Beyond Breaking the Glass (Nancy Wiener) – notes on the book

These are my own shorthand notes of a wonderful book by Rabbi Nancy Wiener, Beyond Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding, (2012, Central Conference of American Rabbis). I hope they encourage you to buy the book. By the way, the notes in square brackets are my own thoughts, rather than ideas gleaned from the book itself.

1.     Working together to create a holy context

  • 1 “How can you create a holy context for your relationship and the ritual that celebrates it?
    • 1 “What does your relationship mean to you”
    • 1 “What about your relationship is worthy of celebration and recognition?
    • “What are your shared values?”
  • 2 “express your commitment to produce an enduring, loving relationship”
  • 2 “These choices can express who you are and who, together, you aspire to be.”
  • 2 “While discussin matters related to your wedding, you will learn more about each other, and in the process, your spiritual and emotional bonds can grow deeper and more meaningful.”
  • 2 “respect, trugh, health, justice, modesty, covenant, joy, love and exclusivity.”
  • 2-3 Explore: mutual respect, career paths, children, spending and saving, religious beliefs and practices, handling disagreements and resolving conflicts, expressing emotions and opinions, taking care of each other at all levels, privacy, fidelity, how you share joy with each other, experiencing and expressing love, what you find challenging, what you could improve and how you will set about it,
  • 3 “As you become someone’s spouse, your parents and siblings become in-laws, and these changes will affect your interactions …”
  • 4 “No decision is too mundane or too small to be worthy of your attention.”
  • 7 Each generation takes earlier texts and creates new commentary and decisions
  • [Ceremony is decided by only the couple and celebrant.]
  • [Must both have a voice in the design in the design of the ritual.]
  • 12 Maintain shalom bayit peace in the home during your ceremony planning
  • 13 identify negotiables and non-negotiables
  • 13 Manage the expectations of family and friends to avoid drama on the day.
  • 14 What the emotional and practical considerations for remarriage, and children from previous relationships

2.     Jewish Wedding Rituals

  • 16 kinyan = sign of acquisition (eg ring)
  • 17 nisuin = to ‘lift/carry’, in acquiring a piece of property
  • 19 kidushin (sanctification of partnership) needs to male witnesses for the ketubah (marriage contract) & minyan for ceremony
  • 19 m’sadeir kidushin = overseer of ritual
  • 19 T’na’im = legal document setting wedding plans and conditions
  • 19 erusin = betrothal (engagement, at time of t’na’im)
  • 19 Sheva brachot at nisuin
  • 20 Kidushin as a term includes erusin and nisuin
  • 21 “The first setion, long focused on betrothal, became an opportunity to welcome those assembled and to articulate hopes and aspirations for the couple.” “… the focus of this section became the blessing and consumption of the first glass of wine, a symbol of joy.”
  • 21 “The modified nisuin ceremony highlighted the active participation of both members of the couple.”
  • 21”gratitude for Creation, a hope that the couple would have children, and a hope that the couple would have children, anda hope that the couple would be happy”
  • 22 children and procreation need not be the centre of ritual
  • 22 it is a ceremony of personal transformation
  • 23 covenant of love [brit ahavah, birkat ahavah?]
  • 23 own level of religious observance; immediate and extended family’s; non-Jews and non-religious people present; messages you want to send about your relationship
  • 24 How you name your ceremony sets the intention and message for yourselves and everyone else
  • Kiddush holiness, ahuvim lovers, ahavah love, b’rit covenant, shutafut partnership, chuppah (new) house
  • 25 Modern chuppah represents the shared home
  • 27 Decide what the chuppah symbolises for you
  • 30 Chuppah: what height; method of support; strong pole holders
  • 30 Procession?
  • 30 There are no rules, only customs
  • 32 Who in the procession? How to arrive? What will be waiting there?
  • 32 Music sets the tone of a) the ritual, b) the marriage.
  • 33 Are there people other than your parents who are symbolically important?
  • 34-5 Jer. Origin of hakafot circling: 31:22 a woman will ‘court/go round’ a man. Song of Songs 8:9-10 a woman is like a (protective) wall. In Kabbalah, the 7 circles = 7 circles of earth around the sun for Creation [Compare with 7 attributes in Hosea 2:22] Create own meanings for the circles.
  • 36 Experiment with what the cup of wine symbolises for you; use family cups maybe; [have a new cup for the marriage]; have separate cups, and then a joint cup towards the end of the ceremony.
  • 36 Baruch haba / habaim­ – blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord …
  • 37 Welcome blessings – personal greeting and blessing + explanatory words
  • 37 Booklet explaining the symbols and choices in the ceremony
  • [Wine as symbol of human transforming the world, with God’s help, and acknowledging God’s role in that.]
  • 39 “The characteristics of a couple’s relationship … determine its holiness.”
  • 41 the ceremony can have your own wordings, in your own language
  • 44 Core elements of your relationship
    • What do you most value in each other and in your relationship?
    • What does being married mean to you?
    • What kind of support and nurturing do you hope to offer each other as well as receive from each other?
    • What special talents or aspects of your personalities do you hope will flourish in your home?
    • What emotional, spiritual and religious tones do you hope your home will embody and convey to your friends and families?
  • 44 Writing your ketubah together helps preparation for the day, how you feel and what happens for you under the chuppah, and in the years after your wedding
  • 45 reading the ketubah out at the wedding draws everyone into the meaning of the event
  • 45 sign the ketubah before the wedding / marriage blessing?
  • 45 do you want the guests to sign the ketubah? When?
  • 47-8 “Using a solid metal without a stone was understood as a reminder that (1) the relationship had no beginning and no end and (2) a woman should not equate herslf with a precious stone, which can be lost.”
  • 53 You can use blessings that avoid references to Jewish tradition or law
  • 54 Celebrant addresses the couple with a message
  • 54 Might want to refer to the point in the Jewish calendar
  • 55 Reframe the 7 blessings (Sheva Brachot)
    • i “The human capacity to express joy, embodied in the symbol of wine.”
    • ii “The wonder of Creation.”
    • Iii :The creative and procreative power of humanity”
    • Iv “The extraorindary nature of being human, imbued with a capacity to strive towards the divine”
    • V “The healing and restorative capacity of meaningful relationships, both for the people involved and for the whole world”
    • Vi “The joy we experience when celebrating the loving commitment of two people to each other”
    • Vii “The joy that those two people find in each other”
  • 55 Guests can add blessings; [perhaps also ask someone to help put together a book of blessings before the day]’ do guest blessings instead of Sheva brachot?
  • 56 Can also do sheva brachot after the meal, instead of or as well as during the ceremony
  • 56 What is your meaning for the breaking of the glass?
  • 58 Guests interpret symbols and choices as messages about your relationship
  • 59 What wording do you want for the pronouncement at the end of our ceremony?
  • 59 Get the marriage licence at the right time
  • 62 How to leave the chuppah? Yichud (time alone) first? Or a welcome line with guests?
  • 63-5 Other blessings could include: Shehecheyanu [often early on]; Y’varech’cha Adonai (Priestly Blessing) [a good way to finish before breaking glass]; vow by the community
  • 66-7 Participants; musician friends; participants need to be comfortable in public; also they mustn’t spring surprises in the ceremony
  • 67 Celebrant needs copies of everything
  • 69 B’deken – leave it out? Egalitarian alternative might be to put a piece of clothing on each other
  • 69 Tisch – optional study session
  • 70 Have distinct groups to escort each partner?
  • 70 Do you want to have yichud (time alone after the ceremony)?
  • 71 When to have the photos?
  • 71 Tzedakah / charity – affects those who give (changes awareness and feelings); money; food leftovers for local soup kitchen; flowers for local hospital or nursing home

