A Marriage of Equals: In His Voice

by Bruce Goldberger

My wife (I’m still getting used to saying that—we got married just two weeks ago!) and I were married in Jerusalem, where Esther’s family lives. In the warren of offices at the Rabbanut, a world quite different from our own, we suddenly realized that the wedding was not going to completely reflect us—either as individuals or as a couple—and that frankly that was OK. As an architect, Esther had already come to terms with the nonexistence of the simple white room with beautiful views of Jerusalem in which she had dreamed of holding our wedding. Now we were choosing to accept that the ketubah provided by the Rabbanut followed a certain formula that worked for its ritual purpose, even if we would have worded it differently. We viewed the ketubah much like a government-issued marriage license—a necessary document, but not in itself something to which we would draw attention, so we chose not to create an illuminated one. 

We held our aufruf in New York City, at our longtime congregation, Kehilat Orach Eliezer (KOE). For about 18 months, KOE had been studying the issue of having women and men read from a single Torah. Following this intensive process, the community decided to authorize such a ”mixed kriya“ (mixed reading) in a room separate from the main sanctuary, in connection with the celebration of a simcha. Esther and I were the first simcha celebrants following that decision, and we knew right away that we wanted to have a mixed kriya. The aufruf was great fun. We both had aliyot (honors of ”going up ”to the Torah), as did my father. Our friends, men and women alike, read the sections of the Torah portion, from different sides of the mechitzah, from a Torah that my mother had carried in from the ark in the main sanctuary. I chanted the Haftorah. After we rejoined the rest of the congregation, Esther delivered a d’var Torah to the entire shul. 

As the day of our wedding drew nearer, I learned that my preoccupations with certain elements of weddings made Esther uncomfortable, and we both knew that the wedding was primarily about bringing us joy. Esther’s reasoned dislike of various traditional elements of the ceremony was more persuasive than my sentimental attachments to them. Esther did not want to sit on a throne-like chair or be raised on a platform for her bedeken. Indeed, she sat for just a few moments before I was danced in from my tisch. Esther thought that such a chair would render her passive, whereas she wanted to move around and mix with our guests. 

Regarding the veil, Esther did not want to wear one, but I wanted her to—not for any particular reason, except perhaps too many movies. In the spirit of compromise, Esther chose to wear a veil that extended slightly below her chin—but only at the bedeken (i.e., not for more than 10 minutes) and not while walking down the aisle. We twinned my veiling of Esther with her dressing me in my kittel at the bedeken, and those two interventions in each other’s wedding garments seemed an appropriately mutual way to reflect the uniqueness of the day. 

Another traditional element that I wanted included was to be circled by Esther seven times (could it have stemmed from a desire to stand in one place and have the world revolve around me?), but Esther preferred otherwise. We learned that this circling is not halakhically necessary and that an alternative minhag (custom) was to circle three times instead of seven. To demonstrate our interdependence, Esther circled me three times flanked by our mothers, and then I did the same to her with our fathers on each arm. The symbolism worked; in marrying, we were synthesizing our lives, which were most fundamentally the result of our parents’ unions.

After I broke the glass, Esther presented me with a ring, which Esther’s father, who was m’sader kiddushin, underscored was a gift from wife to husband, as we were already married. My new father-in-law noted that the gift from her to me under the chuppah was made simply out of affection and did not constitute a kinyan (act of acquisition). But we clearly had not thought of my presentation to Esther of her ring during the ceremony as an ”acquisition“ either, and Esther demonstrated that by verbally accepting the ring when I presented it to her. We were not concerned that I would be unilaterally ”acquiring“ Esther through marriage— that is simply not who we are—in much the same way that we know women and men are equals despite various distinctions between us in Jewish ritual life.

I think we had such a good time on our wedding day because we kept in mind that the mitzvah of a wedding is to bring joy to the bride and groom, and that there was no bride and groom to whom we wanted to bring joy more than each other.

 

Bruce N. Goldberger is an attorney in Manhattan. He is a member of the New Generations Steering Committee of the New Israel Fund and a member of the Board of the Judaism and Democracy Action Alliance of North America, Inc. Esther Sperber is an architect with DZO Architectures of Brooklyn.

 

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