“A Minister a Priest and a Rabbi”
The How To’s of a Co-officiated Jewish Interfaith Wedding
Over a hearty espresso in a coffee bar in southern Italy, Reverend Jens Hansen and I put the finishing touches on the wedding ceremony that we would perform together. Sarah, a Jewish young woman from the United States and her fiance’, Fabrizio a young man from an Italian Christian family had fallen in love and were planning to marry – which is how Reverend Jens, a Valdesian Baptist pastor, and I, a modern pluralistic rabbi came to be sipping espresso that morning. We were to be the co-officiants for Sarah and Fabrizio’s Jewish-Christian interfaith ceremony.
As a rabbi who has served Jews for nearly 18 years, five in the United States and nearly 13 here in Italy, I have officiated at scores of interfaith weddings and dozens more where I stood side by side with a priest or minister to conduct the wedding service together. And over the years I have found that my commitment to interfaith and co-officiated ceremonies has brought unexpected joys and blessings.
Recent interfaith/intermarriage statistics indicate that overall, the rate at which Jews intermarry with someone of a different faith is 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent.
What this means is that the Jewish wedding is changing in that that many Jewish brides and grooms who want a spiritual component to their wedding ceremony also want that spirituality shared with the faith traditions of their spouse. As a rabbi who is dedicated to serving Jewish interfaith couples who want to invite God into their partnership, I have worked hard to create a wedding service that combines Jewish tradition while celebrating the faith of the non-Jewish spouse,. When the wedding service includes a co-officiant, I take responsibility to initiate a discussion among all the participants so that the end result is a seamless presentation. For couples who choose a co-officiated Jewish interfaith wedding, I suggest the following:
- Begin with the rabbi – not all rabbis will officiate for interfaith weddings and fewer will co-officiate. Choose a rabbi who views the co-officiated service as a joy to share rather than a problem to be solved.
- Contact the co-officiating priest or minister (or service leader if other than the Christian faith). If the co-officiant is a family pastor or friend, all the better. Again choose a co-officiant who has a positive attitude.
- Establish ceremony guidelines – As a rabbi, I ask my co-officiant to agree that the focus of the ceremony be on the one God above and that readings reflect those aspects of faith that both religions have in common.
- Ask your co-officiants to stand side by side -This simple gesture has been one of my most successful. With a priest or minister at my side, we can model cooperation and respect and easily divide the ceremony between us rather than creating two separate ceremonies.
- Include Jewish essentials – That means plan for the ceremony to take place under the chuppah (the bridal canopy) and include the ring exchange, the Shevah Brachot (The Seven Wedding Blessings), a ketubah signing (many beautiful interfaith ketubot are now available) and the breaking of the glass.
- Incorporate both faith traditions – readings are a special way to highlight the faith traditions of the non-Jewish partner. Catholic co-officiants often choose a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on the meaning of love. A Muslim service leader with whom I shared a Jewish Persian service chose to read poetry by Khalil Gibran, while an Irish reverend included a familiar Gaelic wedding blessing.
- Blend traditions with family ritual items – In addition to traditional Jewish ritual items such as a family Kiddush cup or Bar Mitzvah tallit, a Christian family Bible can be used for a special reading and the covering of the chuppah can be a piece of lace shared with love by a Christian grandmother. In a co-officiated Persian ceremony, the “sofre” table featured a menorah, along with the traditional foods. The co-officiants can highlight these items and their special meanings in their opening remarks.
- Create a wedding progam – A co-officiated wedding may be an entirely new experience for your guests. With a wedding program in hand, guests can read explanations of the spiritual elements of the Jewish co-officiated service. I often share sample programs with my wedding couples as well as with my potential co-officiant to assure that we’re all “on the same page!”
- Inform the families – After the couple has met with me and following my meeting with the co-officiating priest, minister or lay leader, I offer to meet, either in person or by telephone, with both sets of parents. As a rabbi I want to assure the Jewish family that the wedding will be basically Jewish, but enhanced with ritual elements from the additional faith tradition. For the non-Jewish family, I explain that the service will be inclusive and welcoming and that they will not feel like outsiders at their son or daughter’s wedding.
- Meet and greet – At the ceremony’s conclusion, it is important that both officiants warmly greet both families. As a demonstration of appreciation for the opportunity to share faith traditions, I often suggest that the rabbi greet the non-Jewish family first, while the priest or minister greet the Jewish family – a small gesture that goes a long way.
Rabbi Barbara Aiello is Italy’s first woman rabbi and only non-orthodox rabbi who lives and works in Italy. She has officiated and many destination interfaith weddings and has co-officiated with Catholic priests, Protestant ministers as well as Muslim and Hindu lay leaders. Rabbi Barbara views her interfaith weddings as an essential first step in a couple’s continuing Jewish traditions in their homes and with their children. Contact Rabbi Barbara
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