Books Rabbis

A Wedding Gift

Like the haggadah’s four children, wedding couples enter my office asking questions in different ways.  Some bring lists and show me photographs of the dress, the venue, the chuppah.  They are organized and take notes furiously.  A few are completely passive, deferring to their partners’ wishes.  Some have a general sense of what they want, and we talk it through together.  Others don’t know what’s possible, and need to be led.

I walk them through the steps of the Jewish wedding, explaining what’s required, what can be added or subtracted, and what can be adapted.  I strive to represent the Jewish tradition authentically.  I answer their questions dutifully.  I listen and make suggestions, anticipating complications.  (“It’ll hard to break the glass on sand.  Let’s make sure we have a thick board available.”  “How might your step-mother feel about that?”)

My job, in planning the ceremony, is to help the couple articulate and experience the ceremony that will turn two individuals into a family.

To do this more effectively, I run a quick assessment of each bride and each groom.  Following Myers-Briggs, I ask myself whether they are predominantly thinkers or feelers, and how structured they are.  Employing the Kolbe Index, I consider whether they’re most comfortable dreaming, organizing, researching, or visualizing.  We are most successful when I can speak their language, when I can anticipate and respond to their needs in ways that will land for them.

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Rabbi Dean Shapiro officiates Eric and Jesse’s wedding.

Researched and spontaneous.  Structured and free-flowing.  Oral and written.  Thinking and feeling. Couples bring to their weddings the tools they use in life.  They use the systems that are successful for them.

For all of these ways of processing, I find it helpful to present couples with a copy of Beyond Breaking The Glass, edited by Rabbi Nancy H. Weiner, at the end of our first session together.  In my Practical Rabbinics course at HUC-JIR, Rabbi Don Goor suggested we do this.  It’s been sound advice.bbtg5_sm

The couples who thrive on research use the book to look up the questions that occur to them between sessions.  The visual learners can read in black and white the very answers I’ve given them in person.  The dreamers have a foundation from which to consider options.  Couples with different styles can come together over the book’s pages, and make decisions together.  Brides and grooms can give curious or skeptical parents an authoritative answer, and everyone is reassured.

Most especially, I notice, the book helps the couple decide which words of commitment to speak.  Even though I’ve spoken and translated the options for them, it helps to read and discuss and practice such holy syllables.  They leave my office, after the first meeting, with a jumble of impressions and fears about which words to choose.  Having read and discussed them, they return clear and satisfied in their choice.

Perhaps most importantly, the book is a symbol of the care I’m showing them.  They know I’m on their side.  They feel special and looked after. With Beyond Breaking The Glass, every couple has truly been given a gift.

Rabbi Dean Shapiro serves Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Arizona.  

Beyond Breaking the Glass is available for purchase from CCAR Press.

Books High Holy Days Machzor

Machzor Blog: Rediscovering the Sh’ma

When I pray, words wash over me.  The ideas they carry fill my brain.  The images they convey float through my mind.  The feelings they evoke dance in my heart.  But I don’t even notice the letters that comprise them — the shapes and the lines — because I’ve been trained to fuse them into words, and to treat the words only as springboards to ideas, images, and feelings.  I rarely pay attention to the letters themselves; they simply dissolve as my eyes pour over them.

What a jolt, then, to turn to Page 14a in the draft of the Yom Kippur Evening Service in Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor currently being piloted. That’s where I re-discovered the Sh’ma.  Just as in Mishkan T’filah, the lettering of the Sh’ma gets special treatment.  It’s the largest in the book and the font is distinct, at once elegant and archaic.  It unfurls like a parchment buried for millennia, unseen by human eyes until just now, by me.  It demands my attention.



The font evokes the calligraphy of a caravan-leader’s map, with its curvaceous lines and serifs.  At the same time, it’s modern, clean, and strong.  The lines swoop to the left, creating the feeling of forward movement.  The black of the top line is darker than the second, mimicking the volumes with which we sing them.

The unique font of the Sh’ma helps me see how Hebrew letters are constructed from fundamental strokes.  It shows me the ‘yud’ in the ‘vav,’ and the ‘vav’ in the ‘tav’ and ‘chav sofit.’  ‘Hay’ contains a ‘reish,’ and there’s an ‘ayin’ in the ‘sin.’   

Some letters in this shema are pictograms for me.  The ‘lamed’ looks like a tulip, celebrating spring.  The ‘shin’ reminds me of a Viking vessel, crashing through the ocean.  In the ‘sin,’ my husband sees God’s “hand” holding the world.  The ‘reish’ is a cat, rresting on a mantel, purring contentedly.  The ‘mem’ is the same cat, stretching after her nap, meowing energetically.  The ‘mem sofit’ is the bearded face of an Assyrian trader.

Torah is written in black fire on white fire.  That image, from the Zohar, asks us to pay attention to the negative space created by a letter, not only its form.  Negative space is the space that surrounds and penetrates a subject.  It provides boundaries and contrast.  When we notice it, we come to understand that Torah is shaped by what’s missing as well as what’s there.  The negative space in this font is bulbous, bounded by curving lines.  It’s as if blocks of black have been burrowed into by critters.  The lacunae look like little cul-de-sacs, adding to the sense of travel.

No matter how it’s printed, the Sh’ma unifies all Jews, bringing us together like the tassels of a tallis.  When we recite it, divisions of time and place disappear.  We are all One.  This font, at once ancient and timeless, invites me to see with the eyes of the ancestors and to contemplate the hearts of our descendants.  It reminds me to broaden my scope.

I’m excited for my congregants to encounter the Sh’ma afresh in Mishkan HaNefesh.  As the Sh’ma is supposed to do, it calls us to pay attention.

Rabbi Dean Shapiro serves Temple Emanuel in Tempe, AZ

For more information on Mishkan HaNefesh or on piloting, please write to