Friday, August 27, 2010

The recent wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky has led to Rabbi Leon Morris to call for a moratorium of Shabbas weddings for all Jewish denominations.
The recent wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky has triggered a spate of articles about interfaith marriage, rabbinic officiation, co-officiation with Christian clergy and the like. Considerably less attention has been focused on the fact that the wedding took place on a Saturday before nightfall. Perhaps this was deemed less newsworthy because it has become so commonplace. I’m asking myself whether the most publicized Shabbat wedding in American Jewish history might have the unintended consequence of questioning anew the propriety of performing weddings on the Sabbath.

The need for Shabbat is greater now than ever before. Folks from widely divergent population segments are beginning to reclaim the Sabbath in a variety of ways. There are the hundreds of secular Israelis gathering at the Tel Aviv port to welcome Shabbat with prayer, poetry and song. There are the innovative hipsters of the Shabbat Manifesto declaring a “national day of unplugging,” inspiring thousands of individuals to “put down their cell phones, stop their status updates on Facebook, shut down Twitter, sign out of e-mail and relax.” A best-selling book on the Sabbath was published this past spring that prompted several stories in The New York Times about the reconsideration of the Sabbath. Families are looking for ways to connect with each other, and to re-institute the family dinner at least once each week. The time is ripe for us to be more strident in our embrace of Shabbat, particularly in the public domain.

In addition, our increasing environmental awareness reminds us of our own place in the larger universe. Deciding to officiate at Saturday weddings after 6 p.m. is not only arbitrary but represents a kind of environmental hubris in which human beings think that they have the power to make the stars appear earlier. With all of our human knowledge and advancement, we still cannot cause the sun to set. We experience awe of the cosmos when we make ourselves subject to time that lies beyond our control.

The prohibition of marriage on Shabbat is a rabbinic ordinance connected to the concern that the ketubah might be written on Shabbat. It is based upon the notion that traditional Jewish marriage is a form of kinyan (acquisition). To be sure, rabbinic sources from as early as the 12th century have in fact permitted weddings to take place in particular circumstances and under emergency situations on Shabbat. But Shabbat weddings in contemporary Jewish life today are not the unusual circumstance but rather de rigueur.
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