Jewish Journal


February 19, 2009

Many Israelis Walk Down Wedding Aisle Less Traveled


Alternative wedding celebrations are on the rise in Israel. From celebrity ceremony officiators to personalized ketubahs and hand-written vows, Jewish wedding ceremonies in Israel are no longer all the same.

One of the reasons for this new trend is related to the young, secular Israelis’ rejection of the rabbinate requirements.

According to Shulamit Reinharz, Jacob Potofsky professor of sociology at Brandeis University and founder of the Women’s Studies Research Center and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, a large percentage of Israel’s young population sees the current marriage laws as religious coercion.

The Israel Religious Action Center claims that 25 percent of all Israeli couples look for alternative ways to celebrate their union, which includes going abroad for a civil marriage or creating their own unrecognized religious ceremony. However, aside from those who could legally be married by the rabbinate but choose not to, there are also many couples, like new immigrants and interfaith couples, who do not have an option to legally marry in Israel. All of these factors have led to the popularization of alternative wedding ceremonies over the last decade.

The Cummings Foundation reports that “the number of wedding ceremonies conducted outside the established system by Reform and Conservative rabbis, as well as secular educational leaders, has exploded.” Despite the fact that they have no legal standing, hundreds of young couples in Israel prefer to wed in their own fashion.

So what does an alternative wedding ceremony entail?

The Institute for Jewish Secular Rites, a nonprofit organization that offers 25 different secular ceremonies, explains that most of the traditional elements of a Jewish marriage ceremony are maintained. The chuppah, the Kiddush, the exchange of rings, the ketubah, the breaking of the glass and the seven benedictions still make up the ceremony. They are simply modified to suit each couple, which often means changing the text in the ketubah to express more equality and writing personal vows.

Couples give various reasons for wanting something different. For some, traditional ceremonies seem too impersonal, while others are turned off by the religious or old-fashioned elements, such as buying the bride and the bride’s required silence under the chuppah.

One popular trend is to be wed by celebrities. Yair Lapid and Avri Gilad are two well-known media personalities who have been performing marriage ceremonies for the past four years. In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ynetnews, Lapid explained that he performs the ceremonies free of charge because he enjoys it.

“I meet couples that don’t want to be married by any kind of rabbi,” he said. “They want it to be a special and unforgettable ceremony that will include much self-expression. I just know how to do it. I make sure that the ceremony is emotional, that it has Judaism and some humor and also that it is done well.”

According to Gilad, the ceremony deals with the couple, their life and their love in a fundamental manner, rather than with Jerusalem and its destruction.

Many couples choose an alternative ceremony because they want something different that expresses their individuality. There are those who dream of sunrise ceremonies on a mountaintop or on the beach at sunset. Other couples take the stage and sing songs they’ve written for the occasion. Some grandiose weddings even hire television crews and screen the live ceremony on projectors rented for the occasion.

Online resources offer a wealth of information — from the alternative specialists to www.mitchatnim.com (a Web site with everything you need to know about planning a wedding in Israel, from how to stick to your budget to finding locations and hiring a makeup artist). Spending the time to do your homework in the beginning will save you a lot of frustration in the end — even if you’ve hired a wedding planner to help plan your big day.

And no matter what type of wedding a couple decides upon, most planners recommend shying away from the outrageous, the ostentatious and the quirky.

“I don’t like hiring carnival dancers and film crews for wedding ceremonies,” said Zvi Osossky, a wedding planner in Tel Aviv. “At the end of the day, what makes a successful wedding is the guests. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, take the stage with your guitar or go to extremes. What matters the most is keeping things simple.”

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