Modern Jewish Weddings in California

Modern Jewish Weddings in California

I get a lot of requests to perform modern Jewish Weddings in California: Jew-ish (emphasis on the ish) wedding ceremonies, interfaith wedding ceremonies (Jewish-Catholic, Jewish-Hindu, Jewish-Buddhist), modern adaptations and reinterpretations of Jewish wedding ceremonies, earth-based Jewish ceremonies (honoring our new-moon-blessing, rams-horn-blowing, lulav-shaking, pagan roots), and Jewish weddings for LGBTQIA+ couples (that many rabbis simply refuse to perform).

Coming, as I do, from an orthodox Jewish family in New York, from a lineage of kohanim (Jewish high priests) on both my mother and father's sides, and from a family of cantors, including my Zaddy, Shlomo, and my brother, Aryeh, I have an innate understanding of Jewish rituals and traditions. And, because I left that path when I was in my early twenties to study and explore world wisdom traditions, and indigenous and earth-based spirituality, I also have a universalist and cross-cultural understanding of ceremonies, rituals and prayers.

One of my favorite things to do is to combine these different expressions of roots, religion and affinities in interfaith, mixed-faith, Jew-ish, and other types of modern Jewish weddings in California.

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We might sign a ketubah (a traditional marriage contract), but the text might be a modern rendering of this ancient custom, written in English or Hebrew (versus Aramaic), and with humanistic wedding vows, versus the more traditional Jewish ones. {A little aside: traditional religious, Jewish ketubah’s clearly stipulate that a man is legally obliged to satisfy his wife sexually. i.e. sexual pleasure is a woman’s right, and it is her husbands obligation to provide it!}

We might stand under a chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy), which is perhaps the most universally recognized symbol of a Jewish wedding ceremony. It is said that a chuppah is a holy awning, a spiritually charged arena, a consecrated space, and a protective structure under which the divine presence can be felt. It was once legally necessary to marry under a chuppah in order for a Jewish marriage to be solemnized. The chuppah in the photograph below was made with materials that were gathered from around the world and woven together with songs and prayers by a close friend of the couples. The chuppah in the photo above, which was taken by Blake Weber at Rancho Soquel, was also made by the couple’s friends, and the poles of that chuppah were held by the couple’s bridal party during the ceremony.

We might read or sing one or more of the Sheva Brachot (the seven blessings). If only reciting one, I usually recommend that couples go with the seventh and final blessing, in which ten synonyms for happiness are named. In this blessing we reach the crescendo of joy, and the height of merriment! It's a jubilation, an exaltation, and a real raise the roof moment! In a wedding ceremony I performed recently, I had my brother (the cantor) record the seventh blessing in traditional, Ashkenazi operatic style, and it was quite amazing to hear this ancient prayer reverberate through the redwoods!

We might break a glass at the end of the ceremony to signify the completion of the ceremony, and the beginning of the celebration, at which time everybody exclaims a loud mazal tov (Hebrew for congratulations)! There are many interpretations about why Jews enact this ritual breaking of the glass, but it's hard to pin down a definitive explanation. I always provide some possible explanations, but I also strongly encourage couples to find their own relevance and meaning behind this ritual. In a recent interfaith wedding ceremony I performed at Bargetto Winery, the Jewish bride and her non-Jewish groom each broke a glass.

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In the case of more modern, non-traditional, interfaith or mixed-faith wedding ceremonies, we might have some Jewish elements, and some elements from other faiths traditions or spiritual lineages. For example, if it was a Jewish-Hindu wedding, the Hindu wedding ritual of circumambulate the fire 7 times, might be combined with the Jewish wedding ritual of a bride circumambulating her groom 7 times. In the case of the African-Jewish wedding ceremony at Sequoia Retreat Center photographed by Vanessa Lain above, the couple both broke a glass and jumped the broom to honor their traditions, mark the end of the ceremony, and symbolize the crossing of the threshold of marriage.

There are endless way to honor your roots, religions and resonances in ways that are authentic and true to you, and to blend your faiths in ways that feel respectful and enlivening for everyone involved.

Do you have an adapted , modernized or reimagined Jewish or Jewish-Blended-Faith wedding ritual that you love? Please share it in the comments below!