By Carol Kaufman Newman
This is our second JOFA Journal devoted to weddings. In the few years since our first issue there have been so many innovations that we felt that the subject deserved another look. For me personally, this comes at an auspicious time since this June my husband and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary.
I would like to take a look back at my own wedding—June, 1963. Two prominent rabbis officiated: one was the leader of a large congregation in Manhattan and the other was a dean at Yeshiva University. Men and women sat together at the ceremony and at the dinner. My bedeken was a private affair with just the rabbis and immediate families in attendance (very different from today). Nobody stood as I walked down the aisle. My parents left me before I reached the chuppah and my future husband came to meet me as we walked to the chuppah together. I circled him three times. He gave me a ring while saying the traditional formula. The two rabbis said the sheva berachot. The ketubah was read by yet another rabbi. The groom broke the glass and everyone shouted mazal tov. We were husband and wife. It was a beautiful ceremony but one in which I played almost no role and in which no other women participated at all.
I have witnessed such incredible changes. About ten years ago, one of my dearest friends, who lives in Jerusalem, called me to say that her name would be in her daughter’s ketubah. What a moment it was for us both as she turned and smiled at me from under the chuppah at the mention of her name along with her husband’s. Since then I have seen brides give rings while saying special meaningful verses, and I have seen brides respond to the grooms’ giving of the ring. I have watched as brides put a tallit or kittel on the groom and I have heard women read the ketubah. I have had the joy of hearing my own sister (the shadchanit/matchmaker) say one of the sheva berachot after the dinner at my daughter’s wedding. I have also had the privilege of seeing my name in both my daughters’ ketubot. The Jewish wedding ceremony is becoming a partnership, a blueprint for what we hope the couple’s future marriage will be. Women, who in the past played a passive role, are now taking an active role.
When I was growing up we were taught that we should be like Hannah. She was our most significant role model.
"...וחנה היא מדברת על לבה רק שפתיה נעות, וקולה לא ישמע"
“Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved but her voice was not heard.” (First Book of Samuel 1:13)
Similarly, in the wedding ceremony, we were taught that there was no need for the bride to be heard, that her silence was sufficient to signal her assent. As I read through the articles in this wedding issue I realized that there is another paradigm we can follow. As women begin to assume a larger role in their marriage ceremonies they come closer to fulfilling the wonderful prophecy of Jeremiah that we recite twice at every Jewish wedding:
"מהרה... ישמע בהרי יהודה ובחצות ירושלם, קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה"
“Soon…let there be heard in the cities of Judah and the outskirts of Jerusalem, the voice of happiness, the voice of joy, the voice of the groom, the voice of the bride.” (Jeremiah 33:10-11)