An open letter to the chief rabbis of Israel

Elul, the month of forgiveness and reconciliation, is just around the corner, and I have a confession to make.

ISRAEL’S CHIEF Rabbis meet with the Pope in Jerusalem in May.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAEL’S CHIEF Rabbis meet with the Pope in Jerusalem in May.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dear honorable chief rabbis of Israel, The month of Av is almost over.
Elul, the month of forgiveness and reconciliation, is just around the corner, and I have a confession to make. I am a criminal and I want to confess my crime – for which I am most proud: Although I don’t possess a license from the state, nor one issued by your offices, and I lack your professional recognition, last night I performed the wedding ceremony for my 29-year-old daughter and her groom, who thank God returned home safely after spending 28 days before his wedding in the IDF reserves.
Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, I write you respectfully as your colleague. I am an Israeli Masorti Conservative rabbi, who was ordained in 2001, right here in Jerusalem.
When you marry off your adult child (as opposed to 19-, 20- or 21-year-olds), it becomes a partnership wedding. You work with them on every detail, as partners.
They call the shots and as parents you are there to help make the wedding of their dreams come true.
The most important thing to remember is it is their wedding, and they are navigating. They choose the venue, the menu, table ornaments, the music, and they want to choose the rabbi. We rabbis often need to be reminded that in the Jewish democratic State of Israel couples should be able to choose their own “mesader kiddushin,” the Jewish marriage officiant with whom they will spend quality time under the wedding canopy. Just like choosing a physician, the couples should be able to interview the perspective rabbinic candidate, check out his or her credentials, consult references and observe how they perform a wedding before making their decision.
In a sense the couples are our clients, and we, the religious service providers, should be sensitive to the desires of the bride and groom.
Of course the ceremony has to be halachic, according to the law of Moses and Israel. But the challenge often demands that we distinguish between the halachic wheat and the non-halachic chaff.
Rabbis will be asked whether they behave like Beit Hillel or do they follow a stringent halachic approach. Other questions may be regarding the necessity of the veil, or of the circling of the bride, elements of the ceremony which are often frowned upon by couples.
Often the couples request that the mothers’ names be added to the Hebrew names of the bride and groom which appear in the ketuba (traditional Jewish marriage contract ) or they ask to use a ketuba which includes an explicit expression of the bride’s willingness to build a beautiful Jewish home with her husband.
As father of the bride I was enormously proud to serve as the officiant, and believe me it was both a pleasure and a challenge.
For their own personal reasons the couple didn’t want to involve your offices in facilitating their wedding. They simply wanted to navigate and decide how their wedding would be and they asked me to officiate of their own free will.
We worked on every element of the marriage ceremony together.
We studied together and learned Rabbi David Golinkin’s responsum concerning women reciting the Seven Blessings under the marriage canopy, and two young women participated in their recitation.
A number of months ago an Orthodox rabbi and my high school Bible teacher Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote: “Spiritual striving and religious growth can only be nourished in a spirit of openness. For this reason, Israel as a state should give equal opportunities to the Conservative and Reform movements. Their rabbis should be able to conduct weddings and conversions.” Just like he isn’t afraid of opening the gates of pluralism and acceptance you shouldn’t be frightened of the “competition.” I am neither your enemy nor the criminal; I am your partner in “exalting Torah with greatness and joy.”
So, when I say my “Al Chets” and confess my transgressions on Yom Kippur, I will recite the following one with extra conviction (translation from the ArtScroll Machzor): “For the sin we have sinned before You by exercising power,” the power to exercise my rabbinic right and privilege to perform my daughter’s wedding in the hills of Jerusalem.
Please do forgive me!
Kol tuv,
Rav Barry Schlesinger