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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Some Radical Ideas

Dr. Rivkah Blau

Dr. Rivkah Blau

“Radical,” from the Latin word for “root,” means going to the foundation. The foundation is what we have to think about when celebrating a simcha. Instead of peripheral concerns – photographing the proceedings, for example – we should attend to the meaning of the event.

Consider circumcision, bris milah. To fulfill this mitzvah at the earliest moment possible, we generally schedule it after the morning davening. Davening may begin at 6:45 or 7 a.m.; the mohel circumcises the baby, the blessings are said, and the paragraph is read giving the name of the newborn. Not a moment is wasted. Everyone says “Aleinu l’shabeiach” and goes to breakfast.

A bit of planning will prevent problems at this point. Since one or more members of the family may want to speak, or the family wants the rabbi to speak, and most of the guests must get to work, all speakers should be advised that the talks will begin as soon as everyone is seated; a time limit for each talk should be set beforehand. Relatives who are not seasoned speakers must type up what they will say; it is a trying experience to wait while a speaker searches for an ending.

The time for bentching as well as who will say a ha’rachaman must be decided beforehand. If speeches begin after everyone has finished eating, guests begin departing for work and the family becomes preoccupied with mazal tov wishes and goodbyes – until someone remembers Birkas HaMazon. The family at that point has to check whether enough people for a minyan are still present.

With proper planning, however, instead of empty chairs there will be plenty of guests present for a proper thanking of Hashem.

When a child reaches the age of mitzvos, the parents must consider everyone involved: the child, the child’s friends, the relatives, the friends of the family. How many twelve year-old girls or thirteen year-old boys (or how many adults, for that matter) will listen to long speeches? If they are polite, they will be quiet but absorb little from the talks. (A young person told me his friends are quiet because they’re checking their iPods.) Every speech must have a point that the entire audience can understand.

I imagine that in the parts of Europe where the custom began of throwing candy after the haftarah at a bar-mitzvah boy or a groom, the candy was soft and the shuls were small. In our time, throwing candy poses halachic problems and can be dangerous.

Consider: 1) the candy may land on the Torah scroll, which should be treated with respect; 2) food should not be thrown; 3) candies often land on the floor where the children scramble to grab them – hardly the conduct we want to promote in shul; 4) children eat the candy in shul before Kiddush; and 5) people have been injured by flying candy – check your knowledge of physics for the impact of an object thrown from a height, or recall a paper cut to think what the corner of a Sunkist Gem wrapper can do to a cheek or an eye.

I remember a wonderful bride whose groom, a lamdan, did not want candy to be thrown. Her grandfather, who had chassidic customs, said he could accept the groom not wearing a coat over his kittel, but “me’varft nisht?” – no throwing [candy]?!

My daughters-in-law did not disappoint children who expected sweets; they prepared packages of candy to distribute after Kiddush. The Sefer Torah was not hit; no one was hurt by a barrage of flying objects; children old enough to wait for Kiddush were rewarded for their maturity.

* * * * *

Weddings require new approaches. I welcome readers’ ideas (please send them to letters@jewishpress.com); here are mine.

The bride and groom and their parents should write up a schedule for the big event. The musicians, photographer, and caterer should have copies of these schedules.

Even more important, a relative or close friend should have a copy and ensure that the momentum is sustained.

Everyone who will be honored at the ceremony should be called ahead of time and asked to sit in the front row. Again, a relative or friend should check that each honoree has arrived and escort the person to the front row. Snags will be avoided: we all know of a situation where a person sitting in the twentieth row because he didn’t know he would be honored had to run up to the chuppah; where a person didn’t know and arrived after the chuppah; where a person who was at the reception was sure he would not participate in the ceremony because many prominent rabbis were present and so he left, only to learn afterward that he had been called to come up for a berachah.

If a person does not read Hebrew fluently, give him a short berachah and enough time to practice it. If a rosh yeshiva has many responsibilities and is known to come late, think of how to prevent guests waiting around for an hour or more while nothing happens. Perhaps you can ask the rosh yeshiva what time he can arrive, and list that as the start of the ceremony. Or ask how you can enable him to be punctual – a driver in a limousine ready to take him at the appointed hour? I don’t know the best answer, but I do know what has happened in Israel.

An oleh whose parents were caterers in New York, and who helped make elegance the standard for kosher events, knew that havoc ensues in the kitchen when serving is delayed – food that should be served hot has to be reheated; cold food has to go back in the refrigerator. Because he knew how distressed a caterer is when the meal is delayed, for his children’s weddings he worked out a schedule with everyone involved, and called each person who would be honored to clarify that the wedding would be punctual.

Word spread that this man knows how to make a wedding go chick-chock. A caterer called him to ask for help. She was providing the food for an elegant wedding, but the m’sader kiddushin was known to always come late. She would pay this parent to do for her event what he had done for his children’s celebrations – get it to run on time.

The man called the rosh yeshiva to say that the ceremony would be at 6 o’clock. The rosh yeshiva said his shiur ends at five – no problem. But to get from his yeshiva to the catering hall would take at least an hour and a half, possibly two hours if he started at five o’clock. After several discussions on the phone, the rosh yeshiva decided he would either start the lesson that day an hour earlier or ask another rosh yeshiva to teach his students. He came on time.

