Significance of Jewish wedding ceremonies analyzed in new book

The fleeting moments of the wedding ceremony can have enduring significance

VEILED THEN-DEPUTY Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely stands with husband-to-be Or Alon at their 2013 wedding. Lester’s tome discusses the symbolism of the veil and other aspects of nuptial ceremonies. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
VEILED THEN-DEPUTY Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely stands with husband-to-be Or Alon at their 2013 wedding. Lester’s tome discusses the symbolism of the veil and other aspects of nuptial ceremonies.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
In his first book, Rabbi David Lester has created a profound, inspiring and original midrash on the Jewish wedding ceremony. The significance of the interpretation Lester offers is twofold. Firstly, he uncovers the relevance and the meaning of the ceremony itself. Lester beautifully explores the underlying significance of this milestone event so that bride and groom can deeply appreciate the transformative moment that begins their union. The enriched and deepened experience that brides and grooms will feel under their wedding canopies having read this book is sufficient to justify its publication. But Lester brings his readers to another level and invites couples to understand that the fleeting moments of the wedding ceremony can have enduring significance for years into their marriage.
In Lester’s words, “…the laws and customs relating to the establishment and beginning of a marriage teach us about the psychological and spiritual foundations that make a marriage strong… The motions we go through and the words we say and hear on our wedding day hold lessons for us – about love and marriage, about being a husband and being a wife, and about building a Jewish home” (Page xi; 3). After exploring the ceremony in the opening chapters, the second part of the book focuses more generally on intimacy, partnership, and shared life. This book is a powerful statement that the goal of one’s wedding day is not merely to have a beautiful ceremony but rather to embark on a shared life.
A beautiful example of Lester’s insight is his presentation of the bedekin (the veiling of the bride). He sees this ritual as a symbolic recognition of the spiritual and psychological veil that separates every individual, even bride and groom from each other. Through his interpretation of this moment, Lester guides couples toward a respect for one another that rests upon the acceptance of their partner as ever-changing, mysterious, and never fully knowable. At this moment when the couple might be tempted to melt into each other, they are reminded of the distinctiveness of their spouse. This of course is a necessary basis for a healthy marriage that allows space for individual growth.
THE INSIGHTS in the second half of the book are no less powerful as the following example will show. Lester explores the commandment of trumat hadeshen, the daily removal of the ashes from the altar in the Temple, to demonstrate the importance and even sanctity of mundane chores of married life. He points out that it was the priest, not a cleaning crew, that was commanded to remove the refuse that needed to be removed from the Temple.
This indicates that this otherwise dirty task is actually a holy act. In this way, Lester challenges us to reconceive the chores of our domestic temples, like washing the dishes and cleaning the floors, as something holy. This reframing of daily tasks can transform their meaning. This is only one example of many in which the book prepares couples for a long and healthy marriage.
To bring out all these powerful insights, Lester weaves together eclectic sources. In the space of 140 pages, the reader will find biblical stories, halacha, hassidut, the classical Lithuanian rosh yeshiva Rav Shimon Shkop and the postmodern religious Zionist thinker Rabbi Shagar, among others.
Besides the moving content, the book is beautifully written. The language is scholarly and poetic but very readable. The fonts, the spacing and the cover, all done by Mosaica Press, are exquisite, making the reading experience a pleasure.
This book is a must read for any engaged couple. There is no doubt that reading this book before their wedding will enable them to be more present and more in tune with the texts and choreography of the ceremony. This book should also become an essential resource for rabbis who officiate at weddings. They can draw upon the profound explanations of the ceremony to share in real time. In addition, this book is also a fantastic resource for counseling sessions with young couples leading up to the big day.
PERHAPS AN overall sense of the spirit of the book is captured in a personal anecdote that the author shares in the introduction. Upon sharing the news of his engagement with his mentor Rav Dov Singer, Lester writes:
“Rav Dov immediately jumped out of his chair and started singing and dancing with me. After we settled back down in our chairs Rav Dov explained to us very directly what it meant to enter into the covenant of marriage. He said: ‘You have just decided to get married. What this means is that whatever happens to you, whatever life brings you, you are committed to figuring out together how you are going to deal with it. No matter how difficult, no matter how little you know, it has to be clear to both of you that it is your job to solve everything together.’”
Rav Dov’s words jolted me, and the fear I felt in that moment helped me understand that marriage was a major life transition. Looking at this story in retrospect, I feel that in that moment I grew up.
Like the conversation with Rabbi Singer, this book helps all of us and certainly young couples to appreciate the challenge, privilege and potential that marriage entails. The book bravely formulates a path to meet this challenge and its potential. 
JEWISH MARRIAGE: THE CEREMONY, THE FIRST YEAR, AND THE JOURNEY THAT FOLLOWS
By David Lester
Mosaica Press
145 pages; $16.99