In recent years, it has become increasingly common for us to encounter mixed marriages in which the partners may or may not ask questions about how to deal with their religion and that of the other.
When a Jew or Jeshuaist marries another believer is it possible to pronounce blessings on that marriage, many wonder. As part of nissuin, wedding ceremony that follows Jewish laws and traditions, the birkot nissuin (ברכות נישואין), “the wedding blessings” are recited.
In our community, it is important to have Biblical guidance in our life. As such, the Sheva Brachot are a stylistically harmonious whole, a mosaic of interwoven Biblical words, phrases and ideas which give us chavat daat or helpful constructive advice and allows us to look positively to the future in the new relationship.
In the weekend edition of the Telegraph we found this letter:
My wife and I married in a simple and deliberately very secular ceremony before Christmas. Her grandfather, who she adores, served as a witness. Only at a pivotal moment, unannounced and in spite of our pleas that there be no religious elements in the ceremony, he recited one of the Sheva Brachot, the seven blessings of Jewish tradition.
I get that religion and identity get whizzed up in complicated ways – but while my wife is proud of her Jewish heritage, she’s entirely non-observant and has no religious belief. For my part I have a full deck of ‘issues’ with my Catholic upbringing: a cruel and dogmatic education which I regard in retrospect as bordering on abuse, a fistful of sexual guilt and so on.
I was furious that religion had been ‘smuggled in’ to our wedding, and that our wishes counted for nothing. I talked to my wife and she took the pragmatic line that it’s done now and we have to let it go. But I felt (and still feel) ambushed and betrayed: I wanted her to try to explain to her grandfather that he had done something wrong.
She said I wouldn’t have minded so much if one of my relatives had pronounced a Christian blessing – which I very much would – and that I didn’t respect her heritage, which I do. It’s opened a can of worms: if we have a boy, will he have to get ‘the chop’? None of this stuff has ever seemed a problem between us; but I am now scared my wife thinks at some level that I am antisemitic. Should I just park this and hope it goes away?
— B, via email
When people come together and decide to live together as a married unit, somehow they decided to bring their thoughts in line with each other. The nature and purpose of marriage demands a unity of two people. It is very difficult when the cultures of both partners is too far out. One can wonder if it could be possible that there would be true unity of mind and heart if they differ in this most essential matter of religious belief. Both people who would like to become a partner of each other, should seriously question the situation before they decide to come to live together and become partners in matrimony.
In many religions, there might be a teaching that one has to love the neighbour. But for matrimonial unity there is much more needed than just a love for the neighbour.
Certainly, when a Jehudi, Jeshuaist or a real Christian would marry a Catholic there are very serious matters to overcome. When a believer marries a non-believer it can well be that the atheist tries to dissuade the partner of her or his beliefs and could even be somewhat cruel in the efforts to create obstacles for the believing partner to practice his or her faith.
As a lifelong agnostic, Richard Madeley feels some sympathy for Mr. B.. He replies
I was married in a registry office and I would certainly have been irritated if someone had high-handedly assumed the right to inject an unwanted religious element. Your meddling about-to-be-grandfather-in-law had no right to do what he did on your wedding day. But to be honest, B, I’ve heard of worse things happening at a wedding. I think you are overreacting.
Both the agnostic and the Catholic in our eyes are wrong because wishing goodness to a married couple should be part of the marriage celebration. Believer or non-believer in a god or in God one should hope all the best shall come over the couple, be them believing or not believing in one or more gods.
That the grandfather, in a certain way, the head of the family, speaks out his blessing shows how he is seriously concerned about the happiness and the future of the bride and bridegroom.
Furthermore, Madeley rather agrees with Mr B’swife
– it’s done now and you should move on.
Which means I disagree with your demands that she pursue her grandfather on the matter. That won’t change anything. Anyway, he’s unlikely to accept he did anything wrong. It’s a dead end, B. Leave it.
Question can also be posed, if somebody from the Catholic side would have spoken out blessings over the marriage, would Mr B. have complained as well? We, too, can not ignore the fact that the bride has some suspicion that her partner was especially annoyed because it was a Jewish blessing.
Madeley accepts this is groundless and writes
your sensitivity about organised religion is rooted in a troubled Catholic upbringing. But have you made this clear enough to her?
You say your wife is proud of her Jewish heritage. But that heritage includes thousands of years of prejudice and persecution, so of course she will be alert to any perceived antisemitism. You should be sympathetic about this – it’s not personal.
Here’s what Richard Madeley suggests.
Sit down with your wife, put your arms around her, and say that after thinking about it you appreciate it was unfair to ask her to pursue her grandfather. Apologise for that, unreservedly. Tell her about your painful Catholic upbringing, or remind her if you’ve told her already, and explain how it’s left you allergic to all organised religion. As for future issues such as circumcision, those are bridges you simply don’t have to cross until if and when you come to them.
But in our opinion, such matters should have been discussed before the marriage took place. People should consider beforehand what they intend to take on and to what extent their expectations for the future are similar or can be balanced. Before deciding to get married, those willing to step in matrimony need to be sure of what both of them feel. They have to be open about how they personally feel about all matters. But they also have to make sure of what their partner feels. They both should very well know that marriage demands a commitment not just for a short time but for years, it must even be for a lifetime.
They also should know that once married, one shall also come in contact with more family members at family gatherings, where it would be normal that certain aspects shall come into the discussion. So both shall have to be prepared and accepting that religious matters shall be spoken of.
Now they are married, we also think that before they would have children, that they already seriously think about how they want to bring up the children and when they live in a country where religious education is part of the school curriculum, that they discuss it long beforehand which religious education they are going to let their children follow. Taking enough time to think about it is going to avoid a lot of stress moments later on.
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