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.


Creating the Perfect Day

Whether a glitzy, large wedding which requires two wedding planners, or a fully DIY eco- friendly affair, no two weddings, and no two couples, are alike. But when you strip away the crafts, bling, and creativity, all couples are the same: they are seeking a mythical day, and a personalized meaningful ceremony that speaks to who they are.

The Jewish wedding ceremony is beautiful, timeless, and can speak to our hearts and souls. If we understand it.

I operate on the assumption that most couples grew up with the wedding ceremony of Fiddler on the Roof and have learned little more, except perhaps what they Googled after they got engaged, or what they have seen when attending weddings themselves. Enter Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding, by Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener.  Every couple with whom I work receives a copy, as a gift, of this book.bbtg5_sm

Now, equipped with an accessible resource, they can ask the questions: “What is a chuppah? Why do we have one?”, or “How can I personalize the ceremony?”, and more.  The answers, in the Reform tradition, are offered options in a non-judgmental tone.

Each couple has embraced this book differently. Some take the checklist found beginning on page 115 quite seriously, copying it and handing me a copy at our last meeting with each ritual item carefully marked and why. Others have read about rituals, and learned about circling for example, for the first time, and found it to be a poignant celebration of their love for each other. Some have even found this book as an opportunity to explore Jewish life more fully, finding the symbols and prayers so beautiful that they are left wanting more.

The book Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding is a step in empowering couples to rely on an ages old, magnificent Jewish tradition to fulfill their desires to create the perfect wedding day. It isn’t filled with bling, but it is filled with something much deeper: the ring of a ceremony filled with deep and relevant experiences.

Rabbi Allison Vann serves Suburban Temple – Kol Ami in Beachwood, Ohio.