I was at a reception where the bride did not come to the bridal chair. The guests waited and wondered why she did not appear. She had been my student and I had a second student’s wedding the same night. I had planned to congratulate this bride and then drive to the second wedding. (My husband comments that you can dance at two weddings but you won’t eat at either one).

I knocked on the door of the bridal room and the bride told me to come in. After I told her she looked beautiful, I asked why she hadn’t come out. She was waiting for both mothers to escort her. I found them – both waiting to be told it was time to bring the bride to her satin-bedecked seat! They did not realize they had to make things happen.

At the chuppah, why do people stand up when certain names are called but remain seated when other names are announced? If standing is a sign of respect, not standing becomes disrespect. Some rise for a rosh yeshiva but nor for a rav. Some rise for a person who teaches in one yeshiva but not for a teacher in another yeshiva. Is this a game of my team against your team? The mitzvah in Vayikra 19.32 is to rise before an older person to honor her or him.

The elements of the wedding ceremony are so meaningful, why add a speech, especially knowing that other than on Rosh Chodesh the bride and groom are fasting? Since the speaker may know only one member of the pair, the talk often features a lengthy off-the-cuff dissertation on all the positive attributes of that member, topped off with a brief remark to the effect that the other member of the couple must be adequate if the person the speaker knows chose him or her.

If speeches matter to the parents, let them be prepared and thoughtful rather than ad-libbed with sometimes painful gaffes. And let them be given at the dinner.

* * * * *

My sons tell me that young people are accustomed to loud music. But what about the rest of us? The musicians are wearing earplugs, but a guest near the band risks hearing damage. If one wishes to engage in conversation one must go out of the ballroom or anticipate a sore throat at the end of the evening.

At one memorable wedding where the music was pounding, someone accidentally stepped on a wire and pulled out the amplifier plug – and the guests applauded.

The melody for “Mareh Kohein” from the Yom Kippur davening is a joyous one. The words are about the extraordinary appearance of the high priest after completing the service on Yom Kippur in the Kodesh Hakadashim. I accept using the melody for dancing at a wedding, but I question singing the words. If we don’t attend to the meaning of what we are saying and doing, the integrity of the event disappears.

Agreement and disagreement will probably be evenly divided on this point: the first dance should last for twenty minutes or at most a half hour. By the time forty-five minutes or an hour have passed the bride’s face is red, the groom is sweating, the guests are exhausted, the main course is being or already has been served and many people are leaving or have left.

If there would be one reasonably timed dance before the main course and another dance after Birkas HaMazon and sheva berachos, more people would stay for the full wedding. My guess is that those who stay for the second dance will be the bride and groom’s relatives and friends – precisely the people who want an individual dance in the center of the circle.

Actually, the problem begins earlier. Because the couple wants the badeken to be the first time they see each other after a week of not meeting, photography is postponed until after the chuppah. My brother, Rav Elazar Mayer Teitz, proposes that since no one waits until the chuppah and chassan and kallah see each other at the badeken, and “since some say that the badeken is a form of kinyan, have two friends who are kosher witnesses be present, and have the chassan do a badeken. Now that they’ve seen each other in that manner, they can take pictures. Then, immediately before the chuppah, let them do a traditional badeken [covering the bride’s face with her veil] for the benefit of the guests and the album.”

After the ceremony, if the bride and groom delay the dancing while they take pictures, he tells them “they’re missing a beautiful simcha.”

* * * * *

I am not criticizing what is spent on weddings. In many cases parents who are generous with the wedding are also generous in giving tzedakah. Families who survived the Shoah view the wedding as a triumph over enemies who wanted to destroy us. If you are concerned about money, consider that a wedding that runs overtime generates thousands of dollars of additional payment for the staffs of the photographer and caterer, and to the musicians and the hall. The overtime provision is in every contract I have seen, and must be honored.

* * * * *

For a couple about to marry, a note and a question:

Get a marriage license. If your m’sader kiddushin is not registered to fill out the license, talk to the rav of your family or to a rosh yeshiva who is authorized. Filling out the form is a simple matter, but it must be done, signed properly, and mailed back to the appropriate address.

Is it wise to invite rabbanim and roshei yeshiva to make long trips in order to attend a student’s or a congregant’s wedding? Of course the family provides the plane ticket and covers all expenses, but the person coming for the happy event usually takes a return flight immediately afterward and is exhausted for a week.

This is open to debate. Is that person’s presence so meaningful to the bride or groom, and to the person who is willing to make the trip, that the exhaustion and the days of missing shiur are worth it?

Dr. Rivkah Teitz Blau is an author, lecturer, and university professor who has witnessed many weddings. She has attended (and hopes to attend more) weddings of her high school students and attends with her husband, Rabbi Yosef Blau, the weddings of students at his yeshiva (between twenty and thirty a year for thirty-five years and counting). She also saw many weddings in her parents’ home in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, when a large wedding felt inappropriate for a people still reeling from the enormity of the Holocaust.

About the Author: Dr. Rivkah Teitz Blau is a professor of English, an author, and a lecturer. She edited the volume on "Gender Relationships in Marriage and Out" for the Orthodox Forum.


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3 Responses to “Some Radical Ideas”

  1. Avram Davis says:

    Yes, keep working at taking every bit of fun and joy out of the shul experience for kids. That's the ticket.

  2. Cyrise Beatty Schachter says:

    oy!

  3. Michelle Wolfson says:

    So glad she is non in charge of my shul. I wish she would learn to lighten up and have some fun in her life.

Comments are closed.

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