In college, I abandoned a sort of mystical, wishy-washy Reform Jewish with a touch of nature-worshiping belief system to embrace happy, unabashed non-believer status. Nonetheless, I retained a deep love for Jewish tradition and spirituality and a fierce commitment to Jewish self-identification and ritual.
So when my avowedly atheist but equally culturally-proud Jewish fiancé and I started talking wedding plans, it should have been easy to come up with a compromise. And yet, I found myself agonizingly loathe to part with the idea of having a rabbi officiate. My latent hunger for an authoritative religious figure reared its head, even though I knew I wouldn’t believe much of what came out of his or her mouth.
You see, since I was raised in the Reform tradition and attended a progressive Jewish day school, I had grown pretty comfortable with a kind of selective filtering. A large percentage of the crowd at my synagogue probably felt quite dubious about what they were singing, saying, chanting or hearing at any given time. In fact most of the sermons I heard over the years openly addressed everyone’s profound discomfort with elements of the text we were reading. And it was all good: We celebrated; we ate. So for a major life cycle event, I thought, why not just keep it in the faith?
Plus, having a judge officiate struck me (perhaps unfairly) as smacking of being ashamed of our culture, which we most definitely are not. We’re pretty obsessed with our Jewishness and I wanted that to come through during the wedding. But as we looked into progressive rabbis it grew clear that we were going to run into some difficulties. For one, Simon didn’t want to hear the word “God” — at least not in English. We didn’t want to be relegated to a Sunday. We didn’t want our specific wishes to be tampered with by a well-meaning officiant who might feel the divine urge to add a little extra blessing here and there to augment the rather stripped-down, potentially blasphemous proceedings we demanded.
Luckily enough, early in the process we found an awesome secular humanist officiant who promised us a full Jewish ceremony, chuppah, ketubah-signing, glass-breaking and all, without a single mention of the G-word. And he worked Saturdays.
Suddenly, I realized that without religion in the mix, having a ceremony that fit my feminist beliefs, and an aesthetic that fits my nature-loving style (wreath instead of veil, flowers instead of cloth on the chuppah) would be simpler. Allowing the beauty of our location — my parents’ house, next to a pond —to provide the spiritual touch everyone craves at a wedding would be easier. Keeping the ceremony short and sweet would be easier.
And allowing people time to travel, eat and drink would be a lot easier.
And with that final, Jewish-guilt relieving realization, I was fully converted to the secular humanist camp without any lingering guilt. And it went as beautifully as I could have hoped. As a relative said, if we Jews didn’t find ways to adapt our traditions to our modern lives, we would never have survived as a people. Even more than that, though, our DJ-free, tradition-limited wedding reception consisted almost entirely of people talking happily and eating delicious food. At the end of the day, I don’t think it gets more Jewish than that.
A Jewish Wedding for a Couple of Non-Believers