and prayers they had encountered.

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