Monday, January 29, 2007

Know Your Jewish Community: Weddings

I'll leave Harley to eloquently say what I can only think. It seems strange to me that in the midst of death there is life, and so yesterday (Sunday) I went to the wedding of a good friend from college. At this point I've been to a few Jewish weddings, but the sentiment of the friends (the bride's friends at least) is "I can't believe that she's really married." It is that same type of Magical Thinking as Harley spoke about in her last post.

Anyway, it occured to me that Jewish weddings (at least traditionally observant ones) are pretty far from what a non-Jew, or secular Jew expects when they walk into the hall. Main differences:
-No speeches, drunken or otherwise at the reception
-almost everyone leaves early except immediate family and bridal party
-seperate dancing
-the pre-nup is read aloud during the ceremony
-sometimes the hug under the bridal canopy is the first time that the couple has ever touched

Helen of Indian Wedding has a pretty good rundown of the ceremony. She misses some of the symbolism, but it is a good outline. AtTheFamilyPlace has an interesting post by Tuppy where he/she says: "Beginning with a matchmaking ceremony, spiritual devotion is studied in stages before a lifelong partner is chosen. Contrary to common belief, this practice also requires that both people be physically, emotionally and spiritually attracted to each other." I am not entirely sure what is meant by that. I wonder if there was some article published that claimed that Jewish matchmaking is entirely businesslike and devoid of feeling.

At any rate Ellie of the Dilettante Handbook reposted an article about a mass Jewish wedding (20 couples) in Havana. There had been no one to officiate so while all of the couples were married according to Cuban law, they hadn't had a Jewish ceremony. 3 Argentinian rabbis performed the ceremonies. Efratti describes a secular Israeli wedding that she attended. Pretty similar to an Orthodox Jewish wedding, the only differences being in the style of the bride's dress, and how the genders mix before and after the ceremony itself. If you want to see examples of what an Orthodox wedding looks like, go to OnlySimchas, which is a sort of bulletin board for good news in the Orthodox community: engagements, weddings, births, bar mitzvahs, people making aliyah, and so on. Also, it is a good way to waste a lot of time. Ask my roommates, we spent a great portion of our senior year avoiding writing our respective thesii and instead checking out bridesmaid dresses. Clearly a good use of our time.

Whatever, don't judge.


Lakewood Venter said...

Mazal Tov!

sh said...

Having recently been to my first non-jewish wedding, last night's wedding took on a whole new significance for me, as I was able to make comparisons. Your observations are all correct, Annie, and if I may I'd make a couple more. Although I could be wrong on this one, aside from society weddings I feel like non-jewish weddings have fewer guests. It makes the atmosphere more intimate as the people there are generally pretty close with the wedding parties. That could explain why people don't leave early, since they feel a stronger bond with the married couple. At the wedding I attended they also ate the entire meal before any dancing took place. One benefit from that is that less food is wasted because people are hungry (and there are physiologic reasons as to why after dancing you're not hungry) and it also makes the wedding flow more smoothly. Another difference is the cake cutting ceremony. I could be wrong but at last nights wedding I didn't even see a wedding cake, whereas at a non-jewish wedding the dessert is the wedding cake. Finally, the music is unbelievably loud at jewish weddings such that during the dancing it is impossible to have a conversation with anyone. On a side note, when I say non-Jewish wedding I could mean non-religious Jewish wedding, as I have only been to one non-jewish wedding and no non-religious jewish weddings.

BabyTyrone said...

I've been to many kinds of weddings, and while there are major differences between Jewish and non-Jewish weddings, I have to say that there is a great deal of variation even within Orthodox Jewish weddings. To wit: I have been to many Orthodox weddings at which everyone but the aged and the infirm remained there and dancing long past midnight. And most of the Orthodox weddings I have attended had some kind of speeches during the reception -- the difference between traditional Jewish weddings and non-Jewish weddings seems to me to be that more of the speeches are from friends of the bride and groom at non-Jewish weddings, and from parents/siblings of the bride and groom at Jewish weddings. Which accounts in part for the fact that, as you point out, the speeches at non-Jewish weddings are more likely to be delivered drunkenly.

The biggest difference, as sh has pointed out, seems to be size. The reason for this has more to do with the nature of Jewish communities than anyone else. Years ago, on the way home from a 500+ person Jewish wedding, I told my Orthodox parents that I would rather have s small wedding than a large one, and my mother asked me to list who I would invite. She then informed me that if I was to invite only the few names I listed, then the following people would be terribly insulted (as we, as a family, had the same relationship with them as we did with the ones I had listed). By the time she was done, and I had included the members of my (admittedly gigantic) extended family, I was already well over 250 invitees...and that is without even beginning to consider the guest list of my (as yet entirely theoretical) bride.

It makes me surprised that more Orthodox Jews don't just elope.

Jack's Shack said...

least traditionally observant ones

That is a loaded comment.

Anniegetyour said...

SH:to some extent I agree with you, although I am very close with the bride and I would've loved to have gone home early. At big weddings you have very little interaction with the bride or the groom. Also, nice dancing.

BT: But if you elope, the girl doesn't get her "dream wedding." That is why you get married... right? At any rate, while I agree that there is a lot of variance even within Orthodox weddings, it seems to me that the standbys of non-Jewish weddings are just less important, if they happen at all. So the speeches, cake-cutting, first dance, and so on are nowhere near as integral, if they are present (which is the point I meant to make).

Jack: in this case, I don't think so. What I meant is that traditional Jewish weddings are further from the American cultural norms than those performed without some/all of the Jewish traditions, and with many secular ones. I don't think that that point can be argued against, at least for the reasons that I stated above to Babytyrone. The "essential components" of a traditional Jewish and non-Jewish wedding are just different.

Anonymous said...

I also get the feeling sometimes, "How could THIS person get married." Then I get over it.

Jack said...

Anyway, it occured to me that Jewish weddings (at least traditionally observant ones) are pretty far from what a non-Jew, or secular Jew expects when they walk into the hall.


Without coming to a consensus on what a traditional Jewish wedding is it is hard to agree with some of what you have said.

Anniegetyour said...

Jack- while I am generally a fan of heterodoxy, and I would argue that many different forms of wedding are "valid" I was pretty certain that what is "traditional" was not under debate. Granted, these traditions are different for different locations/nationalities/etc but I was pretty sure that the tripartite ritual of ketubah, ring exchange, and yihud was fairly commonly held.

The "tradition" of having 500+ people at a wedding, I would argue is not really a facet of a traditional wedding, but a result of community make-up, intersection with pop culture, etc etc.

While there is no one exact format, I've been to "traditional" Jewish weddings all over the world, and they, at least the wedding part, look pretty similar. That was my point, that the Jewish weddings that I've been to (admittedly anecdotal evidence) look very different than the prevailing idea of the big church wedding that American society holds so dear, portrays in movies, etc.

Jack said...

Hi Annie,

I am not trying to be adversarial or oppositional. Maybe I jumped at the line traditionally observant ones unnecessarily.

I happily belong to a conservative shul. Within and without the blogosphere there have been numerous comments made questioning whether we are truly Jews.

It is a ridiculous conversation, but every now and then I grab the bait.

Anyway, perhaps I overreacted.

Annie said...

Jack- no offense taken. I definitely know where you are coming from (my parents are "traditionally observant" and attend a Conservative shul), and the difficulties that, that can present.

Also the reason that I use the term "traditionally observant" is to move away from designating different denominations by "observance" or "religiousity" because I think that both of those can cross denominational boundaries. Apparently I can't win. Oh well. For the record, I did try.