Six Questions That Will Help You Plan Your Interfaith WeddingBy: Rebekah Rood
You’re engaged? Mazel tov! Planning a wedding can be both exciting and incredibly stressful. But it can be a whole different level of challenge when the wedding is going to join two people from different religious and cultural backgrounds. As specialists who coach interfaith couples through milestones like these, we know firsthand about these challenges—and we know you’re going to be okay!
Jewish-Gentile couples often experience as much side-eye from family or friends as they do encouragement. So, we’d like to share some of our collective wisdom in hopes that we might help you have a successful wedding. We want to help your wedding to be awesome and for the integration into your families to be as close to seamless as possible. The six questions below will help you to have conversations ahead of time that will minimize drama on the big day.
- When are you getting married? What are the issues connected to the time of day, season, day of the week, or cultural signals associated with days? Decide when you’re going to get married. Jewish weddings typically don’t happen between Friday night and Saturday night (the Sabbath). Christian weddings typically don’t happen on Sundays. Getting married during Passover might make it complicated for guests who keep kosher (follow Jewish dietary laws) to celebrate with you. Getting married on Easter might make it super easy to find an available venue but could cause someone’s grandma real grief. Find out what the religious “blackout dates” are for each of you and for your close family members and other important people.
- Where will the ceremony take place? Figure out where you’re going to get married. Jewish weddings often take place outdoors or at non-religious venues. Christian weddings often take place in churches. While a church sanctuary might be a beautiful and obvious (and often even inexpensive) wedding venue for one of you, being in a church building might be a distracting or even uncomfortable environment for Jewish guests to be in. Outdoor weddings can be a great neutral environment and may even have more meaning for you both if it’s somewhere special to the both of you. Country clubs might seem like a neutral environment, but their exclusive membership rules historically barred Jewish people and people of color from admittance. Taking the time to consider making your guests feel at ease will take a lot of the pressure off of you and the wedding day itself.
- What will be the religious or spiritual culture of the wedding ceremony? If your exposure to weddings is from pop culture or people from a similar background to your own, you might be surprised to know that all weddings are not the same. Some Jewish weddings have ceremonies even before the actual wedding to read and sign the ketubah (wedding contract) and to veil the bride (bedekken). A Jewish-style procession emphasizes the joining of families, and both the bride and the groom process into the ceremony. Is it going to “feel” like a wedding that expresses both of your cultural identities and be a hybrid experience, or is it going to be a one or the other situation?
- What are your “Sacred Cows”? What are the taboos? What are the deal breakers? For people from a Christian background (Catholic, Protestant, or even secular) it might be obvious that Jesus would be mentioned. But for people walking into a Jewish wedding, Jesus might be a shocking inclusion. Whichever decisions are made, be aware of where it might be problematic for family members, and take steps to prepare people well for the experience of the wedding day they’re walking into.
- Who will be your officiant? Who is going to perform the ceremony? A rabbi? A pastor? Another type of clergy? A justice of the peace? A friend who filed for a license on the internet? Many religious professionals are not permitted to perform intermarriages, or if they are technically allowed to, will only agree to perform the wedding if both spouses agree to live and raise future children according to “their” particular brand of religion. Are you looking for a ceremony co-officiated by multiple people from different religious persuasions? This difficulty around finding an appropriate officiant might be a source of unexpected difficulty and tension ... so don’t leave it until the last minute.
- How will you celebrate? Talk about the food! Many religious and cultural traditions have dietary rules and restrictions. Kosher adherence varies widely among Jewish individuals. For some people, a vegetarian or fish option might suffice; for others, a kosher caterer will be required. Hindu relatives might have difficulty if beef (or any meat) is served. A meal is a great opportunity to extend hospitality and break bread together. Wherever it is possible to accommodate dietary needs, the thought goes a long way.
You will also want to think about what you will be drinking or not drinking. Wine is often seen as mandatory for Jewish celebrations, while some denominations of Christianity are totally dry, and some traditions are comfortable with wine but not hard liquor. Have the conversation with your spouse-to-be and make a decision about the reception that fits your community best.
Food and drink are often two of the most memorable parts of a wedding reception, but don’t forget to discuss cultural expectations around music, dancing, games, and more.
Above all, try to make sure you both find enjoyment in the process of planning the wedding and on the actual day of your wedding! You might hit a snag or two, but what wedding doesn’t? Take the time to check in with your partner, and ask how they’re handling the planning. Planning your wedding is a great way to practice your communication skills in marriage! Showing mutual respect for both of your cultures is a loving way to build your marriage on a path to spiritual harmony.
While these questions should get you off to a great start, you might also be facing challenges that feel impossible and questions that feel unanswerable. We want to support and help you celebrate the differences you and your partner bring to your relationship. We would love to support you as you prepare for your special day. Email us at [email protected], or submit an inquiry to https://jewishgentilecouples.com/connect/, and let us know how we can support you.
Some Resources for Further Research and Reading:
- Eleni N. Gage, Lucky in Love: Traditions, Customs, and Rituals to Personalize Your Wedding
- Rabbi Hyim Shafner, The Everything Jewish Wedding Book
- “Wedding Tradition Advice,” https://www.theknot.com/content/wedding-tradition-advice
- “Planning Your Wedding,” https://18doors.org/wedding
- Stephanie Cain, “8 Tips for Planning a Multicultural Wedding,” https://www.brides.com/story/tips-for-planning-multicultural-wedding
- Nancy Mattia and Andrea Park, “43 Fascinating Wedding Traditions From Around [sic] the World,” https://www.brides.com/gallery/wedding-traditions-around-the-world