Wedding Ceremony Merges Tradition and Egalitarianism
Before the wedding of Cheryl Beckerman and Joel Berman in 1995, they struggled to create a ceremony that was both traditional and egalitarian. This article explores the marriage ceremony the couple created, which retained the betrothal ceremony, kiddushin (with additions to increase its mutuality), but also included a new segment they called kesharin, or connection. In a previous article, Beckerman explains the couple's discomfort with the inherent lack of mutuality in the kiddushin ceremony. Excerpted by permission of the author from Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism, 1997 issue.
As our wedding date approached, it appeared ever less likely that there would be time to find a solution that would be considered halakhic (in accordance with Jewish law) without traditional kiddushin. Progress came only with Joel's wise suggestion that we stop talking and each write up our ideal ceremonies independently, from the reception before the huppah [wedding canopy] through the breaking of the glass.
A Marriage of Minds
What Joel came up with articulated the inherent two-way essence of kiddushin… by making explicit the requirements that the bride consent and the husband be monogamous. He began by prefacing the traditional harei at ("Behold you are consecrated to me… ") [said by the husband] with a simple formula, birshuteikh u-virtzoneikh ("With your consent and by your will"). As he put the ring on my finger I would agree aloud, replying, "So am I consecrated to you." His response was taken from the Book of Hosea: "Call me 'my man' [ishi] and not 'my master' [ba'ali, the word commonly used for 'husband' in Hebrew]."
Joel's next words attempted to add stringency to the ban on polygamy decreed by Rabbenu Gershom just over 1,000 years ago, since the halakhic implications for a woman accepting kiddushin go far beyond what the ban imposes upon a man [because, according to biblical law, a man can have more than one wife; hence, even if he does not grant his wife a Jewish divorce, he can remarry without having the status of his children negatively affected]. "Just as you have lovingly and willingly accepted the exclusivity that kiddushin mandates, so do I declare this day, before the Almighty and before my community, that I am bound by this same kiddushin, permitted to you and forbidden to all others. Your liberties are my liberties and your restrictions my restrictions, as it is said: 'Whither thou goest, I will go, and whither thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'" The quotation is from the Book of Ruth, the convert who is mother of the House of David.