When Freedom to Marry, an organization dedicated to ending marriage discrimination, posted about my essay in Tablet Magazine, I was astounded by the tremendous response to the post and by the outpouring of well wishes. I have also received several inquiries about how my wife and I designed our unique wedding ceremony, including the kabbalat panim ritual described in my essay:
The origin of the bedecken ceremony is in the biblical story in which LeahThe third of the Jewish matriarchs, Lead is the eldest of Lavan's daughters and one of the wives of Jacob. She is the daughter whom Lavan tricks Jacob into marrying instead of his younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob has requested to marry. Leah is mother to six of the the twelve tribes and to one daughter, Dinah. was switched out for RachelLavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem. on the day she was to wed JacobLit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov.. Isabel and I were not interested in this ritual “checking”—both because it felt too heteronormative and also because we were pretty sure we were both going to show up. Instead, we repurposed this ritual and connected it to part of the essence of a wedding tischLit. Table (Yiddish) A festive meal that combines teaching Torah and telling jokes. At a traditional wedding, a groom’s tisch is held, during which the groom attempts to teach words of Torah while his friends interrupt with songs and jokes. Today, some brides hold a tisch as well, and some couples hold one together., which generally serves to relax the couple before the ceremony … We wanted to honor the moment when we first saw each other on our wedding day while also ritually preparing ourselves for the enormity of the day ahead. For us, carefully thinking through each piece of the wedding and not being afraid to adapt the tradition to better suit our particular situation meant that our ceremony was uniquely ours.
Deciding upon the details of this particular ceremony was not an easy process; it required a lot of thought and conversation. When planning any ritual (for myself or for others) the first thing I consider is the purpose of the ritual. What are we trying to accomplish? Are there Jewish symbols or liturgical pieces that we would like to include?
In this case, Isabel and I knew pretty quickly that a traditional bedecken was not going to work for us—though we wanted to hold onto the idea of sanctifying the first time we saw each other on the day of our wedding. We also decided against a traditional tisch as we did not want our guests to have to choose which tisch they would attend and we did not want to have to prepare a teaching (since we understand the intention of this ritual to be—in part—to put the couple at ease). We did, however, like the idea of creating a ritual that would help us relax, so we decided to combine elements of these two rituals into one.
We wanted to create a kabbalat panim ritual that would encourage us to truly welcome and see the other—a ritual similar to the the kabbalat ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. service that helps us welcome Shabbat. As we discussed existing rituals we could draw upon, we quickly settled on the act of ritual hand washing.
In the morning and before meals, many people ritually wash their hands in order to spiritually prepare themselves for the day or meal ahead. This hand washing traditionally occurs without any jewelry on one’s hands. Since our engagement, Isabel and I had adopted the practice of symbolically re-enacting that commitment by replacing our engagement rings on each other’s hands after we ritually washed our hands for Shabbat. In drawing on this in our kabbalat panim ritual, we also marked the last time we would replace our engagement rings without our wedding bands. Not only did this ritual pick up on a pre-existing tradition in our relationship, but it helped ritually and spiritually prepare us to step under the huppahMarriage canopy symbolizing the couple's new home. together.
Creating a ritual might be a new experience for some, but it need not be scary or overwhelming. In fact, creating a new ritual can be empowering—particularly for people who do not or have not always seen themselves and their stories in the structures of the ancient rituals.This is true for women, LGBTIQ people, and people with disabilities.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you create your own rituals:
• Always be careful not to pile on too many symbols or pieces of liturgy; it is, in fact, possible for there to be too much of a good thing.
• Think about who you want to be involved and what their roles will be. It is okay to push people a little out of their comfort zones for the sake of your ritual, but it will not serve anyone if they are completely panicked.
• And, last, think about what is meaningful to you.
After discussing these questions, and reflecting on our values and vision of what we hoped to accomplish through this ritual, Isabel and I came up with a short, but poignant, kabbalat panim ritual: Our bridal parties danced each of us down from our hotel rooms and each mother offered personal blessings to her daughter. We were then brought into the same space where we saw each other for the first time on our wedding day. Our rabbi welcomed us to the hand washing ritual. In those moments of tenderly washing each others hands, and slipping our engagement rings back onto each other’s fingers, we were able to breathe deeply into the moment and be truly present to the joy of our wedding day and our entry into married life.
Photo of Isabel and Roni’s hands by Koala Photography.