Monday, June 21, 2010

The Wedding Industrial Complex and Kant as viewed through the lenses of the various Jewish denominations from 1880 through today: Part 1

The title of this post comes from this other post. Sorry it's so long overdue. And sorry that it won't quite live up to its title: I don't plan to discuss the wedding industrial complex, or the Jewish denominations per se, but Kant will make an appearance, and this will be Part 1 of at least 5.

EAR and I got married in August 2009. So did our friends EAKO and BZK, one week earlier. So we set up a four-person havruta to plan our wedding ceremonies together, so that we could share ideas, and so that each couple wouldn't be acting alone in whatever we ended up doing, but would be in good company.

This series of posts will present what we decided to do and why. (A very very brief description appeared recently in the June issue of Sh'ma, but a piece of that length isn't nearly long enough to even begin to explain.) This first post is an introduction to the general principles and goals that we worked with; later posts will get into the specifics.

[Disclaimer: Though the description of the final product will reflect what the four of us actually did, I am writing these posts alone, and my explanations of the thinking behind each element might not represent others' thinking 100% faithfully. In such cases, the views expressed are my own.]


We began by setting out some general principles that we were aiming to fulfill with the marriage ceremony we would select (and though we ended up doing something that probably hadn't been done before in this precise form, this wasn't a foregone conclusion from the start).

In no particular order:
  • It would be situated firmly in the ongoing conversation of Jewish tradition as it extends into the past and the future.
  • It wouldn't just be personal and idiosyncratic, tailored to these two couples, but would fulfill the Kantian categorical imperative. That is, it would be something that any Jewish couple could use, and something that we could support in good conscience if everyone chose to start using it.
  • It would be gender-nonspecific at its core. Though both couples involved were opposite-sex (or, as some would say, adjacent-sex) couples, we wanted something that could be used by partners of any gender. After all, the big step was from classical non-egalitarian marriage to modern egalitarian marriage; once that step has been taken, disregarding the genders of the spouses is simply a logical extension. (However, Hebrew and Aramaic are gendered languages, and we did not attempt to avoid this; we used the grammatical genders that were appropriate to each of us, with the understanding that couples of any gender combination could do the same. (We understood "chatan" and "kallah" in this light as different grammatical forms of the same word, even if they don't sound alike.) We also did some superficial things at the wedding that are culturally associated with gender, e.g., what we wore, who broke the glass; however, these were in no way essential to effecting the marriage.)
  • We would approach the non-egalitarian elements of our tradition from a Rawlsian "nearly just society" perspective. That is, we would not reject (e.g.) kiddushin out of hand as fundamentally and irreparably sexist, but neither would we accept it in its original form, whether as unchanging law or as mere "ritual". Instead, we would identify the underlying values and retain these in an egalitarian form.
  • Rachel Adler writes that "ritual should seem as if it has always been this way" (Engendering Judaism, p. 197). We would be attentive to this in determining the outward appearance of the marriage ceremony, and would make sure it flowed smoothly and authentically even if it was complex behind the scenes.
  • It would not necessarily need to be accepted as a valid marriage by everyone in the Jewish world, particularly since making it valid according to certain opinions would be incompatible with true egalitarianism. If we believed with integrity that we were validly married according to our understanding of Jewish law, that would be sufficient. For divorce (which I'll discuss later in this series), there are practical reasons (for you and your descendants) to make sure that the divorce is accepted universally, since lives can be messed up if it isn't. No such considerations apply for marriage. (And if someone doesn't consider you to be married, this does not mean that they will consider your children to be mamzeirim; this is a common misconception that stems from an imprecise translation of "mamzeir" to the English "bastard", which has a different meaning. A mamzeir is only a child of an incestuous or adulterous relationship.)


A look at the rest of the series (subject to change):
  • Part 2: an overview of Jewish marriage (kiddushin and nisuin)
  • Part 3: how we did kiddushin bishtar (document)
  • Part 4: how we did ketubah (the content, and the means of accepting it)
  • Part 5: provisions for divorce (not for us, but see above under Kant)
Stay tuned!


  1. Thanks! Looking forward to seeing future pieces on the subject.

  2. OK, dude. I'm ready for the next one.

  3. David WolkenfeldJuly 14, 2010 12:28 PM

    Nu, I'm ready to read more!