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Can I Have Shrimp Cocktails at My Jewish Wedding?

It can be surprisingly hard to figure out what to do about keeping kosher at your wedding. Especially if one of you did not grow up Jewish. 

On the one hand, there are few things more identified with Jewish culture than keeping kosher: No pork, no shrimp, no milk and meat, and so on. Your wedding is a big public statement of your identity, and if being Jewish is important to you or your spouse-to-be (or one of your parents…) (or grandparents…), then it can make sense to do this very Jewish thing at your wedding.  

On the other hand, only a small minority of Jews keep these laws at all; most people living Jewishly aren’t that invested in this particular piece of our spiritual legacy. If being kosher hasn’t been part of a Jewish partner’s life until this point, it can feel strange to do something that feels like lying at your own wedding. Plus, shrimp cocktails are really delicious. 

Central to my own religious understanding is the Talmudic teaching “rachmana liba bayeh,” which translates to, “The Merciful One desires the heart.” Living wholeheartedly, with intention and integrity, is a form of service to the Holy One. There is no religious value whatsoever in falseness and pretense.   

If keeping kosher is already part of your life, and something you do wholeheartedly, then by all means, you should serve kosher food at your wedding! If it’s an important part of your family’s observance, or your partner’s family, then you may also feel that it’s important to be sensitive to their need for kosher food at your wedding.  

But what if your reality is not that clear-cut? Here are a few ways to think about keeping kosher at your wedding with integrity and a whole heart.  

Honoring the Tradition 

Maybe keeping kosher isn’t particularly important to you, but being Jewish is. Or maybe there are several people on your invite list who keep kosher. In this case, you might avoid glatt treif—the obviously forbidden items, such as pork, shellfish, and milk and meat served together. If you wanted to take this one step further, you could eliminate meat altogether and serve only fish and vegetables, since kashrut (the Kosher laws) primarily involve meat.  

Keeping the Values  

Keeping kosher is about making ethical decisions every time we put food in our mouth. While our ancient ancestors pursued holiness with the laws of keeping kosher, perhaps there are other values that are more immediate to you. You might want to consider supporting the ecosystem in which you live—knowing that your food was farmed by workers treated properly (and treating animals properly)—or reducing your carbon footprint? You might choose to wholeheartedly keep a form of eco-kashrut with your catering choices. 

Speaking Your Truth  

Know yourself, and if keeping kosher isn’t important to you, there is no merit in pretending otherwise. There is a teaching that says in the future, we’ll have to justify every time we could have enjoyed a good thing and didn’t. So order the shrimp cocktails, and eat them with a whole heart. 

One way or the other, healthy relationships are built on honesty, and your wedding is the best time to bring that honesty to all your relationships: With yourself, your partner and even with your beloved’s grandparents.  

Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek

Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek is a member of the faculty at Pardes North America and has been the rabbi at Beacon Hebrew Alliance since 2010. He has been recognized by the Jewish Forward as one of the most inspiring rabbis in America, and works extensively with couples seeking to strengthen their capacities to communicate with emotional intelligence. Rabbi Brent can be reached at his website if you want to get in touch.