Unorthodox, Tablet’s weekly podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, we discuss one of these questions online in “Ask Unorthodox.” If you have a question, please send it to email@example.com.
This week, we got a question from a listener who’s preparing for her daughter’s wedding next month. She raised her daughter as a secular Jew, just as she was raised. Her daughter’s fiance is the son of Episcopal priests, and though he was raised in a religious household, he now lives a completely secular life. Their wedding ceremony will be a non-religious one, performed by a friend, with no mention of God. In a concession to his family, his father will be giving a blessing—to be vetted in advance—and our listener’s daughter has asked her to give a blessing as well, “to kind of represent the Jewish side.”
She writes, “I’m happy that she thinks of herself as Jewish, and glad to be the person to do this. The question is, what do I say? Do you know any good sources I should look into? I will face the same restriction–no God–which is fine with me. I have become more observant as I’ve gotten older and now belong to a Reform synagogue, so I’m not completely ignorant. But I find myself at a bit of a loss.”
Our colleague Marjorie Ingall, author of Mameleh Knows Best, What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, summed it up well: “The complex face of modern American Jewry—and parenthood—right there!” Instead of a blessing, she suggests reading a poem. She dug into her list of wedding poems and offered the following two, by Jewish authors. “Superbly Situated” by Robert Hershon, editor of the literary magazine Hanging Loose, “expresses anxiety and urbanity in a very Jewish way,” she says. And “All I Want to Say,” by Linda Pastan, “has a biblical reference but more importantly is realistic about marriage, which is romantic and mundane, and that perspective feels very Jewish to me.”
We also reached out to Unorthodox guest Danya Shults, the founder of Arq, a startup designed to help people “connect with Jewish life and culture in a relevant, inclusive, and convenient way.” Arq published a two-part guide to weddings (you can read part one here and part two here), which is a great place to start. Beyond that, Danya recommends Ritualwell and Smashing the Glass. “If they’re looking for more active guidance, check out Ritual Design Lab or work with a kohenet,” she says. “Or why not pull from Jewish inspiration of the calendar: The Torah portion or the themes of the New Moon?”
But Danya cautions against jumping into planning the blessing without first examining why she’s giving it. “The very first question that comes to mind,” she says, “is what does ‘kind of representing the Jewish side’ mean to this woman and her daughter (and her fiance), and is this blessing the way to do it?”
“My rabbi, Jim Ponet, asked me and my husband, Andrew, at our interfaith wedding: “What do you and the people you care about need to see/hear/do to feel like you’ve been married?” We loved that and found it to be a really useful guide for picking Jewish (and non) rituals, from the Louis Armstrong we played as my husband walked down the aisle (one of his father’s favorite musicians) to the tallit we wrapped around us under the chuppah (my grandfather’s).
“It’s not clear to me whether the daughter is asking her mom to do a Jew-ish blessing because she’s trying to balance out her father-in-law’s blessing, or if it’s because the daughter is seeking a Jewish element that’s important to her and this is how she wants to do it. First, I’d suggest they explore the motivation behind this blessing in the first place. Maybe it turns out there’s something more custom to the daughter and her mother and their values that the mother can contribute.”