If you’re planning an interfaith wedding, you’re not alone! Outside of Israel, close to 50% of Jews intermarry. Couples choose many different ways to blend their traditions. As you plan your wedding, here are some things to consider.
What’s the big deal, anyway?
Keep in mind why some people object. Jews are genuinely concerned with keeping up our traditions alive because there aren’t very many of us. With less than 15 million Jews on Earth, extinction anxiety is not irrational. History has been filled with movements to wipe out the Jews, and we’ve developed a steadfast determination to live on and not assimilate. In addition, many Jews have religious objections to intermarriage. Orthodox Jews do not recognize intermarriage as legitimate, and many Conservative Jews have strong reservations.
These are frustrating attitudes to encounter when you’re about to marry someone you love! But keep the reasons for people’s objections in mind as you plan your wedding.
Communication between the couple
First and foremost, the couple needs to communicate openly about what traditions they want to include. They also need to communicate reservations they have about including multiple traditions. Compromise will be necessary. It may be helpful for you to articulate or each other what’s most important to you, and make sure those things are included.
Communication with the families
To some families, an interfaith marriage is no big deal at all, and to some families it’s a crisis. Sit down with your family and talk openly about their concerns. Sweeping things under the rug may come back to haunt you. Find out what traditions they want you to incorporate in your wedding, and try to include at least some of their wishes.
Finding an officiant
Some couples feel comfortable having the ceremony officiated by a rabbi and a non-Jewish clergy member, and some choose one or the other. Some couples prefer to go with a secular officiant. Again, communicate with your partner about what’s important to you. Keep in mind that many rabbis and non-Jewish clergy will not officiate an interfaith marriage. However, intermarriage is far from rare, so with a little research you’ll be able to find clergy who will be happy to marry you.
Finding a location
A synagogue? A church? Many couples simplify things and choose a secular location, even if the ceremony is religious. Orthodox and many Conservative synagogues will not allow interfaith weddings, even if the ceremony is exclusively Jewish, but most Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues will welcome you.
Creating a ceremony
This can be the most difficult part, especially when it comes to religious traditions. Some couples have a ceremony that mixes the prayers and rituals of two faiths, and some pick and choose what they want to include. It helps if you both learn about the other’s traditions and what they mean. Here’s primer on Jewish wedding traditions. Some couples decide to have secular weddings which may include certain elements of their traditions, like a chupah.
Many wedding traditions are secular, and these are easier to combine without upsetting anyone. You can have fun with this. For example, in an intermarriage between an African American and a Jew, you might end the ceremony by jumping the broom, which is an African American tradition that dates back to slavery. After jumping the broom, you can break the glass. And then you can combine traditions and sweep the glass with the broom. Be creative.
Making people feel comfortable
You don’t need to make everybody happy. You probably can’t. But you can make an effort to make everyone feel welcome at the wedding and ease their discomfort. One thing you can do is have your officiant explain traditions that not everyone is familiar with. Another thing you can do is honor your families by having people from each side do special readings or candle lightings.
Interfaith marriages can cause some stress, but with good communication, you can make your wedding personal and beautiful. And remember that much as you want to please your families, the wedding is yours. You two want to celebrate the one of the greatest blessing of all– finding love.