In many Christian heterosexual weddings, the groom does not walk down the aisle, but waits with the clergy and the groomsmen at the altar. After the bridesmaids enter, the bride’s father walks her down the aisle to her new husband, and sometimes ministers use the language of the father “giving away” the bride. Mothers are usually accompanied down the aisle just before the formal procession begins. Same-sex Christian weddings adapt these traditions in various ways.
Jewish heterosexual weddings usually start with the chuppah-bearers processing, followed by the rabbi, the groomsmen, the groom and his parents, the bridesmaids, and finally the bride and both of her parents. Same-sex Jewish wedding processions also generally begin with the chuppah-bearers, and continue with each partner being walked down the aisle by his/her parents.
In many Christian ceremonies, both parties recite vows (“I do’s”). This isn’t part of a traditional Jewish ceremony, though similar promises often are part of the couple’s ketubah.
The Kiss and the Pronouncement
Lots of Christian weddings end with a kiss and the officiant publicly declaring the new couple to be officially wed. While there isn’t a kiss in the traditional Jewish wedding “script,” today most Jewish weddings include one.
Some Christian communities include one or more readings from the Old or New Testaments of the Christian Bible. Jewish wedding ceremonies don’t include any scriptural readings.
Jewish-Christian weddings offer many opportunities for couples to honor both traditions and make their guests feel welcome. One way to do this is to have your officiant(s) open the ceremony with a reading acknowledging both faiths. 18Doors has several examples that you can share with your officiant(s) for discussion.
There are several Christian and Jewish wedding rituals that emphasize the specific theology or beliefs of each faith, and some Jewish-Christian couples have reasons for wanting to include them. Often, however, Jewish-Christian couples seek out traditions from their respective faiths that are theologically “neutral” or universal. Here are several examples of Christian and Jewish wedding traditions that are well suited to creating a sense of universal welcome and respect.
From various Christian traditions:
Lighting of a unity candle. This tradition involves three candles. Usually, the mothers of the couple each light one of the taper candles. During the ceremony, the couple each take one of the taper candles and light the pillar candle together. InterfaithFamily has sample unity candle ceremonies.
The kiss and the pronouncement. The announcement that the two partners are now legally wed. And the kiss–everybody loves a joyful wedding kiss!
The assent of the congregation. This Christian tradition of asking the guests whether they support the couple.
Vows. Spoken vows, whether in a classic “I do” format or personally written and spoken by each partner to the other.
From Jewish tradition:
Breaking the glass. The groom (or sometimes either or both partners) concludes the ceremony by stomping on a glass.
Chuppah. The wedding canopy creates a cozy and often beautiful visual framing for the wedding.
Ketubah. Many interfaith couples now incorporate ketubahs into their wedding ceremony and have it read aloud. Contemporary interfaith ketubahs sometimes acknowledge both partners’ faiths and their aspirations for how they seek to honor their traditions.
Circling. The circling of one member of the couple around the other, or each circling around the other, is a beautiful ritual that can be done with music playing, singing or in silence.
Some potential sensitive issues are:
Use of names of God that are very specific to either Judaism or Christianity (like “Adonai” or “Jesus”). Some guests may feel uncomfortable due to their personal religious beliefs, a sense of historical persecution, ideas about closed community or a sense of exclusion. Referring to God as “God,” “the Creator,” “Source of Life,” etc. can help bridge the different theologies. Clergy with interfaith wedding experience can help you plan the God-language of your ceremony.
Christian clergy sometimes tell guests “let us pray,” ask them to bow their heads, or ask them to kneel. These are ritual moments that aren’t familiar to many Jewish guests, and they may feel uncomfortable being asked to do these things. Talk through the elements of your ceremony with each other and your officiant(s) and consider giving your guests a little advanced notice of ceremonial elements that might be outside their comfort zones. You can do so by offering a brief explanation in your program or having your officiant(s) say something. Giving guests permission to participate or not in these kinds of ritual moments can also be helpful.
Jewish weddings often include a fair amount of Hebrew. Using Hebrew without any translation or explanation makes some guests feel left out or lost during the ceremony. Translations and little explanatory blurbs in your program can be very helpful. If you’re working with a rabbi or cantor, ask them for a sense of how they work with Hebrew and how they help foster a feeling of inclusion for Christian guests and family members.
Jewish weddings often include the sharing of wine. Some Christian traditions don’t allow the consumption of alcohol. Grape juice is a great substitute!
Scriptural readings from the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament) and the New Testament. Having a reading from both sources follows the pattern many Christian denominations use in Sunday services and at weddings. The main sensitivity arises for some Jewish guests who feel uncomfortable with New Testament texts that refer to Jesus or use other Christological language. And of course, there may be Christian guests who feel uncomfortable if there’s no mention of Jesus at all. Each couple needs to decide what’s right for them, and experienced clergy who are caring and sensitive to interfaith couples can help think these issues through with you.