3.     A holy process: months and weeks of pre-wedding rituals and celebrations

  • 74 prepare yourself; have time out with a friend?
  • 74 Mikveh (ritual immersion in flowing water)
  • 77 How to ritualise your time before being with your partner under the chuppah? Be with respective family and friends?
  • 77 Do you want to connect with your family roots e.g. draw upon important memories of relatives who are no longer alive?
  • 78-9 T’nai’im – “You are implicityly and explicityly affirming your willingness to care about and respond to each other’s needs, hopes and expectations.” For example,
    • you might want to encourage your partner to find another partner if you die
    • a commitment to understand each other’s faith tradition (and how to raise children if an interfaith couple)
  • 80 Aufruf –       opportunity for the community recognise the forthcoming status of two partners, and of the parents and families
  • 83 maybe have some thoughtful time with your respective close circle of people
  • 84 Strengthen bonds between in-laws before the wedding, but don’t make that a mini-wedding!

4.     The non-ritual elements

  • [Ritual needs to be tailored to the respective perspectives of each partner.]
  • [There is inevitably exploration of avlues, emotions, needs, expectations, relationships …]
  • 89 Non-Jews’ needs to find meaning in and commitment to what said and done at the wedding / marriage blessing
  • 90 Celebrant can help your thinking even if s/he does not ultimately lead your ceremony
  • 90 Religious decision-making, including interfaith thinking-through may be new for you
    • 90 What is your experience of each other’s family / faith traditions?
    • 91 Plans for future children? Circumcision / baptism? Bar/bat mitzvah or confirmation?
    • 91 secular families still make religious decisions, especially for weddings
    • 92 Secular partners can be challenged by other partner’s traditions and attachments (e.g. Jews can be upset at kneeling for prayer, Christians may be upset if you don’t)
    • 92 all choices have an emotional charge
    • 92 which rituals do you and your family expect?
    • 92 What are you willing to let go of?
    • 92 Honour both, and don’t compromise either
    • 93 How will you feel juxtaposing symbols from two traditions? How will others feel?
  • 94 Pre-marital meetings – some rabbis and celebrants offer (or might expect) you to have discussions about how you are going to make your relationship work
  • 95 Beware other big commitments (eg at work) around the date you want to choose
  • 96 Consider the Jewish calendar – many dates to avoid, and very few rabbis or Jewish celebrants would ever consider a wedding on Shabbat. It is not traditional to mix a simcha (celebration) with Shabbat, and many Jews may not want to attend a wedding on Shabbat, or at other times in the Jewish year.
    • though it could be Saturday evening after havdalah (ie when Shabbat has ended at first stars appearing) – can be a symbol of leaving one life to start another
    • [Perhaps it could be Shabbat if not exchanging money, or signing legal contracts, and if it’s just a blessing?] [If Shabbat, could honour this fact by doing full Shabbat kiddush blessing over wine and bread.]
  • 104 Traditional for guests to make the couple happy by entertaining them
  • 105 Parents might be honoured if it is their last child getting married – origin of the practice of raising someone in a chair. Have a special dance for grandparents?
  • 106 Photos / video – make sure that the cameras don’t intrude on key moments e.g. giving the ring etc.. Be specific about flash, and when not to have photos
  • 107 Any special foods?
  • 107 Music choices?
  • 110 Clothing sends a message: kippah, tallit?
You can buy a copy of ‘Beyond Breaking the Glass’ by clicking below:

As part of your preparation, you might also like to read:

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